A film review by Craig J. Koban August 2, 2013


2013, PG-13, 126 mins.


Hugh Jackman as Logan / Wolverine  /  Brian Tee as Noburo Mori  /  Will Yun Lee as Kenuichio  /  Harada / Silver Samurai  /  Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper  /  Hiroyuki Sanada as Shingen Yashida  /  Tao Okamoto as Mariko Yashida  /  Hal Yamanouchi as Yashida  /  Rila Fukushima as Yukio

Directed by James Mangold  /  Written by Mark Bomback and Christopher McQuarrie


For one reason or another, 2009’s X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE just never really gelled as successfully as it should have as the first solo adventure of everyone’s favorite adamantium clawed anti-super hero.  It perhaps had too many side-characters, too little focus on telling a compelling origin story for its title character, and ultimately it  lacked an undercurrent of lasting intrigue.  

Well, now comes THE WOLVERINE, which has more than learnt from the mistakes of the last Logan-centered film and instead decides to strip the character – and the X-Men universe – down to tell a much more thoroughly compelling, intimately rendered, and character driven tale.  The large scale special effects and action set pieces are indeed still here, but THE WOLVERINE provides a much needed layer of psychological and moral complexity to its character that was, frankly, not there in previous cinematic iterations. 

This might have something to do with the injection of director James Mangold (3:10 To YUMA, KNIGHT AND DAY, and WALK THE LINE) into the mix, who seems to understand – like Christopher Nolan before him – that the finest way to make a super hero film is to not go out of one’s way to make a super hero film with the usual and expected genre staples.  Both faithfully and somewhat loosely based on the revered 1982 comic book series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, Mangold and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Scott Frank, and Mark Bomback have opted to tell a thrillingly realized self-contained story of the titular mutant that both transplants him to Japan while, at the same time, evokes the classic essence of iconic Westerns, yakuza crime noirs, and samurai martial arts auctioneers.  THE WOLVERINE still manages to keep the established mythos of the previous X-MEN and WOLVERINE films, but it nonetheless fuses that with its own uniquely personal storyline that segregates itself from those films.  This is what all spin-offs should aspire to do. 



The X-MEN films have such a convoluted time chronology that even I get crossed-eyed just thinking about it: X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE took place before the events of 2000’s first X-MEN picture, whereas THE WOLVERINE takes place shortly after the events of 2005’s X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, which, you may recall, had Wolverine being forced to kill the love of his life, Jean Grey, to protect the fate of all mutants in the future (bummer, bub).  However, this new film opens with a sensationally rendered flashback to WWII, where Logan (Hugh Jackman, astonishingly more ripped than ever in his sixth time out as his nearly invulnerable Canadian mutant) saves the life of a Japanese soldier named Yashida during the American A-bombing of Nagasaki.  Thankfully for Logan, his healing abilities make it easy to wield off the bomb’s blast and keep the young mortal man alive.  

Flashforward to the present as Logan is haunted by memories of not only saving the soldier, but also with the post-traumatic stress of killing Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who appears and disappears in the film as a ghostly aspiration that plagues Logan’s mind.  While eking out a nomadic existence in the northern Canadian wilds, Logan is tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who has been sent by the aging and dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who in turn has emerged as one of the wealthiest industrial tycoons in the world.  Yukio persuades the initially reluctant Logan to return with her to Japan to speak with Yashida on his death bed, who does offer Logan a gift in exchange for saving his life all those decades ago: he will grant Logan mortality in exchange for his mutant healing abilities.  

The offer is tempting to Logan, who has been cursed, so to speak, with living far beyond friends and family members that have perished in the recent and distant past.  It will allow him to…well…die.  Yet, Logan nonetheless seems reluctant to grant the dying man his wish, and afterwards finds himself caught in a conspiracy to kidnap Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who will inherent the family business.  She has protection from Kenuicho (Will Yun Lee) and his ninja clan, but yakuza gangs are a constant threat to her life.  Logan finds himself becoming a de facto protector/bodyguard for Mariko, taking her as far away from danger as possible.  Alas, more deadly nefarious forces are at play that could affect the lives of both Mariko and Logan, led by a sultry, but dangerous mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) whose kisses are lethal. 

The film’s obvious change of scenery is one of its primary assets.  Mangold makes bravura usage of his Japanese settings and adds an unexpectedly exotic and lush flavor to THE WOLVERINE that was not really in abundance in the previous X-Men films.  Yet, the film never loses sight on its character dynamics and themes, which usually take a back seat in visual effects heavy comic book films.  Part of the swift and brazen confidence of the film is how it adds a whole undercurrent of psychological grit and complexity to Logan.  Recurring notions of his own inherent invincibility, which consequently weighs heavily on his soul, plague Logan as a character.  Perhaps better than in all previous film incarnations of the edgy X-man, this Wolverine is simultaneously lethal, vulnerable and deeply guarded.  He’s more satisfyingly world weary, conflicted, and haunted.  He's almost, you could say, a more humanized mutant, which gives the film more of an edge of unpredictability. 

All of this is assisted, of course, by Hugh Jackman’s cagey and well-rounded performance, who fits into Logan’s skin as effortlessly now as, say, Harrison Ford did into Indiana Jones or Sean Connery did as James Bond.  It’s kind of amazing to see how fresh Jackman still manages to make playing this character thirteen years after his first appearance.  This time, though, he’s more of a highly and emotionally reluctant hero, seemingly unwilling to participate in being an actual hero.  He’s a gnarly man of intensity that still has a teeth clenched and ferocious edge, but paradoxically seems to have lost it as well.  Wisely, Jackman shrewdly underplays Logan more thanklessly than most critics give him credit for; his Wolverine seems more nuanced and intricately defined than ever before. 

That’s not to say that THE WOLVERINE is bereft of action.  There’s an absolutely stellar and virtuoso sequence that manages to find new ways to make adversaries fighting on-board a speeding train feel alive and new again.  Mangold seems to understand how to give all of the martial arts heavy mayhem a crispness and clarity that so many modern action films woefully lack.  Even when the film does manage to take a decidedly silly detour away from its gritty and grounded approach in its glossy, CGI-heavy climax – during which Jackman exchanges slashes and blows with a large-scale adamantium-armored meanie – you are almost willing to forgive small missteps like that for how superbly the first two-thirds of the film hold up and keep the narrative momentum going.  

THE WOLVERINE is a highly rare breed of summer popcorn fare that places more emphasis of tapping into the fragile mindset of its doomed super hero than it is with big, bloated action and omnipresent special effects.  Mangold manages to take a larger-than-life character and populate him in a leaner and more grounded personal storyline of him waging war within his own conflicted psyche.  The more obvious comic book film accoutrements are here, to be sure, but THE WOLVERINE achieves a tough dichotomy between appeasing die-hard comic fundamentalists and agnostic filmgoers to the mutant film landscape

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