Wolverine Movie Review
Movie Review: Wolverine
Reviewed by Matthew Yenkala
3 1/2 Stubs
Rated PG-13/126 mins/ Action/Comic Book
Director: James Mangold
Writers: Mark Bomback, Christopher McQuarrie & Scott Frank
WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead.
I'm told by reliable sources that one's reaction to The Wolverine--the sixth film in the X-Men franchise and a follow up to both 2006's X-Men 3: The Last Stand and 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine--will be largely dependent on one's familiarity with, and loyalty to, Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's 4-issue Wolverine limited series from 1982, on which this film is ostensibly based. Those who hold that series dear to their hearts may well cry foul at how the material, and more importantly, the characters, are handled in this movie. Those who mainly know the characters and settings of the X-Men world from the films (or the 90s animated TV show) will probably enjoy the hell out of it.
Myself, I straddle the middle. I've only dabbled in the comics, but I've absolutely loved the movies, for all their flaws (no geek project on the immediate horizon has me more excited than next year's X-Men: Days of Future Past), and I have spent many a night up late reading Wiki articles about the characters, their geneses, backstories, and varying incarnations and interpretations. And while I can certainly relate to the feeling of a beloved work being butchered for the screen, in this case, not having read that specific series, and being pledged to judge each film on its own merits (as much as I can), I can honestly say: this movie doesn't suck.
Set an indefinite period of time after The Last Stand, the movie finds Logan (Hugh Jackman) doing a Grizzly Adams impression in the woods (right down to interacting with his own Gentle Ben). Hunted, and haunted by nightmares of (or visitations from--the film is pleasantly vague on the subject) Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who he was forced to kill in X3, he is a man with no will to live and no way to die, thanks to the regenerative healing powers of his mutation.
Then comes a summons to Japan, delivered by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a deadly (though easy on the eyes) assassin/bodyguard who works for the ailing Mr. Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi & Ken Yamamura), whom Logan saved in WW2. Yashida, under the guise of repaying his life-debt, makes Logan an offer he almost can't refuse: to relieve him of the gift/curse of immortality.
But before Logan can really decide whether or not he is ready to live out a natural lifespan and then finally die, all hell breaks loose, and the choice to become mortal is taken away from him. After an encounter with the villainous Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova, in what should be a star-making turn), his healing powers stop working. For the first time in his life, pain and fatigue start to not only affect him but impede him. Still, he may be without country, cause or kin, but at heart he is a soldier, and he does what duty and honor demand.
Unfortunately this is where the film gets a little dicey. There are so many agendas at work, and so many characters, many of whom seem either redundant or extraneous, that it gets a little hard to keep track of them all, and it seems like much of the action during the middle act is killing time before the final showdown.
The main through-line follows Logan as he strives to protect Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), from her ex-boyfriend, her fiancé, her father, and Viper, all of whom are after her as being the key, and heir, to her grandfather's fortune, and how that will benefit or block their own selfish interests. Inevitably, they fall for one another, just in time to have Mariko snatched right out from under his claws, forcing him to go on the hunt for her. The final confrontation, featuring the Silver Samurai, is knuckle-rattling and bone-crunching action at its best, though one senses that it should have packed a somewhat bigger emotional punch.
Throughout the X-Men film series, no matter how good or bad any given entry may be, Hugh Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine has never been less than consistently great. (Even his cameo in 2011's First Class was a scene-stealer.) This movie is no exception and in fact, affords him the chance to take the character up several notches. By now, Jackman has come to own this role in such a way that it will be hard to ever see anyone else take it over. Here, he balances ferocity and heart, guilt and longing, with such seeming effortlessness that it's hard to tell where the actor ends and the character begins.
The rest of the cast is generally solid as well, though Okamoto's Mariko really does seem a bit flat, and definitely seems not quite dynamic enough to capture the heart of someone like Logan, even at his most introspective. But this is more than made up for by Fukushima's Yukio, who must be seen to be believed. She seems a far more appropriate match for Wolverine, though I guess that would be straying too far from the source material. And speaking of that source material, I'm told that in comparison, these two characters are the most problematic, as they each bear only fleeting resemblance to their ink-and-paper counterparts.
That said, director James Mangold infuses the film with a sense of gravitas not present in any of the prior installments (particularly X3), and it has an internal integrity and intelligence that easily leaves the sloppy Origins in the dust (though in fact this film manages to seamlessly integrate and harmonize the often contradictory continuity of all of the previous films--quite a neat trick). The action is consistently well-choreographed, and a set-piece fight atop a train moving at 300 miles an hour definitely raises a new bar for this type of moving combat sequence. All of the production aspects are (unsurprisingly) top notch, though I don't recommend 3D: the post-conversion barely registered for me. (Also, be sure to stay through the first part of the closing credits for a tag/teaser that will quite literally blow your mind.)
Nitpicks aside, I found The Wolverine to be a vastly entertaining film in its own right as well as a mouth-watering lead-in to Days of Future Past. But I must close with this: on the way home from the screening, I did stop and pick up the collected edition of the classic Wolverine comics miniseries. I will begin reading it shortly after I submit this review, and we shall see if it retroactively affects how I feel about the film. I hereby reserve the right to retract (Wolverine's-claws-style) or modify this review in whole or part at some point in the future. (Or the past.) We shall see. Until then--Excelsior!