The Wolverine Review
As a character study, The Wolverine excels, but as a superhero film it sadly falters.
Four years ago, Marvel attempted to give Wolverine the proper solo movie treatment with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but to no particular avail. In fact, that film was so poorly received that the studio decided to give the character another try, except this time the story would take place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. Taking inspiration from a critically-acclaimed story arc from prolific comic writer Frank Miller, does The Wolverine finally give the character the solo treatment he deserves?
Following the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and the disbanding of the X-Men, Logan (Hugh Jackman) exiles himself to the Canadian woodland. Every night he is tormented by memories, such as the death of his beloved Jean, and the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. One day, a mutant named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) finds him in a bar, and she then asks him to come to Japan with her. She tells him that she is acting on behalf of her dying grandfather Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada), the CEO of a technology corporation bearing his name. Logan had saved Yashida from the nuclear blast in Nagasaki, so he agrees to come to Tokyo to say his goodbyes. However, upon arrival, Yashida offers Logan the option to transfer his healing ability and thus allow him to become mortal, which would of course repay Yashida’s life debt. Logan refuses, but soon after, Yashida passes away and then his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is attacked by Yakuza thugs. Vowing to protect Mariko, Logan then sets off on an adventure that he didn’t expect, and one he is not pleased to be a part of.
Many people are pleased with this iteration of the Wolverine’s exploits as opposed to the previous, and I am one of them. The key difference is that not only is The Wolverine a very interesting character study, it remains that way for its entirety. In terms of how much Logan has to deal with his psychological trauma, struggles with power and his existence altogether, this film remains a fascinating examination of the character that makes him more relatable for us audience members. The disappointing thing is that The Wolverine as a whole is sort of weak. Sure, it starts off strong with its dark tone and subtle humor, but eventually the plot overcomplicates itself to the point of becoming just another generic superhero film. And I really mean that. The supporting characters are utterly forgettable, the basic plot is confusing, and the final act is the stuff of cartoonish, nonsensical and clichéd sci-fi. I suppose these things could have been forgiven in The Wolverine if it had a decent villain, but it doesn’t. When the two villains combined together are less compelling than Rhys Ifan’s Lizard from The Amazing Spider-Man, you know that you are having problems. I cannot deny that there are some fun action scenes, but aside from the satisfying look inside Logan himself, this film is disappointingly empty.
Hugh Jackman’s performance is definitely the best part about The Wolverine. His work as Logan was already iconic, but the good thing is that The Wolverine allows him to truly absorb himself into the psyche of this character. There was never a moment I did not believe that he was Wolverine; Jackman successfully projects the emotion and rage that is festering inside of his character. He’s especially strong in scenes with Famke Janssen and where Logan is dealing with his fading powers. Speaking of Janssen, she also holds up well in some scenes that end up being surprisingly emotional. As for the rest of the cast, though, most of the actors here give middle-of-the-road performances. Both Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima work well together as the two Yashida sisters in The Wolverine, but everyone else is rather unmemorable. I can’t blame them though, for they are all let down by weak writing.
I have to admit that James Mangold did an impressive job directing The Wolverine, even if the use of shaky cam in the earlier action scenes (most likely utilized to tone down the violence for a PG-13 rating) is often disorienting. Otherwise, The Wolverine looks and sounds great. The CGI is good, especially in the sequences where we see Logan save Yashida from the Nagasaki blast. This film’s action scenes can be fun, and what impressed me the most is that the bullet train sequence we all feared in the trailers is arguably the most thrilling, unique set piece in the entire film. This film certainly delves into some dark territory in terms of the character himself, but The Wolverine undoubtedly pushes the envelope for intense action as well – and it helps to somewhat distract from the disappointing story. Japan also seemed like a weird choice for a location, but I’m pleased to report that it actually serves the film quite well within the context of the plot, and it was also nice to see that the culture and environments were lovingly presented here.
In the end, The Wolverine didn’t necessarily need to exist, but I’m glad it does since it wipes the slate clean after the embarrassing X-Men Origins: Wolverine. With some solid action, an excellent performance from Hugh Jackman and unique insight into the iconic character, this film certainly rises above its predecessor. However, I can’t deny that I walked away feeling disappointed, because in the end The Wolverine was just another cliched superhero film. If not for the cartoonish aspects, a disappointing final act and an over-complicated plot, this could have been something special. But sadly, we are just left with yet another Wolverine picture that does not quite satisfy.