The Wolverine would be praised simply for being marginally better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but it’s one of the best entries in the X-Men franchise and comes thisclose to being one of the best comic book movies if it weren’t for a disappointing final act.
Screenwriters Mark Bomback (Total Recall), Scott Frank and Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) are burdened with trying to maintain continuity from X-Men: The Last Stand (see also: the second crappiest X-Men movie).
Don’t bother suffering through that abomination. Here’s the gist: Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is possessed by an all-powerful force that threatens to destroy mutants and humans alike until Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables) is forced to kill her.
The X-Men movies did a terrible job of explaining why Logan was so fascinated with Jean. In the comics, Jean was the first to see beyond his berserker rages and abrasive nature so it made sense that he’d be drawn to her, but in the movies, he’s surrounded by sympathetic females including Storm and Rogue so his interest in Jean comes across more like an obsession than love.
Logan still feels guilty for killing Jean and suffers in solitude on desolate mountains tormented by dreams/hallucinations of being with her. His self-imposed banishment is interrupted by Yukio (a fun Rila Fukushima), an emissary of Mr. Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), the ailing head of a Japanese technology empire. Logan saved Yashida’s life during World War II and Yashida seeks to return the favor by offering to take away the healing factor that has left him virtually immortal.
While considering the proposition, Logan becomes intrigued by Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and finds himself thrust in the middle of a power struggle for control of the Yashida empire. Among the players are Mariko’s father, Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada); her fiancé, Nobura (Brian Tee, The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift); the ninja, Harada (Will Yun Lee, Die Another Day), and the mysterious Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
As he seeks to keep Mariko safe, Logan finds to his shock that his healing factor is gone and for the first time in his life his own mortality is a possibility. It’s a fantastic premise and adds a much needed vulnerability to Wolverine.
Jackman, who has dutifully suited up for the role that made him a box office star through some truly awful films, finally gets a superhero showcase worthy of his Oscar-nominated talent. He’s amazing as always and is able to show the complexity of the character in a way that makes the movie feel more like a top tier Avengers film than an X-Men film to the point I wished Samuel L. Jackson or Robert Downey Jr. showed up in the post-credit scene. And his workout routine paid off as he looks as chiseled in stone as Man of Steel‘s Henry Cavill.
Director James Mangold (Knight and Day) has an excellent feel for the character and source material. Mangold accomplishes what Shane Black failed in Iron Man 3 in focusing more on the man than the comic book superman. Still, Mangold remembers his influences as many of his shots are framed like a comic book panel and he gets the tone down perfectly with the brooding Logan struggling to find a new reason to fight for his honor and conquer his old demons.
Setting the film in Tokyo also helps distinguish the film and provides more unique backdrops than the New York City landscape that’s become played out in comic book films.
While the film is PG-13, Mangold did manage to convey the ferocity and viciousness of a man who fights with three claws in each hand in the stellar action sequences. Occasionally, you’ll even spot a little blood staining Logan’s claws for added realism.
Even though we’ve already witnessed a fun fight scene atop a subway in Spider-Man 2, the bullet train sequence Mangold shoots is one of the most exhilarating and creatively staged comic book fights I’ve seen. It’s a shame the battle occurs so early in the film as nothing else quite matches it.
As for that final act, it’s the one point in the film where Mangold opts for the traditional, explosive comic book finale instead of the more original Wolverine/Kill Bill Vol. 1 mash-up he was building toward. My biggest complaint is there’s not nearly enough Logan vs. ninjas fights.
Still, the rest of the film makes up for the finale letdown and the post-credit scene will no doubt leave you breathlessly anticipating the next installment of Wolverine and his amazing friends in 2014.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox