The Wolverine doesn’t feel like a comic book movie for the majority of its run time and this is certainly a good thing.
Wolverine has been a key part of every X-Men film besides First Class (though he does get that film’s best line), and he has always been the most rich character for a stand alone film. The Wolverine is a film about character first as Logan deals with his demons while getting thrown into the thick of a crazy game of power among a family that has connections to his past. Ninja clans, Yakuza, expert samurai fathers, venomous chemists, mech samurai suits, adorable Japanese heiresses, the film has plenty of challenges to throw at Wolverine this film, but James Magnold takes his time to build out the characters and create a pretty solid crime drama set across Japan.
The film does a great job of setting up Logan’s head space in the early going and while it is a bit jarring to see Jean Grey in his dream state it helps the film kind of reset where he is at after the events of X3. I do wish the film had paid a little lip service to the fact that Jean actually picked Scott over Logan, but the dream sequences work well enough to move his heart along and get him ready to fight again along with his fellow X-Men.
The many story of the film has little to do with Logan actually as he is pulled into the role of protector for the granddaughter, Mariko, of a Japanese soldier, Yashida, in the bombing of Nagasaki. Yes that bombing. The scene is pretty impressive, but as Yashida succumbs to old age his daughter is under the threat of encroaching Yakuza who wants to kidnap her for nefarious reasons. Logan’s protective side comes out when Mariko is put in danger, but after an extended action sequence the film really slows down and focuses on these two’s relationship. And this isn’t a bad thing, the character work is compelling and as the film roles along Logan uncovers an entertaining plot with the help of Mariko and her friend Yukio. As the trio unravels the mystery things get more and more comic booky and while some of it works I ultimately would have preferred a different action set piece to close out the film.
The film’s final act starts with some solid set up, but as things lose their grounding in reality it doesn’t work nearly as well as what came before it. I mean, there is a clan of ninja’s with swords Wolverine could have disposed of, and while what we get with them is some of the best imagery of the film, I still wish we had gotten something a bit more action heavy with them. The fight with Silver Samurai is fine enough I guess, but things escalate into absurdity rather quickly. Why does everyone keep falling enormous heights, what are the physics/rules around Viper and her skin peeling & venom spouting and who the hell came up with Silver Samurai’s DNA extraction methods? There is some weird and over the top stuff crammed into the finale, and I understand the need to try and satisfy the comic book fans, but this film could have knocked it out of the park with a grounded berserker battle between Logan and non-cgi assisted foes.
Jackman is still the only guy I can imagine playing Wolverine and he doesn’t change those facts here, so moving on. Tao Okamoto makes her screen debut here as Mariko and while she might be a bit precious she is able to go toe to toe with Jackman when the part asks for it. Yukio is a badass mutant, secret samurai played by Rila Fukushima and while they down play her power she gets plenty of time to shine with the sword. Fukushima also gets most of the film’s comedic relief and between her & Jackman they provide enough laughs to break up the often serious tone of the film. The rest of the cast is fine enough as well, but no one stands out in particular from the pack.
The Wolverine is a solid comic book film by effectively avoiding being a comic book film. It feels weird watching one of comics’ A characters thrown into such grounded world, but it really works. Even more surprisingly, the film loses its audience when it tries to get comic booky and it would have been better served to stick with its grounded reality. Still, The Wolverine is well worth your time and will certainly be enjoyed by comic book and non-comic book fans alike. Jackman is still great as Wolverine and the film is an excellent bridge from X3 to the forthcoming Days of Future Past, X-Men fans will not want to miss this.
The Wolverine is a B