The X-Men movie franchise is arguably one of the more successful Marvel adaptations even for Brett Ratner’s hack-job “The Last Stand”. It spawned a reboot, a spin-off titled “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and now 2013 finds Hugh Jackman reprising his role for the 6th time (remember he had a brief cameo in “First Class”) as everyone’s favorite mutant in director James Mangold’s “The Wolverine”. The Marvel character created by Roy Thomas, Len Wein and John Romita Sr. has indeed come a long way, and it is to be argued that he is fast becoming one of the most over-exposed characters in movies and comic books. But hey, Hollywood likes him since he is an easy money-grab. And for what it is worth, “The Wolverine” is better than the previous film and is better than the shameless box-office hit “Iron Man 3”.
While “X-Men Origins: The Wolverine“ was a prequel to the “X-trilogy”, “The Wolverine” can be seen as a direct sequel to “The Last Stand”. Lonely, heartbroken and upset over Jean Grey’s death, Logan (Hugh Jackman) retreats to the mountains where he shares a cave with a huge grizzly bear. Logan is satisfied in being left alone, but something from his past had come a-calling. A young woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) had arrived at the behest of Yashida, a man whom Logan had saved from the atom bomb explosion during world war II. Reluctant, yet somehow feeling a sense of responsibility, Logan arrives in Tokyo to say his farewells to the dying Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), not knowing that the Japanese billionaire has plans of his own. Now Logan must face the threat of a woman called Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) without his healing powers and protect a woman named Mariko (Tao Okamoto).
Comic Book fans would easily recognize the references to Wolverine’s time in Tokyo and they would indeed be excited to see familiar characters such Mariko (too bad there is no Matsuo), Yukio and Kenuichio Harada (played by Will Yun Lee, who really should be the Silver Samurai). Much of the film’s core plot relies on their development and their relationship to Logan. Despite the fact that there were some minor changes to their characters (Yukio looked like a character ripped from anime) I thought that the changes were competent as it made the story much more fleshed out and was able to stand even as its own. Yes, this may be a sequel to the “X-trilogy” and to the first Wolverine movie, but it manages to create a more ‘humanized’ Wolverine than what was presented before. Of course there were plot approaches that they had to create in order to make the connection to the X-films (Jean Grey played by Famke Janssen for instance) and while I did not like some moves made in the script, I thought as a whole, it connected well in telling its story.
Most of the film’s central focus were in Logan’s interactions with Yukio and Mariko. They proved significant in the development of Logan as a person and just how he sees this world. Hugh Jackman may or may not be the ideal “Wolverine” (the comic character is a lot shorter), but he does a good job in his portrayal anyway. He was able to express the right emotions and mood for the way his character was developed. Yes, I did have some issues with him being so ‘hung up’ with Jean but it served to be the main core of his character that what made him, I was able to buy into what was sold in the script. Mariko is an honorable young woman who has the strength to carry on her family’s honor, and it was easy to see just how Logan becomes taken by her. Okamoto was charming, elegant and classy with her portrayal and she was the Mariko that I could’ve easily imagined. Fukushima may feel more like a young Yukio, but she certainly had the personality to be female martial artist. I do have to say that she connected well with Jackman, as the two bonded to form a chemistry. Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai) may have limited screen time, but his screen presence made the Logan-Shingen encounter an essential part of its narrative. There is a lot of emotions involved in the screenplay, and while some of them may be the kind of cliché we’ve come to expect, they were presented well because of the performances.
The film does pick up with the action, as Logan does engage in a lot of fights. While I thought some areas in the script were questionable (such as with the characteristics of adamantium and how his claws can pop out without injury to himself), the director does manage to keep my brain with some real good shots of the fight sequences. With Logan’s healing factor on the fritz, it was easy to generate a form of suspense as he engages his opponents. He gets shot, cut and even fell how many times, and despite his momentary handicap, the man keeps going (there is also more blood here than in the previous film). The fight scene on top of Japan’s Bullet train was a good exercise in how to shoot an action scene and the scene in the small town with all the ninjas looked ripped from the comic books. The director also manages to mix in some good subtle humor along with its gritty tempo, but the humor never threatened to take over the film. Now, as much as I enjoyed the fights, I thought the climactic battle with a certain armored suit was a little too weak. Yeah, while there was no mention of the name “Silver Samurai”, I wasn’t too fond of the way the character was treated (it did have nods to the 2nd one), but hey, at least it wasn’t a disgrace.
“The Wolverine” is a fun summer action flick. While it may not have the things I wanted to see, I thought the screenplay made good use of the good stuff, and whatever flaws it had, I was able to look pass them. Perhaps I was just glad that they did not botch this project (there were development issues in its production). James Mangold may be no Darren Aronofsky but I thought he did a good job directing this film. The film is also brisk in pacing that I barely felt its runtime and that is a good thing. Jackman may be a little too tall to play our favorite mutant, but he does a good job with the title role. “The Wolverine” may be another “2013’s comic book adaptation” but at least, it is not one of the bad ones that it gets a recommendation from me. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
Note: It also has a very worthwhile end credits scene.
By Joan Alperin Schwartz I really feel for The Wolverine, aka Logan (Hugh Jackman). The poor guy can't die, doesn't have any cool people to hang out with, and he's suffering from major depression... On top of that, he's still in love with his ex girlfriend (Famke Janssen. Even though he killed her, their relationship seems to be going well. Of course, Logan can only see her in his dreams. No wonder our century … more