Review: The Wolverine
PLOT: Years after the events of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, Logan (Hugh Jackman) lives as a vagrant in Alaska, haunted by visions of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). He's visited by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a clairvoyant warrior in the employ of Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), the dying head of a Japanese tech empire. Having been saved by Logan during the bombing of Nagasaki, Yashida wishes to repay the favour by giving Logan the gift of mortality. Before he knows it, Logan finds himself in the middle of a violent power struggle within his old friend's company, and must protect Yashida's grand-daughter and heir, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from Yakuza assassins.
REVIEW: Good news everyone. THE WOLVERINE- for all of it's years of production and false starts- is not only finally here, but it's also pretty damn good! That's saying a lot, as the last time Wolverine got his own solo movie, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, it was a disaster. This time out, everyone involved has obviously put some real effort into making a solo Wolverine movie that stands apart from the rest of the franchise, and gives the character his due.
It's a nice departure from the recent slate of epic superhero movies, with each trying to outdo the other in terms of spectacle. A $200 million dollar plus budget may work for MAN OF STEEL (and will probably be needed for X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST), but THE WOLVERINE, under the direction of James Mangold, takes a different tact. The action has been scaled back this time, making this relatively grounded for the franchise (within reason, it's still a superhero movie after-all), and more than anything else a lean and mean action flick.
While there's no telling what kind of Wolverine movie we would have gotten from Darren Aronofsky, and whether any of the material from his incarnation of the project made it into this one (Christopher McQuarrie apparently wrote that version, this is credited to Mark Bomback and Scott Frank), Mangold's version is surprisingly bold. Working from the fan-favourite storyline from the Chris Claremont-Frank Miller limited series, Mangold seems more inspired by East meets West style action movies like BLACK RAIN, THE YAKUZA, and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE than any of the other X-MEN movies. While definitely not short of action, it's been scaled back in favour of four or five really good, surprisingly tough action sequences, with lots of sword vs adamantium claw fighting, and relatively little in the way of mutants. It's helped that a plot twist early in the film leaves Wolverine physically vulnerable, giving the action scenes an added jolt, especially when Logan finds himself fighting Yakuza assassins on to a 300 mile an hour bullet train.
Hugh Jackman is his usual iconic self as Logan/Wolverine, although this time out he looks even more shredded than usual, with his physique approaching eighties-era Stallone levels at times. Having a little more time dedicated to character building this time out, and allowing Wolverine time to brood over killing Jean Grey, Jackman arguably gives his best Wolverine performance to date. In particular, he seems to relish the tougher dialogue he's given here (with an epic f-bomb towards the end of the movie), and despite the PG-13 rating, this is definitely the darkest film of the franchise, and the closest to a full-on R-rated Wolverine movie that we're ever likely to get.
In a nice touch of authenticity, the supporting cast is mostly filled with Japanese actors, including Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada (who once starred with Michelle Yeoh in a great HK action flick called ROYAL WARRIORS), and models Tao Okamoto and a scene-stealing Rila Fukushima getting the meatiest, most important parts. Former Bond villain, the Korean Will Yun Lee, is on board as one of the (many) antagonists, with Svetlana Khodchenkova rounding out the cast as the sexy, seductive Viper, a toxicologist in the employ of Yashida.
Here and there, Mangold throws in the occasional reference to classic Japanese cinema, with a few nods to Akira Kurosawa, in particular Logan's early, YOJIMBO-like, slovenly appearance (with him even being called a Ronin- just like Toshiro Mifune's character was in that classic). It's a nice touch, and gives the film an interesting, unique flavor, as does the score by Marco Beltrami. Mangold's definitely no hack, having directed COPLAND, WALK THE LINE and the underrated 3:10 TO YUMA remake, and he does a really good job with THE WOLVERINE, to the extent that if they do another solo adventure for the character, it would be nice to see him back in the director's chair.
However, before that happens we've got the epic DAYS OF FUTURE PAST on it's way, and if you want a taste of what's in store for next summer, you'd be well advised to stay through the credits. Even without that icing on the cake, THE WOLVERINE is a really solid addition to the franchise, and a nice solo action vehicle for Jackman. It's definitely NOT trying to be X-MEN 4 (despite following the chronology set by the third) and manages to be it's own thing. I liked it a lot, and I'm confident most of the fans will feel the same way.