‘The Wolverine’ is 3/4 the thrilling character driven spinoff we wanted.
Rest assured, The Wolverine washes away most of the sour taste leftover from 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The Wolverine is not an origin story, nor is it similar to the usual X-Men fare. Under the consistently solid, if not stellar, direction of James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, Knight & Day), The Wolverine manages to resurrect the energy of a character who was losing appeal due to over exposure and silly effects-laden films. The first three quarters of The Wolverine make up one of the most entertaining comic book adaptations to date. Pardon the expression, but The Wolverine is almost ‘Nolan-esque’. In more ways than one, the story is also filled with parallels to Greek mythology (much of the X-Men universe is), all the while maintaining a strong loyalty to the fan favorite title character. Unfortunately, all comes tumbling down in the final act.
The story is based on a series of graphic novels by Frank Miller and Chris Claremont. The Wolverine begins in the past, in which Logan/Wolverine is present for a pivotal moment in world history and saves the life of a young Japanese soldier, Yashida. Many decades later, Logan is spending his time living alone in the Alaskan wilderness, haunted by the spirit of Jean Grey and yearning to end his immortal misery (see Greek mythology). An unexpected visit from a feisty young Japanese woman, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), winds up being a beckoning to Japan to pay respect to a dying Yashida, who is now a sick old man. Once in Japan, Logan soon realizes that there’s more at play than just a dying man’s wish. In fact, there’s a whole web of plots involving Yashida’s son, Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), his grandaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the minister of defense and a sketchy (but sexy!) lady scientist, a mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
Mangold, who directed some fantastically gritty action in 3:10 to Yuma and some well-choreographed slick fights in Knight & Day, finds a very entertaining middle ground for the action set pieces in The Wolverine. The action is frantic and exciting, and every punch or crash impacts the staminas of those involved. The fighters look tired at times, and rightfully so. Although most of the credit should be given to the production team, Hugh Jackman’s performance should not be overlooked. Jackman carries the same focus into dialogue scenes as he does to the fast fight sequences. He roars and winces, glares and fumes, swinging his adamantium claws every which way, and all the while he’s embracing the role of a man struggling to face his own demons while searching for something to fight (and live) for. Not since the first introduction to the character in 2000’s X-Men has Jackman been able to explore this much of the troubled side of the iconic mutant. It’s a shame that the chemistry between him and Mariko is a bit lackluster, since there are an awful lot of scenes with the two together. But this isn’t where the film is weakest — that’s best left for the ending.
The last thirty minutes or so of The Wolverine completely abandon everything that made the previous 100 minutes so worthwhile. We’re bombarded with the usual emotionless silly action that floods summer tentpoles these days. It’s unfortunate that this story succumbs to the pressures of placing the final showdown in an evil villain’s “lair”, so to speak, because the rest of the film was located in multiple gorgeous locales of modern day Japan. Before you know it, memories start arising of 60’s era James Bond movies. There’s one particular reveal (don’t worry…you’ll know when it happens) that made the audience at the screening let out a humorously disapproving sigh. It was the mark of an impending tonal shift that nobody expected or wanted.
A stupid finale aside, The Wolverine is a definite win for the X-Men franchise. After a superb X-Men: First Class, and with the positive buzz surrounding the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Wolverine had the heavy task of filling the gap between the two movies and resurrecting audiences’ interest in the former X-Men cast. Granted, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Wolverine. Jackman was born to play the part. He was very recently quoted as saying he’d happily continue to play the part as long as fans want him to. I, for one, would love to see more Wolverine.
Oh yeah, stick around for the end credits, okay, bub?!
The Wolverine opens in Bay Area theaters today, July 26th, 2013.