Theatrical Review: “The Wolverine”
Produced by: Lauren Shuler Donner, Hugh Jackman, Hutch Parker, John Palermo
Written by: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Edited by: Michael McCusker
Cinematography by: Ross Emery
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee, Haruhiko (“Hal”) Yamanouchi, Ken Yamamura, Famke Janssen
Based on volume one of the comic book Wolverine by Chris Claremont
It’s pretty telling that the filmmakers were confident enough in their hero that they felt like they could ditch the entire X-Men moniker for the film and coast solely upon the loner mutant who has been the team’s most famous member, Wolverine. The previous attempt (what was to be one of many) to cash in on the clawed Canuck, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was without a doubt one of the messiest attempts to cash in on the X-Men and superhero craze, but its relative success at the box office, despite being behind the previous two X-Men films, proved that, as with comic book fans, the character had just as much staying power with movie audiences beyond his relationships to his teammates. Obviously, this meant that a sequel would be put into production – even as the series would ditch the whole X-Men Origins pretense (with the next entry, Magneto, being put down with a plastic bullet) and go in a decidedly new, exciting, and largely well-received direction with the period film, X-Men: First Class.
With his first solo outing releasing 4 years ago, in that time, as we all know, Marvel had been building up their interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe – one that would not include Spider-Man, whose movie rights were tangled up in Sony’s web, and one that did not include the X-Men, with the movie rights to the publisher’s mutant characters being held on to by Fox. While Spidey’s absence from the universe remains an unfortunate point of aggravation for fans who would love to see the Webhead hang out with Iron Man and the Hulk, Fox was fortunate enough to have the rights to a franchise that was, quite frankly, able to hold its own as a completely separate universe (one that, some would argue, is better off on its own, anyway), and it seems as though Fox has been taking notes from Marvel Studios’ in-house productions, ‘cause The Wolverine is not only a solid action/drama, but it also shows the promise that a dedicated X-Men movie universe holds.
The film finds Wolverine going solo once more, dealing with the grief he feels not just from his existence as an apparently immortal being, doomed to see the passing of every loved one he knows, but also with being haunted by memories of being the one who put an end to Jean Grey’s destructive turn while under the influence of the Phoenix Force. Somehow, however, he is tracked down by a Japanese woman named Yukio, a skilled swordsman, mutant with precognitive ability, and bodyguard for a powerful man whom Wolverine had saved the life of long ago. (The opening scene where this takes place is stirring and a highlight of the film and the series in general, which has always been pretty good about putting its fantasy story within a real world context.) He agrees to accompany her to Japan, if only to pay his respects to her dying employer, Yashida.
Yashida has become quite the technology mogul, and he reveals that he wishes to repay Logan for saving his life all those years ago by offering to take away Logan’s by extracting his regenerative abilities and transferring them into his own body, allowing him to live forever while allowing Logan to grow old and die, like everyone else. Tempted but wary, Logan refuses the offer, but his rejection soon leads to him getting caught up in Yashida’s professional and personal affairs, all the while coming to find that a mysterious attack has rendered his regenerative abilities inactive. Mariko, Yashida’s beautiful granddaughter, naturally gets caught up in the middle, and it’s up to the haunted, depowered, and damaged Wolverine to keep her safe, even while he learns to let the mental scars heal, even if he knows his physical ones no longer will.
The Wolverine, directed by James Mangold (director of the incredible remake of 3:10 to Yuma), sees Hugh Jackman at his action hero best. If you were somehow not convinced that Jackman is one with what has become his signature superhero character, The Wolverine is undeniable proof that, height be damned, Jackman was the right man for the part when Bryan Singer cast him all the way back in 1999. His Wolverine is superbly gritty, violent, and yet perfectly charming all at once, and I personally can’t imagine anyone else doing justice to the character (though I admittedly mostly knew the character from the 90’s cartoon when I first saw the original film, not the comics).
His supporting cast, made up of an international cast of mostly Japanese actors, are also pretty solid, particularly Rila Fukushima as the sword-wielding Yukio, who, in my opinion, has easily surpassed even the Black Widow amongst the women in Marvel adaptations in terms of awesome action heroine status. Seriously, Rogue who? Tao Okamoto is also very good in portraying Mariko as not a delicate flower, but rather a young woman torn between family duty and honor and doing what she knows to be right, not just for them, but to herself and even the rest of the world, as well, having been lined up to take over her grandfather’s empire. She doesn’t really get to kick much butt, but the script and Okamoto’s performance make her a well-drawn character, all the same.
Less impressive is the villainous presence and, thus, the film’s climax, too, feels let down by villains who barely register as anything more than a nuisance to Wolverine’s journey. We get the sultry femme fatale with the venom-spitting Viper, apparently subbing in for the same role that Mystique and Emma Frost filled in the previous films, but, aside from some icky stuff she does with her skin later in the film, Viper is kinda dull, her primary gimmick largely being similar to that of Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin, only without the uber-campy Uma Therman performance that made that role so can’t-take-my-eyes-off-it awful. Then there’s the ambiguous ninja character Keniuchio Harada, who is under orders from Yashida to take down Wolverine but who is also dealing with his own inability to let go of his feelings for Mariko. The parallels between the two opposing characters isn’t nearly explored enough and seems like kind of a waste. Ultimately, the dull villains result in an action-packed but uncharacteristically dull climax when what the film really needed was something akin to the Wolverine/Lady Deathstrike showdown in X2… or Mangold could have easily looked at his own darn film for reference, ‘cause all the other action sequences in this film are top notch, especially that bullet train sequence.
The Wolverine is definitely not without its faults, but, much like how First Class improved upon the previous X-team film, The Last Stand, this movie is also a considerable improvement over Wolverine’s last solo outing. Though it does kinda suck that we’ll likely never see Jackman trade barbed words with Robert Downey, Jr. or face off against Mark Ruffalo’s enraged Hulk with the way that Fox is churning out the X-Men films as a means to hold onto their licensing agreement, I can’t say that I don’t also feel as though they’re going in the right direction with the privilege they have been given with this universe. X-Men and the other mutant teams have a wealth of stories that can still be told, whether the characters are joining together to fight for a common cause or facing their personal struggles largely on their own, and The Wolverine shows that, if anything, Fox is at least taking this much more seriously now that Marvel has thrown down the (infinity) gauntlet.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5