The Wolverine is a huge improvement over 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which successfully bastardized canon while still being a very mediocre movie. It also reinforced the rule that Ryan Reynolds should never be in a comic book movie, but I digress. Origins was convoluted, had too many characters, and Hugh Jackman seemed to be phoning it in. This stand-alone story gets everything right that Origins got wrong, and Jackman’s performance as Logan is his best in the role to date.
Some time after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan lives alone in the wilds of Alaska. Haunted by the events that led to the death of his love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Logan has suppressed the Wolverine persona, supposedly for good. That is until he is tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who was sent to bring Logan to Tokyo at the request of her employer, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi). The old man, now the head of a huge corporation, is dying and wants to thank Logan for saving his life during World War II. Logan grudgingly accepts the invitation, and on arriving in Japan he discovers that Yashida wants to give Logan the gift of mortality by taking away his regenerative mutation and allow him to live a normal life.
There is, of course, more going on than is evident at first. Logan finds himself protecting Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the heir apparent to his empire and a target of Yakuza thugs. Conspiracies abound, and there’s no telling who is doing what and to what purpose. The situation is made more complicated by the Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), Yashida’s personal doctor and a mutant who has the ability to sap Logan’s powers.
Director James Mangold handles all this with a subtlety lacking from previous X-Men films, with the notable exception of the excellent X-Men: First Class. The action sequences for most of the film are not the CG heavy video game extravaganzas of most summer films. They mostly involve Logan fighting hordes of henchmen, and the scenes highlight Wolverine’s animal nature and berserker rage. Logan tries to leave the killer behind, but he can’t deny his nature. The duality of the character showcases how much Jackman owns the role, and the most emotional resonant moments involve him wrestling with these different aspects of himself.
The final act works for me on a narrative level, though I saw the twist coming a mile away. Logan’s final confrontation with the villain is a bit of a letdown, because it’s just another action sequence with a big CG monster. Without wading too far into spoiler territory, the scene is disappointing in that the bad guy is just a Japanese version of the Destroyer robot from Thor. We’ve seen variations on this sequence a hundred times before.
My biggest problem is with the character of the Viper, who has been shoehorned in from the comics with the purpose, I guess, of pleasing the fanboys. She’s not a very interesting character and seems like she belongs in a different movie. There would have been ways to get rid of her and still fulfill her purpose in the plot, but the filmmakers obviously felt they needed more mutants in this one. These are nitpicks for the most part. Wolverine is one of the most compelling characters in the Marvel Universe, and with this film, he finally gets a story worthy of the source material.