Based on the celebrated comic book arc, this epic action-adventure takes Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the most iconic character of the X-Men universe, to modern-day Japan. Out of his depth in an unknown world, he will face a host of unexpected and deadly opponents in a life-or-death battle that will leave him forever changed. Vulnerable for the first time and pushed to his physical and emotional limits, he confronts not only lethal samurai steel but also his inner struggle against his own immortality.
Despite the poor reviews for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it was the box office success that kept the plans for a sequel alive. During the development of The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman stated that he always wanted to take the Wolverine character to Japan. Out of all the Wolverine comics, Jackman had such an admiration for the limited series written Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. The idea for The Wolverine was to tell a character story more closely to real life, while shying away from heavy comic book elements. As a result, The Wolverine is a drastic improvement from its predecessor in every way.
The story is much tighter and focused, with most of the main characters having complete arcs. The action sequences are choreography and shot so well. Also the cinematography, scores, and the production sets really make you feel like a foreigner traveling into a new world. One thing I noticed watching The Wolverine is how director James Mangold decided to not include subtitles in any of the scenes featuring Jackman, which I think is a great decision. Like many of us in the audience, Logan is a stranger to the Japanese language and ways.
The first act wastes no time in setting the grounded, realistic tone. Wolverine suffers from inception, as he awakes beside Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) from a flashback dream, only to then awake again from that dream, where we find him living mountainside in isolation. These first twenty minutes of the film sets up where we meet Logan in his life. He’s tormented by his past from killing a woman he loved, and therefore vows to never hurt anyone again. (By the way, the film gives several references to the previous X-Men films, particularly The Last Stand, through mainly dream sequences of him and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). That vow is nearly broken just before Yukio (Rila Fukushima) makes her grand entrance, and convinces Logan to travel to Japan so that a man he once knew (and saved) named Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) could repay him.
As I mentioned above, part of what makes the story for The Wolverine so great is how much of an impact many of the supporting characters make through their own sub plots. Mariko Yashida (Tao Okamoto) is more than just a love interest to Wolverine. She’s stuck between upholding her grandfather’s legacy and choosing her own path in life, while slowly falling for the westerner (Wolverine). Yukio has dedicated her life to protecting Mariko and serving the Yashida family (who often remind her of her true place among the family), but once she looks after Wolverine she’s conflicted between honor and doing what’s right. Same goes for smaller characters like Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee), leader of the black ninja clan, who has a deep commitment to serving Yashida family, but is a victim of his own will. This film not only casted strong Japanese actors, but gave them strong roles.
The second act balances action and drama so well. The funeral fight between Logan and the Yakuza stands out for two reasons. The first being the camera technique used to show Logan’s vulnerability. Every gunshot his body takes is followed by a slow motion, blurred close up of Jackman’s face, as he’s unsure of what’s happening. It’s unsettling to see. The second is the impact Logan’s claws make on his enemies. There are shots of his claws ripping through bad guys, and then his claws actually covered in blood. As a huge fan of Wolverine, this is exactly the kind of violence the character deserves. It helps elevate the action and brings out the character’s ferociousness. The funeral fight scene is followed up by another fight scene that takes place on top of a speeding bullet train. The choreography is so well done, and the action is fast paced enough to fill you with adrenaline.
While we’re on the subject of action, the only other two sequences worth mentioning is the fight between Yukio and Shingen Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada), and later Wolverine and Shingen. The former has arguably the most stakes in the entire film. Logan has discovered the problem with his healing factor, and must cut himself open to remove a robotic parasite, meanwhile Shingen has come to kill a vulnerable Logan, but Yukio stands in his way. Willing to give her life to protect Logan, she puts up a fight against Shingen just long enough for Logan to regain his healing factor. And then comes my favorite fight in the entire film. A fully regenerated Wolverine versus Shingen. What made this fight so exciting is the buildup throughout the whole second act of Wolverine getting his powers back. Once that happens, not even the highly skilled Shingen and all his swords can defeat him.
The drama element in the story is well paced and developed. We learn so much about these supporting characters, and how Logan views them. He doesn’t know who to trust, much less why certain things are happening, but the more he learns the more he cares. There’s a moment when Logan gets a taste of the life he’s long searched for. He’s developing a connection with Mariko that’s becoming more and more personal. He also contributes to helping a small village when a tree falls on the road. There’s a sense of newfound purpose and meaning. Of course, that quickly goes away when the Yakuza takes Mariko.
What ultimately dooms The Wolverine from being one of the great comic book films is the third act. Throughout the film, Dr. Green / Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) constantly felt out of place and at times unnecessary. Why else you think Logan looked twice in her direction when reuniting with Yashida? The fact that she got such a big role in the final act (peeling her skin off) was, again unnecessary. Then the film completely betrays its grounded tone by having Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) control a huge Silver Samurai robot made from adamantium, and equipped with two flaming swords. This, after a huge battle between Wolverine and the black clan gets teased, but is ultimately cut from the theatrical version? Instead, we get Yashida in a big robot suit. What were the filmmakers thinking? Yashida’s monologue to Logan, as he’s sucking his healing powers from him, is cringe worthy, and not in a good way. If only the film had kept with its grounded tone all the way, and found another way for Wolverine to fight, maybe against Kenuichio, and his black clan, who all are equipped with some poisonous swords and arrows?
Unlike Origins though, The Wolverine is absolutely a film worth watching. It has the right balance of action, drama, and subtle humor (Wolverine throws guy off balcony and (unknowingly) into a pool) throughout the first ninety-five minutes. Jackman is as great as he’s ever been as Wolverine, and a lot more physically built this time around. The more grounded and realistic approach gave a more compelling Wolverine story. As I said though, the final act crumbles, which prevents this film from being great, but still good. If only Days of Future Past didn’t wipe this film from that timeline’s existence.
The Wolverine gets an 8.1 out of 10