The Wolverine Review
by Daniel Rester
With this summer’s The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman has now played the title character six times on the big screen. After the disappointing and clumsy X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), it seemed as if maybe the Marvel character wasn’t meant to have a standalone film. But this new cinematic take on the burly, claw-using mutant proves that he can have a solo story for the screen and have it succeed, because Wolverine provides solid comic book-based entertainment.
The plot takes place chronologically after X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). It revolves around Logan facing his past after an old man summons him to his home in Japan. The man, Ichiro Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), who is very rich, was saved by Logan during the Nagasaki bombing in 1945. Now Yashida wants to repay Logan in the form of being able to turn him mortal, but Logan is torn about the situation. Things are made even more complicated for the mutant because he now has strange dreams about Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who died in Stand.
After a number of things go down, Logan is caught up in a messy situation involving a mysterious mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), the Yakuza, and Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). Also, The Wolverine does gain a certain vulnerability after arriving in Japan, so that makes matters even more arduous for him when he and Mariko must do a huff-and-puff escape and try and figure things out.
This take on the X-Men character is based on the popular 1982 comic run of the character by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Wolverine was written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank (and Christopher McQuarrie, who is uncredited but supposedly did rewrites) and directed by James Mangold, the man behind such films as Walk the Line (2005) and 3:10 to Yuma (2007). The various talent here, along with the cast, shines through, as Wolverine succeeds due to the great efforts put forth for the character.
Though Logan has lost some of his mysterious edge over the years from the film sequels adding backstory after X-Men (2000), he remains an intriguing and badass character. Wolverine has perhaps added the most fascinating layer and backstory to the character yet. The writing in this variation allows for more focus on a sense of danger for the character, his haunted past, and his humanity and trying to make new connections with people, all of it given a serious and respectful approach. Some diehard comic fans will complain about some of the uses of Adamantium (the metal inside of Logan) in Wolverine, both in the writing and presentation, but it’s hard to nitpick too much.
Mangold also matches the writing with his surefooted direction. The director places character, story, and real stunt work ahead of CGI for a lot of the picture — which is refreshing compared to some of the overblown superhero films that have come out lately. With attachment to the characters, the action becomes even more suspenseful and really pays off. A highlight scene involves a fight on top of a bullet train, though many of the hand-to-hand scenes are great as well. Mangold fills these scenes with a lot of excitement (though there is too much shaky cam at times), but he also does a terrific job at handling the dramatic moments and the capturing of the Japanese locales as well. Only in the final twenty minutes or so do things become predictable and ridiculous, with Mangold seeming to lose his grip and allowing a CGI-filled finale.
Again bringing the character of Logan to life is Jackman, in perhaps his best turn as the character yet. The muscly actor really gives it his all here, supplying plenty of energy for moments of action but also giving care to the emotional depth for Logan; he also still knows how to deliver those hilarious wisecracks.
The rest of the cast does a fine job as well, with many of the actors playing human characters that are really interesting – rather than the usual mutant characters for this type of shindig. Okamoto certainly makes an impression as Mariko, playing a sort-of love interest for Logan. Other standouts include Rila Fukushima (as an assassin named Yukio) and Will Yun Lee (as Harada, a bodyguard of the Yashida family and a real talent with a bow and arrow), both kicking serious butt in their respective parts. The only real letdown in the cast is Khodchenkova, who seems pretty cartoony as the villainous Viper.
Wolverine is a lot of fun, and possibly one of the better X-Men films to date. It succeeds greatly by being refreshingly different from the rest of the films and not having superhero-based stakes that are so high. There is also a nice post-credits surprise that fans of the series will want to stick around for.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).