Title: The Wolverine
Release Date: July 26, 2013
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: James Mangold
Release Format: Theatrical
It’s no surprise that audiences and critics weren’t too kind to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. So after the critical failure of that film and the critical success of X-Men: First Class, the pressure was on to make a Wolverine movie that the fans could be proud of. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again; I did not hate X-Men Origins: Wolverine, despite its many flaws, and I don’t mind watching it. That being said, though, even I’ll admit that film could have and should have been so much better than it was and I was anxious to see a much better Wolverine film the second time around. Unlike the first Wolverine film where the producer, Tom Rothman, wanted to shove in as many X-Men alumni as he could, this new film would take the series where Hugh Jackman wanted to take it in the first place; The Japan Saga.
Darren Aronofsky (one of the greatest directors working today) was originally set to helm the feature, having already worked with Hugh Jackman on the 2005 fantasy film, The Fountain. Aronofsky’s idea was to make the movie another prequel set before the first X-Men movie (basically a solid remake of Origins) that would have involved Lady Deathstrike as the main villain. I can only assume he would have done the character properly. I mean, it couldn’t have been much worse than what X2 did to her. However, time restraints on the film’s production forced Aronofsky off the project, making room for James Mangold (Identity) to helm the feature, who scrapped Aronofsky’s idea in favor of making the film a sequel, set after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. This resulted in The Wolverine, a film that gets so much right o the point where I wanted to bow down and praise it, until the final act where I just looked at the screen and shouted, “What Happened? They had it! They frickin’ had it!” Regardless, though, how does the film hold up after three years? Let’s see, shall we? Spoilers Ahead!
The Wolverine picks up six years after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, where we find Wolverine off the grid, living as a drifter in Canada. He has frequent hallucinations about Jean Grey’s death and refuses to forgive himself. He is soon discovered by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who brings him to Tokyo to say goodbye to Mr. Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a man Wolverine saved in WWII. When Yashida dies, Wolverine finds himself protecting Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from a wide baray of ninjas and assassins who want to kill her, while the villainous Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) attempts to steal Wolverine’s powers for a hidden agenda.
The Wolverine has a lot going on within its runtime and yet, it all fits seamlessly into a cohesive narrative. Nothing really feels forced or dumbed down for the audience, nor does anything feel shamelessly shoved in for fan service (i.e. Gambit and Blob in X-Men Origins: Wolverine or Half The Mutants in X-Men: First Class). Everything and everyone seems well placed in the movie, with the exception of one thing that I will discuss later. While I admit I didn’t hate the film, I acknowledge that X-Men Origins: Wolverine just felt like another X-Men movie. The Wolverine actually felt like its own entity, despite being a part of the X-Men universe. In other words, it was a proper movie. No cheap gimmicks, no unnecessary mutants shoved in for kicks and no plot points that are impossible to understand unless you’ve seen the previous movies (take that, Age Of Ultron). The Wolverine delivers pretty much what it promises and, for the most part, is absolutely glorious.
Hugh Jackman’s performance is better than any of the X-Men films and I’m including the two that would follow in my statement. Jackman has never been this ferocious and has never made me feel for the character more than he has in this film. It will be a shame to see him go after the third Wolverine film (currently rumored to be titled “Weapon X”) but the man had one hell of a great run. The film doesn’t just put the character through a story or a variety of obstacles to hurdle himself through. The Wolverine also explores the inner nature of the character, his turmoil, his grief and his emotional struggles. The characters arc, involving him dealing with the death of Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand, is so damn refreshing and brilliantly handled that it almost makes X-Men: The Last Stand worth suffering through; the keyword in that sentence being “almost”.
However, the film also sees him with a new sidekick for most of the film in the form of a master assassin, Yukio. In just her introduction scene alone, Yukio became one of my favorite characters in the entire series. She’s a mutant, who has the ability to see the fates of others in visions and while she differed from her comic book counterpart (Yukio was not a mutant in the comics), Rila Fukushima gave so much energy and presence to the role that it was hard for me to really care. Fukushima and Jackman worked so well off of each other, it’s actually a shame we won’t be seeing more of her character in future films. Tao Okamoto did an admirable job as Mariko Yashida. She’s mostly a damsel in distress for Wolverine to save and protect but, when push comes to shove, she proves on more than one occasion that she can take care of herself. It was actually refreshing to have a Damsel character who wasn’t “always” screaming for help or needing to be saved by someone (where were you on that one, Lois Lane?). There’s also another subplot involving Mariko’s father that is quite poignant by the end and the eventual fight it leads into is actually pretty awesome.
Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) taking away Wolverine’s powers for a chunk of the film didn’t bother me, as it put the main hero at greater risk and thus allowed us to become more worried about his fate. He wasn’t healing constantly as he was in the previous films. We actually see him get hurt, get winded and bleed out at several points in the film and it was refreshing to see them do a story with this character, where his healing effects weren’t his defining nature. We soon discover that Wolverine, healing factor or not, is still an ultimate weapon in his own right. If I have any problem with this its that it wasn’t very consistent and they do go a tad overboard with it at times; the biggest example being the bullet train. His powers aren’t completely gone at this point, but they were clearly fading not two scenes earlier and yet, Wolverine can survive fighting on top of a moving bullet train? That thing goes almost 300 miles per hour… how does anyone, mutant or not, pull that off? Yeah, it looks awesome but doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, now does it?
Going back to Viper, I actually didn’t mind the way her character was portrayed, as Svetlana Khodchenkova was clearly having fun playing the role. In the comics, the character wasn’t a mutant with a snake tongue that dispensed venomous spit, but was rather an agent for Hydra, eventually earning the name Madame Hydra. She was more like an evil Black Widow than what we see in The Wolverine. However, while Fox had access to the character, they were not legally allowed to portray her as a secret agent or so much as mention Hydra, as Marvel Studios had the rights to those aspects of the character. So they retconned her as a mutant and, in my opinion, it wasn’t half bad. The character is visually appealing, her new powers are used to awesome effect, her outfit is very reminiscent of her outfit in the comics (the only thing missing was the cape) and she fits well with the story, making her a welcome addition in my eyes. I love the way she taunts both Wolverine and Harada in the film. It’s actually kind of awesome seeing this woman stand up to them without so much as breaking a sweat.
As for the look of the film, it is beautiful. From the set designs to the action scenes, to the way James Mangold shoots the different sections of Tokyo, The Wolverine is visually stunning with much to admire about it. The action scenes are wonderfully shot. While some of them are underwhelming (Wolverine fighting the black ninjas & the finale), they still look fantastic and are fun to sit through despite their obvious glaring flaws. The score for the film is well handled, lending a certain gravitas to the action sequences as well as the softer moments of the film. Hell, the music was near perfect in the final Jean Grey flashback. Even though Marco Beltrami has nothing on John Ottman, I have to concede that the man did a wonderful job. I also have to tip my hat to whoever marketed this film as the posters made for it had me hyped to see this movie for months. I mean, look at those things in the above photo. Those are so much more meaningful and interesting than any posters I have seen out of this franchise. I know it seems like something very small to admire but if I had the money, I would buy every single one of those and proudly hang them in my room; they are that gorgeous to look at.
Now let’s talk about the one thing preventing me from giving The Wolverine a perfect score; the climax. I mean, my god, I loved this film up until the frickin’ climax. Remember in Tropic Thunder when Robert Downey Jr. said: “Never go full retard”? Yeah, this climax went “full retard” on me and, really, it all comes down to a big reveal; the identity of The Silver Samurai. Now, I said earlier that there were spoilers so don’t be mad that I’m giving this away. It turns out that the one who hired Viper, the one whose been trying to steal Wolverine’s abilities this whole time, the mastermind behind everything in the film… was Yashida. The man who has been built up like a saint, who has had several emotionally resonant flashback scenes with Wolverine and who asked as his dying wish for Wolverine to protect his granddaughter, faked his death and was the villain this whole time. When this was revealed, I threw such a hissy fit in the theater, I’m surprised I wasn’t asked to leave. I mean, they just ruined it.
Not only does this betray everything we’d come to know about this character up until this point, but it also makes zero sense when you factor in that he asked Wolverine to protect his granddaughter. How the hell did you expect him to protect your granddaughter without his powers, you idiot? Why didn’t you just use your resources to hide her before you faked your death? If you really wanted to protect her, why not just kill your son; the man you know full well wants to kill her? I… I don’t get this. Yeah, you don’t want to die, I get that, but why didn’t you just have Viper take his blood when he was sleeping or something? She was clearly able to dose him in his sleep, I’m sure sticking a needle in his arm wouldn’t have been much of an issue. Either way, there were a million ways around this. You made this so much more complicated than it needed to be. Yeah, the big fight in the climax was fun, the stakes were high for Wolverine and Yukio fighting Viper was pretty awesome (albeit a bit too short), but when you screw up this bad, it’s a bit hard to care.
