Ok, for the MOST part…fans of the X-Men films, and obviously fans of the Logan/Wolverine character, can treat ‘The Wolverine’ as a mumbled apology from 20th Century Fox for the debacle that wound up being Gavin Hoods X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). This one vastly improves on THAT unfortunate piece of shit. Which is NOT to say that it’s perfect. It’s just a damn sight better than it’s predecessor.
Taking it’s lead from the popular 1980s comic book series, which details Logans adventures in Japan, the story follows him as he, after being found hiding in Northern Canada (woohoo!), is taken to Tokyo at the request of a former Japanese POW camp guard-turned-technology tycoon, that Logan saved when The Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. Once in Japan, Logan discovers that, as usual, things aren’t quite what they seem and soon enough, he and the people around him are threatened by nefarious outside forces. What ‘ups’ the stakes even more is that, through trickery, Logan is sapped of his ever-reliable ‘healing factor’ and forced to rethink his manner of ‘attack and evade’. That was one of the elements that I appreciated about this one, much like another Marvel property from the beginning of this year’s Summer Movie Season, Iron Man 3, in which Tony Stark was often left armor-less and forced to be a lil more tactical and cunning in his fights. In both Iron Man 3 and The Wolverine, I found THAT approach refreshing, as it put FAR more at stake for our protagonists since they don’t have their old, now-familiar tricks to fall back on. Seeing Logan bloodied, worried and in pain was an image that we haven’t seen much of, especially in the midst of some fast and violent action set-pieces.
Speaking of action, this one was interesting to me, as there were times when it fell into the ‘Bourne’-inspired hectic ‘shaky cam’ aesthetic, where most of the fight is created via editing and sound, as opposed to just showing us what the hell is going on. However, this was not the exclusive ‘action scene’ style, as other fights came across as completely understandable, and cool. They did do a decent job of giving us a mixed bag of action sequences, with a physics-defying fight on the outside of a 300 MpH bullet train, and a very sweet and silent ninja assault on a compound standing out.
Hugh Jackman, as expected, kicks ass as Logan/Wolverine. He brings his usual snark to the role but also shows a nice reservoir of sadness and vulnerability, largely due to his visible grief over having had to kill Jean Grey at the tail end of the crappy X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006). Famke Janssen (Jean Grey) pops up what can be described as an Extended Cameo, acting as a tragic, nocturnal muse/reminder to Logan, further fueling the alienation he has imposed on himself by running from the X-Men team.
Regarding the acting, it sucks that the 3 main female characters (Tao Okomato, Rila Fukushima and Svetlana Khodchenkova) were left somewhat 1 dimensional, which pushed the boundaries on believability, especially where a certain romantic entanglement was concerned. They were all functional in the roles, but very lean in ‘flesh’.
Another thing that worked here was the stories ability to stand on it’s own two feet, without having to use the trappings of The X-Men franchise to exist. It certainly doesn’t ignore them, but the X-Men (Jean Grey excepted) don’t have an influence on Logan’s decisions or actions on this adventure. Having said that, I do have to mention that it’s a good idea to stick around for the credits, as there is a very cool ‘hidden’ mid-credit scene that nicely ties Wolverine back into the X-Men fold, clearly setting up plot elements for Bryan Singers return to the franchise, due out sometime next year.
Director James Mangold was an interesting pick to helm this version, coming in after ‘Requiem for a Dream”s (2000) director Darren Aronofsky dropped out to direct his Noah’s Ark epic. Mangold came in with a diverse list of films to his credit, with titles like Identity (2003), Walk the Line (2005) and 3:10 to Yuma (2007) standing out. The man is clearly a competent director and here, he demonstrates a very capable hand. That being said, I can’t help but to feel that, stylistically, he chose to play it rather safe here, similar to what Joss Whedon did with The Avengers (2012). There aren’t a lot of risks taken visually.
Speaking of risks though, there is no denying that this is probably the closest we’re going to get to an R-Rated Wolverine flick. Many a ‘bad guy’ get run through via Wolvies adamantium claws and several times, the blades are left smeared crimson. This flick really likes sticking sharp objects into peoples throats. It also boasts the most swearing we’ve heard in the X-Men franchise, with another well-placed F-Bomb on display. Rumor has it that the DVD/BluRay will be an extended/unrated version, getting us even closer to the ‘adult’ Wolverine we’ve wanted for…well…ever.
All in all, The Wolverine is a quite GOOD but not GREAT addition to the X-Men universe that features another awesome turn by Mr. Jackman in the now iconic title role. The action scenes are mostly fun and cool, there are some interesting sci-fi elements and of course, there’s ninjas. Rest assured, for the ‘faults’ that it does have, it undeniably makes up for X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
*I saw the 2D version and, with the exception of a VERY cool nuclear bomb explosion, there wasn’t a lot that begged for 3D.