The Wolverine might not be the great standalone film that actor Hugh Jackman has been promising fans since the insipid X-Men Origins:
Wolverine, but it does succeed as a satisfying exploration of one of our most iconic superheroes.
It’s too bad just about every other element of the film disappoints.
Unlike Origins, The Wolverine is actually a sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand. It takes full advantage of the fallout from that story as Logan
wrestles with the loss of his beloved Jean Grey by his own hands (er, claws).
While he’s always been a tortured soul, this film presents Wolverine’s plight more effectively than any of the previous films. Logan lives a
solitary existence in the woods of Canada sporting a bushy beard and full mop top. He is haunted by dreams of Jean, a recurring fantasy
that effectively humanizes the surly anti-hero.
After a confrontation with a group of obnoxious hunters, Logan meets Yukio, a mutant with the power to foresee the deaths of others (Only
when convenient to the plot, of course).
Yukio has been tracking Logan for her employer, Yashida, a man saved by Wolverine during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in World War II.
Although some fans may balk at Yukio’s contrived mutant abilities (In the comic she is simply a skilled martial artist), her character is quite
enjoyable and perhaps the film’s greatest supporting asset alongside Famke Janssen as Jean Grey.
Japanese actress Rila Fukushima has a good mischievous chemistry with Jackman and she’s quite entertaining as the bright-red haired
Yukio convinces Logan to visit the dying Yashida in Japan.
Yashida has a proposition- allow him to transfer Logan’s regenerative power so that he might live. Without his mutant ability, Logan would
begin to age and eventually die as Yashida suspects he has always wanted.
Having never read the story which The Wolverine is based on, I suspect this thread is one of the reasons it’s a fan favorite. It deals with
the core of the Wolverine character and the conflict within him. It’s made even more effective thanks to the depression he feels after the
events of The Last Stand.
Thematically, The Wolverine is about Logan’s humanity and finding his purpose in life. What does he really have to live and fight for?
Although his painful past causes him to withdraw, it’s clear he really does want to care for others. His isolation is a byproduct of his past
wounds from caring too much.
This complexity is fantastic and the film handles its metaphors for post-trauma and suicide without bludgeoning us over the head.
Director James Mangold doesn’t shy away from these deeper issues and The Wolverine is somewhat deliberately paced to fully realize
them. It allows the character to truly develop and from that perspective, The Wolverine gets it absolutely right.
Jackman is also great once again. His performance as Wolverine is iconic and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. His versatility in
terms of physicality, drama and comedy are all on display, making Logan an intriguing three-dimensional character.
Mangold’s action sequences are also quite good, with a fight atop a speeding bullet train being perhaps the most memorable.
With everything The Wolverine gets right, it’s a real shame when we realize how stock many elements of its plot are.
The story involving Yashida’s company and family succession is convoluted beyond belief and provides needless plot contrivance.
The film’s main baddie, Viper, is also an uninteresting, over-the-top creation that seems transplanted from a lesser movie.
Quite simply, when Wolverine is on-screen, the film is good, any other time, it sinks to mediocrity.
Despite these issues, the bulk of the film works based on the strong Logan character alone. Then comes the final act; a mindless barrage
of clichéd superhero action. Gone in an instant is the subtlety and character development.
Here The Wolverine hits a brick wall at full speed and the ensuing wreck casts a shadow over everything the film has done so well in its
first 90 minutes.
The overlong action and assumption that we care at all about the Yashida subplot yields a conclusion that doesn’t accurately reflect what
the film has done so well and almost completely loses our interest in the process.
After the film makes such an effort to distinguish itself with a darker, introspective tone, it’s disappointing to watch it devolve into such
generic action movie fare.
The finale does manage to provide a satisfying resolution to Logan’s journey, but it’s too little, too late.
The Wolverine ends up being a very unfortunate mixed bag. While it absolutely does right in establishing and developing its iconic title
character, the elements surrounding him weigh down the entire picture. The final act’s descent into the depths of superhero cliché is
While The Wolverine is still well worth checking out for fans of the character and the series, its squandered potential will leave many
wondering what could have been.
* * ½
(out of four)
How close was The Wolverine to receiving a full-fledged recommendation? It was about 12 minutes off, apparently.
The extended version of the film (As found on the deluxe Blu-ray release) ramps up the violence and reintegrates some subtle moments of
The extra footage nicely expands on the supporting arcs, while the bloody action sequences create a grittier tone to compliment Mangold’s
The film still suffers from the flaws noted in the original review regarding the final act, but the extended version improves The Wolverine
enough to earn a third star.
* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Mark Bomback and Scott Frank
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima,
Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cinematography by: Ross Emery
Released: July 26, 2013; 126 Minutes