But, if you can actually believe this, it gets even worse. Throughout The Wolverine, we see the presence of a character named Harada (Will Yun Lee). He is an archer, a true master of the martial arts, a former love interest of Mariko’s and he was great; hands down, one of the film’s best characters. Now, in case you’re wondering why I waited until now to bring this character up, I did this because Harada, in the comics, IS THE SILVER SAMURAI! The film had the character in the movie, portrayed perfectly I might add, and made someone else The Silver Samurai? What kind of a slap in the face is that? If this was some kind of low-level character, I might have forgiven it but it’s The Silver ‘Frickin’ Samurai, Wolverine’s second most formidable foe… and when the first formidable foe is Sabretooth, second place ain’t half bad. The Silver Samurai was not just another random foe for Wolverine. These two had several unpleasant encounters over the years but over the course of time grew to respect one another. There was a fantastic history between these two characters both violent and heroic. Hell, the movie even does Harada a certain amount of justice by having him work with Viper, which in all fairness is probably why she was in the movie. However, the climax of The Wolverine just throws all the history between Harada and Logan out of the window in favor of just having a random old guy in a Mecha-Suit. Oh yeah, The Silver Samurai is a giant Mecha-Suit in this movie. My god, James Mangold, you are killing me. Your movie was perfect up until this point.
Now, after watching it again, I understand what they were trying to do, as Yashida being the villain ties into the flashbacks that Wolverine has about Jean Grey. The primary theme of the film is “allowing yourself to let go”. In The Wolverine, Yashida and Wolverine are both refusing to let go of something they hold dear. For Yashida, it is his life and for Wolverine, it’s Jean Grey and both of their refusals to let go have dire consequences. Wolverine has become a loner outcast, once again becoming the animal he has tried so desperately not to be since the first X-Men film. Yashida is willing to kill the man who saved his life in the war, just so he can live longer. By the end, Wolverine not only lets go of the friend he couldn;t help but save all those years ago, but finally learns to forgive himself for Jean Grey. So I get the purpose of making Yashida the villain but while it makes sense thematically, it doesn’t make much sense with the rest of the story they were telling. Making Yashida The Silver Samurai instead of Harada was still a slap in the face of every fan who had been dying to see this character since The Wolverine was first announced. Trust me, they didn’t make it any better by having The Giant-Mecha Samurai kill Harada… oh, that hurts.
Overall, despite an incredibly stupid climax, The Wolverine succeeds as a solid adaptation of one of Marvel’s most beloved characters. Many of the side characters added great emotional weight to the story, the story itself was great up until the end and Hugh Jackman is spectacular as always. The way Japanese culture is weaved into the film’s plot is exquisite and the cinematography is beautiful. Even the flashbacks of Jean Grey hold a lot of weight and make X-Men: The Last Stand seem almost bearable (again, I said “almost”). I can’t say it’s perfect (it was until the climax went down) but as a Wolverine film, I got my money’s worth and then some. Perfect or not, The Wolverine was great to stand alone film for the character that deserves the praise it gets.
- Characters: While The Silver Samurai and Yashida were both taken behind a woodshed and beaten without mercy, The Wolverine manages to do justice to most everyone else. Wolverine has never been more interesting and side characters like Harada, Viper and especially Yukio, give the movie a fun edge.
- Cinematography: The Wolverine is gorgeous; probably the best-looking film in the franchise. The set designs are wonderful. While some can be a bit underwhelming and stupid, the action scenes are impressively directed and choreographed.
- Story: The story maintains a strong tone and has great emotional weight… until the climax, where it takes a direct right turn into Stupidville.
- Acting: Acting is great all around. Hugh Jackman delivers his best Wolverine performance, Rila Fukushima gives a standout performance as Yukio and Will Yun Lee gets Harada perfect… if only he were in that Silver Samurai armor… if only.
- Hugh Jackman's Best Portrayal Of Wolverine To Date
- Fantastic Action
- Exquisit Set Designs And Cinematography
- The Visions Of Jean Grey
- The Japanese Culture
- The Ridiculously Overblown (Albeit Entertaining) Third Act
- The Reveal Of The Silver Samurai's Identity Made Zero Sense
- Harada Is Not The Silver Samurai, Even Though Harada Is A Major Player In The Movie... James Mangold, You Are Killing Me!