Theatrical Review: The Wolverine

Following the events of the third X-Men movie, Wolverine (also known as Logan) has left the group being haunted by his having to kill Jean Grey. The mutant is being tracked by another mutant, Yukio. Yukio is in the employ of Yashida, a soldier who Wolverine saved during the bombing of Nagasaki. Yashida is now on his death bed and asks Wolverine to protect his granddaughter Mariko, as he suspects that she is about to be in danger, because she is set to inherit Yashida’s huge tech company. At the same time, Yashida tells Wolverine that he can end Wolverine’s personal torment and take away his healing power, so that he may now live out his life a normal man.

This is the premise of The Wolverine, the latest in the series of X-Men movies and also the latest movie from director James Mangold, who’s previously directed movies like Cop Land (a big favorite of mine), 3:10 to Yuma and Identity. While I like Mangold, he wouldn’t have necessarily been my own first choice to direct a movie like this and in fact he wasn’t. The Wolverine was originally set to be directed by visionary director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) who ended up bowing out because this was going to take him away from his family for too long. So Mangold gets the gig and at least by my own reckoning, turns in a pretty enjoyable film.

The Wolverine is loosely based on one of the earliest Marvel Comics mini-series centered around Wolverine written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Frank Miller. That generally serves as the springboard for the film and other facets are added, in particular the villains of the piece, Viper and the Silver Samurai. This plays with the comic aspects a little on the fast and loose side, but it all still seemed fitting to me. The big thing though is that this movie is far more of a character study than anything else and Mangold paces it accordingly. The Wolverine isn’t a big blockbuster that goes for explosions and destruction at every turn and personally, I found that to be quite refreshing. I’ve seen some already complain that this is nowhere near being what they expect out of a movie associated with the X-Men franchise, and I get that, but just don’t agree with it. It does feel different than the other films in the series, but not to the extent that say Iron Man 3 feels from it’s predecessors. Iron Man 3 tried to change the entire flavor of the series, whereas with The Wolverine it’s more of a side story that’s definitely still in the same universe.

Now with all of that said, that also leads to what I think is a problem with the film for those that aren’t exactly that familiar with the character (or at least as familiar as die hard fans are). Basically, I tend to think that you just can’t come into this blind, you would’ve need to have seen all of the other films (with maybe the exception of X-Men: First Class in order to appreciate the set up. More than likely, if you are seeing this, then you have seen the other films, but for those that haven’t, you’re probably going to be asking quite a few questions.

I think the film has a terrific look to it and the action scenes are especially nicely done, in particular a fight on the top of a bullet train that’s terrifically executed. Some have found the third act of the film to be clunky with it’s twist that’s thrown in with the Silver Samurai character and the idea that Viper isn’t exactly the most developed of villainous characters. This didn’t really bother me at all as the focus wasn’t really on these characters for the movie other than being a means to an end for the character of Wolverine. I think doing more there would’ve actually made for a clunkier film and just detracted from the film’s main drive, which is exploring the character of Wolverine, which in turn leads to the strongest factor in the entire movie and that’s actor Hugh Jackman.

This marks Jackman’s sixth outing as the character (which I believe has to be the record now for actors consistently playing the same character in a comic book based film) and we know he’s already committed to the next movie in the X-Men series and if Jackman had his way, he’d play Wolverine in an Avengers film as well. That’s commitment to the character and for me anyway, it still looks like Jackman is having a great time with it. This is the role that put this actor on the map and it’s nice to see that he’s just not ready to toss it aside at all. There’s real poignancy to the character and in the midst of that, Jackman has found a way to still make him very likable and very much someone we want to keep following. I can’t wait to see what he does in the X-Men: Days of Future Past movie.

Jackman’s got some really solid support here, in particular with actresses Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima who play Mariko and Yukio respectively. Okamoto’s Mariko contains a strength and drive similar to that of the Jean Grey character and it’s easy to see how Wolverine is attracted to her. Fukushima’s Yukio is a developing mutant who has qualities that seem quite similar to those of Anna Paquin, who played Rogue in the X-Men films. They’re both engaging actresses and I tend to think that their chemistry with Jackman is pretty strong. Speaking of Jean Grey, Famke Janssen returns to that part here in a series of dreams/hallucinations that Wolverine experiences and it’s nice to see her back in the part. Haruhiko Yamanouchi plays Yashida and it’s a solid character part that serves the present day proceedings. The most advancement we see with that character is more in the World War II flashback scenes when Yashida is played as a younger character by actor Ken Yamamura. Svetlana Khodchenkova plays Viper and this is easily the one character that I’ve seen the most hate for out there. They find her out of place and over the top and the most lacking in character and motivation. I really liked her look and thought it was cool that she was more of a throwback to a classic sort of villain.

All in all, I thought The Wolverine was quite a bit of fun. This X-Men side-story is a cool little character study that’s made even more appealing due to Hugh Jackman’s considerable acting strengths. It’s still satisfying to me as an action film and it’s a little bit of a change of pace for a summer action movie as it doesn’t go for the same sort of widespread destruction that’s more prevalent right now. I’m a fan of the previous films in the series (to varying degrees) and The Wolverine still seems like it fits and continues the series nicely. And speaking of continuing the series, stick around for awhile during the end credits for an additional scene that nicely sets things up for X-Men: Days of Future Past. This is a nice teaser for things to come and I can’t wait to see it.

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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