Title: The Wolverine
Director: James Mangold
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, Scott Frank (based on works by Len Wein and Chris Claremont)
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Janssen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi & Ken Yamamura
Release Date: July 26, 2013
MPAA: Rated PG-13
The Wolverine starts up a few years after X-Men: The Last Stand with Logan (Jackman) suffering from the guilt of having to kill Jean Grey (Janssen), living a life of seclusion, haunted by dreams of the woman he loved, and generally just wanting to be left alone. Starting with a flashback to World War II, Logan is a POW in Nagasaki the day America dropped a nuclear bomb on the city. During the chaos of soldiers fleeing, dying, and committing seppuku (honorable suicide), a young soldier named Yashida (Yamamura) is saved by Logan. Back in the present, an elderly, sickly Yashida (Yamanouchi) is dying, and wishes to see Logan one more time to “thank” him for saving his life. You see, Logan apparently has a death-wish, and Yashida is afraid of dying. Yashida has found a way to transfer Logan’s regenerative powers into himself, so Logan can finally grow old and die, and Yashida can seemingly live forever. No such luck, though, as Logan flatly refuses the offer and things just sort of snowball from there as Yashida and his cohorts hatch a plan to take Logan’s powers by force.
Along with this plot, we get a few subplots, such as Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto) being forced to marry a corrupt official (Tee), and Mariko’s father Shingen (Sanada) plotting to murder her in order to take control of the Yashida Corporation. All the while, Logan comes to terms with his past, develops a relationship with Mariko, gets a new sidekick by way of Yukio (Fukushima), and finds a way to save the day. It all comes across like a convoluted soap opera plot, but luckily top-notch acting from most of the major players keeps things from becoming both overly melodramatic and lackluster. Unfortunately, all the good acting in the world can’t help this film.
Hugh Jackman as Logan (aka Wolverine) knocks it out of the park as expected, taking this character to hitherto unexplored emotional depths. Fukushima and Okamoto as Yukio and Mariko respectively deliver first-rate performances, fleshing out what could have been two-dimensional side-kick and love-interest roles, imbuing their portrayals with real presence and purpose.
Sanada brings complexity to the role of Shingen, keeping him from being the only villain out of three that isn’t simply a one-note heavy hamming it up whenever possible. Which brings me to the worst part of the cast – Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper. Where to begin with this character?! Three major complaints stem from acting, writing, and design. On the acting side of things, Svetlana is playing the old mustache-twirling Saturday Matinee dastardly villain and ruining just about every scene she’s in. From the writing standpoint, the script turned Viper, a brilliant tactician and soldier on par with the likes of Captain America, into a one-trick pony of a villain who happens to be a mutant whose power is that she’s part snake. She actually sheds her skin in one scene, as if the audience hadn’t been hit over the head that she was part snake enough times already.
Finally, she comes out for the final battle sporting a silly skimpy costume, which wouldn’t be so bad if everyone had been wearing costumed uniforms (a la X-Men: First Class), but she’s the ONLY person in a comic book costume, so it just looks completely absurd and out of place.
Shaky camerawork during nearly every action sequence, a ridiculous plot to extract Wolverine’s superpowers through his bone marrow (I can’t make this stuff up folks), a terribly protracted and insipid fight scene on top of a bullet train, and a completely mind-numbing, overblown and cheesy third act all drag this film down. It’s a real shame too, because when this film isn’t trying (and failing) to be an entertaining action flick it’s really quite impressive. The emotional content of this installment is on par with the first two entries of the X-Men film series, far exceeding the shallow depths seen by the last few films.
The fight scenes in this film would be rather impressive for the intensity and ferocity, if not for the unwieldy shaky-cam that prevents you from actually SEEING the fights. For whatever reason, the film tends to obscure the action, even though previous films of the series tended to showcase as much of the fighting as possible. Though, when the camerawork actually NEEDS to obscure the view of the action, for instance the CGI-filled bullet-train fight and climactic battle with a giant robot samurai (you read that right), the camera settles down, as if the filmmakers were convinced that their second-rate visual effects actually looked good.
The story is inspired loosely by the Wolverine four-issue mini-series where Wolverine goes to Japan, meets Mariko, and deals with her family drama, with extraordinarily violent results. The similarities between the two plots stop there. The movie version of Yukio is a mutant who can predict when people die (a talent which never proves useful during the film) and looks like Lady Deathstrike (oddly enough, Lady Deathstrike in X2: X-Men United looked like Yukio). Harada (Lee) is changed from Mariko’s half-brother to her ex-boyfriend, unparalleled swordsman to archer, and most importantly from villainous Silver Samurai to a lackey who can’t decide which side he’s on.
Here’s a major issue that stems from the character of The Silver Samurai: he’s unnecessarily shoehorned into this film for no apparent reason whatsoever. In the original story, Harada is a mutant villain who wears a suit of Samurai armor. In the film, The Silver Samurai is an ancient suit of armor that acts as a good luck charm, said to watch over the family. Mariko’s father puts it on, becoming the “Silver Samurai” for one scene lasting about five minutes, and then later in the film Mariko’s grandfather has a 12-foot tall robotic suit of armor that looks like a giant version of the Silver Samurai armor from the comics that he wears during the film’s climax. Neither scene adds anything to the overall experience of the film, and generally just serve as a reminder to fans of the story how poorly handled this adaptation really is.
The glaring flaws that feature prominently throughout over half of the film wouldn’t be so noticeable if the other half wasn’t so good. The flashbacks to Logan in WWII, his struggle to let go of Jean and move on, his life of seclusion in the Yukon, the relationship building with Yukio and Mariko, and Logan’s interrogation of Mariko’s contemptible fiancé all play out wonderfully and, honestly, if the whole movie had maintained this level of quality the film would have been excellent.
One such moment involves Logan encountering a Grizzly Bear that he later has to “help” because of some despicable hunters, and his confrontation with the hunters in a bar. One can’t go into detail without spoiling the scene for those that still wish to see the movie, but suffice it to say that its is a perfect realization of Logan’s character and an outstanding performance from Hugh Jackman.
As an adaptation of the comics this film is based on, and as a movie on its own merits, The Wolverine gets a score of 5 out of 10.