Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Hal Yamanouchi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee, Famke Janssen
To call X-Men Origins: Wolverine a disappointment would certainly be an understatement for most die-hard comic fans and even a few casual film goers. The 2009 prequel to the X-Men franchise found Hugh Jackman’s Logan squaring off against a slew of villains, including his archnemesis Sabretooth, William Stryker, and a poorly-conceived Deadpool, while acquiring his famous adamantium skeleton. Overstuffed with needless characters, a convoluted storyline, and some deplorable special effects, the film was definitely a low point for the character. Despite the disastrous critical beating it took, the film still made 375 million dollars worldwide, so a sequel was only a matter of time.
Taking place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, The Wolverine opens with Logan as a different man, isolated, living in the woods, and still haunted by his memories of killing Jean Grey. He has no desire to interact with the civilized world, until a young Japanese woman named Yukio, persuades him to travel with her to Tokyo to grant the dying wish of a businessman named Yashida. Saved by Logan at the bombing of Nagasaki during World War II, Yashida believes that his burden of inhumanly long life would be a gift worth trading to become mortal. Before long, Logan discovers that not everything is what it seems, and must fight to protect Yashida’s granddaughter Markio, but without the full strength of his mutant healing factor.
Admittedly, the bar was set quite low for The Wolverine, but the film certainly managed to exceed expectations, and deliver a surprisingly enjoyable adventure for the popular X-Men character. More so than the previous solo outing, The Wolverine feels real. From the location shooting, to the characters and the action, everything has a far more organic quality to it. The film makes great use of Japan, acknowledging the character’s history with the country in the comics, and feels very much like a character all its own. The idea of Logan as a Ronin, a samurai with no master or purpose, plays heavily into the film, as there is a great deal of effort put forth to examine him as a character.
Hugh Jackman is as commanding as ever in The Wolverine, bringing the right combination of ferocity and stoicism that we have come to expect. Not counting his brief cameo in X-Men: First Class, this marks his fifth outing as Logan/Wolverine in almost 15 years, and his ability to maintain the physicality of a character that is seemingly immortal should definitely be commended. Jackman is aided in the film by a robust collection of Japanese actors, both up-and-coming and well-known. Fashion model Rila Fukushima turns in a strong and spirited performance as Yukio, coming to Logan’s aid on more than one occasion throughout the film. Fellow model Tao Okamoto is more reserved, by comparison, as Mariko. Despite her quiet demeanor, however, she eventually proves herself to be slightly more rebellious and headstrong than her adopted sister, Yukio. Veterans like Hal Yamanouchi and Hiroyuki Sanada, meanwhile, add the right amount of gravitas to the proceedings as Yashida and his son Shingen, respectively. Even Svetlana Khodchenkova’s ham-fisted performance as the film’s villain, Viper, was appreciated to an extent, helping to remind audiences that they are still watching a comic book movie. Will Yun Lee and Brian Tee, however, add little to the film as Harada and Minister Noburu.
In terms of action, I was surprised at how much The Wolverine pushed the boundaries of its PG-13 rating. Known for his razor-sharp claws, Wolverine makes use of them in all the ways you would want him to, especially when it comes to stabbing and slicing up more than his fair share of Yakuza thugs. We also got a rather thrilling sequence between Wolverine and a village full of ninjas. But if there is a high point in the action of the film, it has to be the bullet train sequence. The combination of CGI and stunt choreography easily makes for the most intense action scene in the film. Although, seeing the Silver Samurai in action was still quite enjoyable.
The film does suffer from some slow pacing in the second act, however. Understandably, a fair amount of time does need to be spent building upon the relationship between Logan and Mariko once he rescues her from a kidnapping attempt, and their interactions do help to serve the story, as we ultimately follow Logan on a path to redemption. Still, the film runs the risk of getting bogged down by this character drama. Not to mention the fact that the repeated appearances by Famke Janssen as Logan’s vision of Jean Grey feel a little too shoehorned, mostly due to the fact that his love for her was always unrequited. Watching him try to get over a girl that was never his in the first place is almost too sad to watch play out.
Its few faults aside, The Wolverine is a solid return to form for a comic book hero that has captivated fans for almost forty years. The character has long since made Hugh Jackman a bonafied star, and it is great to see that he still enjoys playing him. With a more straightforward, character-based story, the film succeeds in being more than your standard action romp. A genuine attempt is made to explore what drives Logan as an individual, and what makes him the timeless warrior many would come to know as The Wolverine.