“The Wolverine” may not be a direct sequel to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but it will force people to remember a disastrous superhero film from 2009 that they had recessed deep within their memory core. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is a mess of a film known for rushing Marvel character favorites Gambit and Deadpool and bringing in a worldwide gross of over $373 million on a $150 million budget despite leaking onto the internet months in advance with incomplete special effects. “The Wolverine” hasn’t gone without its issues either as Darren Aronofsky was originally attached as director, but was eventually replaced by James Mangold. Take solace in the fact that “The Wolverine” is the closest we’ll ever get to an excellent Wolverine film.
During World War II, Logan (Hugh Jackman) saved a man named Yashida from the bombing of Nagasaki. After the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” Logan is now haunted by Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) – the woman he was not only in love with but killed to save humanity. No longer a member of the X-Men or a superhero, Logan spends his days in hiding (mostly mutually with a bear in the woods) until a strange red haired samurai girl who can foresee the future named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) finds Logan, tells him Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) is on his deathbed, and that Logan must come to Tokyo to say goodbye. But Yashida has become obsessed with Logan’s inability to age and healing factor and a one day trip to Japan turns into not only a battle for Logan’s life, but an internal struggle within himself.
Logan has essentially lost any reason to live in “The Wolverine.” When he killed Jean, he realized that everyone around him dies while he continues to live with a curse that no man should ever have to carry on his shoulders. Jean, while only appearing in Logan’s dreams, seems to almost act as Logan’s conscience as she questions the decisions he’s making and keeps asking when he’ll join her in the afterlife. She serves as a source of encouragement for a way out for Logan, but in reality it’s just a piece of the past that Logan can’t let go of.
There is a ton of story in “The Wolverine,” so much that aside from the brief bar sequence at the opening of the film that the action doesn’t really pick up for a good 30-40 minutes, but its speedball antics almost seem everlasting at times. The funeral battle that leads to a chase through an arcade as the archer Harada (Will Yun Lee) runs effortlessly on rooftop ledges lasts an incredibly long time. You’re barely able to catch your breath when the exhausting speed train sequence kicks in. Jumping ahead, the arrow sequence near the end of the film is packed with exceptional imagery; Japanese rooftops lurking in the background at night, snow lightly falling on the ground, and the way dozens of ninjas attack Logan in this specific scene is just fantastically memorable.
The humor is very hit or miss whether it’s Logan’s scattered use of profanity or Logan feeling violated after his only bath and haircut in the film. Logan and Mariko (Tao Okamoto) stumbling onto a love hotel pushes the film’s humor into awkward territory. While Noburo’s (Brian Tee) pool scene could be considered the film’s funniest scene, the scene where a wounded Logan is tended to by a veterinary student is where the film’s flaws interrupt a near pleasant experience up to that point.
In the original comics and even in the “X-Men” cartoon from the early 90s, Wolverine not only had a history in Japan but also knew Japanese. Obviously some things had to be changed for the live-action films, but Logan not knowing any Japanese at all in “The Wolverine” seemed a little ignorant on his part. While the story is surprisingly well developed, is structurally solid, and story points are consistently introduced early on and returned to later, certain characters are really just downright boring. Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is a key ingredient to Silver Samurai’s uprising, but if it wasn’t for her snake-like abilities using up the film’s special effects budget the character would be nothing more than a Poison Ivy knockoff. While Harada is a really fun character to watch, the way his character is written is awful. He’s loyal to one side and then the other because so-and-so is working with them, but then has a change of heart because a childhood friend stabs him in the thigh.
Thankfully, the sequence featuring ninjas on motorcycles from the first trailers for the film was removed for the theatrical cut of the film. The trailers also made it seem like Logan would just be cut repeatedly in the facial region throughout the entire film before healing and causing a bunch of drama for some reason. That isn’t the case either. The finale of the film is downright fierce, especially the climax of the Silver Samurai/Wolverine battle. It’s a shame you don’t get to see more of Hiroyuki Sanada as Shingen though. He’s mostly very arrogant in his scenes, but he has two extremely intense fight scenes that are incredibly entertaining.
The film is loaded with Japanese culture and history, which is one of the reasons the story is as strong as it is. The film isn’t exactly a Disney film either as Wolverine bleeds a lot, blood is constantly shown on his claws, and blades are seen piercing through people’s torsos, while James Mangold has promised a more violent version on Blu-ray. However, what they do to the Silver Samurai character is tragic. It may make sense for the story, but turning the character into a giant adamantium machine waters down the original character a bit. It reminds you too much of “Iron Man” and once you make that connection “The Wolverine” seems to have way more in common with “Iron Man” than it should.
“The Wolverine” is a vast improvement over “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” It’s more story driven than its predecessor, utilizes all of the new characters introduced to their full potential, and sets up next year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” in a really satisfying way (for the love of Galactus stay through the end credits). “The Wolverine” tries so hard to be the best live-action film incarnation of Wolverine out there and it mostly succeeds, but its little issues are just enough to keep the film from being exceptional.
“The Wolverine” has some 10pm showings starting tonight, July 25, but has an official release date of Friday, July 26.