Better than the mutant’s “Origins” but loses its sharpness by the end
The Wolverine is a superhero film that tries to be anything but. Well, that is until the titular character springs into action in Tasmanian devil fashion. And as the most popular mutant in the X-Men cadre of course he deserves his own movie vehicle (with this as the do over), right?
The fan backlash that has befallen “Wolverine” – and “the X-Men” to a degree – goes as far back to the release of the third X-Men movie in the original trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand. Not helping the issue was the decision to give Wolverine his own origin story movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which ultimately hurt than helped the brand. That release had a superfluous amount of characters that most comic book fans could identify. Sabretooth! Gambit! Deadpool! Will.i.am (WTH?).
The Wolverine tones things down so we can reacquaint ourselves with Logan (Hugh Jackman) after the events of The Last Stand, which saw him kill Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). It’s a novel approach: to strip the character down and present him as a self-imposed isolated lone wolf. However, the isolation and loneliness he incurs is at the expense of still being haunted by Jean’s death. This causes him nightmares (featuring Jean Grey) and in turn makes him question his immortality and its overall importance. Once he can get past this roadblock presumably Logan will be his old hellraising self and able to love again.
Using the famous Chris Claremont/Frank Miller four-issue mini-series Wolverine #1-4 as a jumping off point, we find our titular hero venturing to Japan. It is there he bids adieu to an elderly billionaire industrialist, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a former Japanese soldier Logan shielded when the US dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. Upon his passing, Logan becomes the unwitting guardian of Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who is being targeted for kidnapping by the Yakuza. Joining the protection detail is Mariko’s childhood friend, Yukio (Rika Fukushima), who serves as Logan’s sidekick – or as she puts it “his bodyguard.” There are a few unsavory characters, but the only one with the easiest name to remember is Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a blonde Russian who recalls a famous member of Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Poison Ivy. Her interest in Logan isn’t apparent at first glance, but as an underused femme fatale she uses her beguiling beauty to disguise her lethalness.
The Wolverine has a lot going for it in the early stages. Logan is a loner that doesn’t play well with others, so when he’s pushed he pushes back hard. The deathbed reunion between him and Yashida comes at the expense of the industrialist’s willingness to grant Logan a chance of mortality in exchange for his extraordinary healing powers. The inevitable rebuff (honestly, Wolverine without claws? Inconceivable!) sets into motion a twisting narrative where our hero, a stranger in a strange land, who is sometimes referred as a Gaijin (a Japanese word meaning “non-Japanese” or “alien”), must contend with the Yakuza, ninjas, a Viper, and venture into a secret lair to rescue Mariko. So here we have Logan the Wolverine becoming Mario the Plumber to rescue the Princess in derring-do fashion.
Director James Mangold has stated in interviews that he wanted this film to hit the same tonal beats of Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales. This approach is warranted and provides a nice change of pace than the rest of the superhero films that appear all about going big for the sake of calamitous action sequences and tons of visual effects. While it does have a few requisite set pieces brimming with action (the sequence on top of a bullet train is impressive), the film mixes things up with its emphasis of Japanese culture and flourishes of noir.
Hugh Jackman, always a ball of rage in the role of Wolverine, with this being his sixth time sharpening those claws of his, is always charismatic, but my overall feeling is that it’s hard for Wolverine to carry his own movie. Maybe that’s on account of the supporting cast around him. Okamoto, who is critical to Logan’s emotional growth, offers porcelain doll-like beauty and little else. Khodchenkova as Viper was like watching a Russian Kirsten Dunst play Poison Ivy. Wooden acting plus deadly poison does not equal a win-win. If the intention was to ensure that the supporting actors cheapen the film so it can live up to its title and be all about The Wolverine, Mangold and Jackman have succeeded.
As egregious as the cast is around Jackman nothing compares to the detour the film takes with its grand finale, pitting Logan against a towering Silver Samurai. That’s right: A mechanized giant samurai that looks like it was designed by Tony Stark after he went on a bender and watched Seven Samurai all weekend long. His probable rationale: Why create one piece of samurai armor when I can create a giant robot with the strength of “seven samurai”?
The ending resolution may be in favor of evolving Logan’s character, however the actual fight is far from astonishing or uncanny. The size differences in hero and villain make for stiff choreography, thus illustrating why movement matters.
The Wolverine is full of good intentions, but the film seemingly comes unglued when it reaches its apex. It’s still a welcome respite from the end of the world mentality that seems to be villain of the month in a number of superhero movies that have come before, I just wish the filmmakers had spent more time in Logan’s head than have him busting out his razor claws.
Director: James Mangold Writer: Mark Bomback and Scott Frank Notable Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Famke Janssen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!