Dir. by James Mangold - 2 hrs. 6 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
As bad as "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" was, that's about how good 80% of "The Wolverine" is. And "Origins" was absolutely terrible, a waste of both the character and of Hugh Jackman. Thankfully, the 20% that's left of "The Wolverine" wasn't bad, but more or less standard super-hero movie material, so that still adds up to a pretty darned good film.
In case you haven't been following the Wolverine character in the four previous films he's appeared in (well, more than that if you include cameos), um, you might want to catch up. Following a scene from World War II, Wolverine, aka Logan (Hugh Jackman) has turned into a woodsman in the current day, in the sense that he lives on the mountainside in Alaska (I think). He's retreated from society in the wake of the previous movies, but is struck by a sense of moral outrage when some hunters injure a bear, but not badly enough to kill it outright. Logan has to put the bear out of it's misery, and then heads into town to confront the only surviving hunter at a bar. There, a young girl with bright red hair named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) intervenes, and eventually reveals that she's been trying to find Logan for a year. She bears a gift, and requests (on the behalf of her employer) that Logan return to Japan so that Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) can properly thank Logan for sparing his life in the past, since Yashida is now dying.
One of the things that makes "The Wolverine" engrossing is that the film shows a good grasp of what makes the character interesting. The character may be a super-hero, and may have powers, but that's maybe the least interesting thing about Wolverine. He's a man with a past, and barely functions around other people. Logan would be content to be left alone, but sometimes that's just not possible. When he relents, bad things usually happen. A large theme in "The Wolverine" is the idea of trying to deal with one's past, and how to move forward. For a character that's largely invulnerable to physical harm, he's very vulnerable personally. He's literally haunted by the ghost of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a woman that he loved deeply before things got complicated (you're going to have to watch the previous X-Men films to get a good grasp of the whole story), and unable to find a reason to move forward. Yashida at one point calls Logan a ronin, which cuts to the bone of the matter. Everything that Logan had wanted has been destroyed, and he doesn't see any reason to move forward, which kind of sucks when you're basically immortal. His nightly dreams are nightmares, with his former love urging him to join her (presumably in the afterlife, although things are usually more complicated when you're dealing with mutants), the X-Men goal has dissipated, and everyone he touches ends up dying.
This is a much more fascinating character than when he's involved in standard heroics and battles. I'm down for a good superhero fight, but the things that are interesting about Wolverine get lost in that dynamic. Thankfully, much of the movie understands that, and everything is more about personal dynamics and relationships, with great backdrops (Alaska at first, then Japan) and the opportunity for spectacular action sequences. There are three big action sequences, and two out of the three are fantastic. The last is the least of the three, sort of your basic third act throw-down that has become standard issue in comic book movies. It's not bad by any means, and it's a culmination of a confusing series of double-crosses where alliances shift very quickly. But at the same time, after watching Wolverine try to run through a town against a fleet of ninjas to get to the castle, seeing him fight a giant robot and a lizard chick in the standard-issue superhero third act location of a giant laboratory is frustrating; until this point, there's been a decidedly Japanese flavor to the settings that adds a lot to how awesome everything looks, and that's gone once Logan enters the castle.
However, the other two action scenes are fantastic, the first one especially so. It starts with an attempted kidnapping of Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) at a funeral, and turns into a chase across Tokyo, and then morphs into a battle atop a bullet train, which is literally one of the most nail-biting, spectacular action scenes I've ever watched. There's no point in talking about it beyond that, if you don't enjoy anything else about "The Wolverine," this sequence is worth the price of admission on it's own.
There's a lot of good things about "The Wolverine," but you should probably expect that at this point. Hugh Jackman owns this character, and the entire cast does a good job. I thought that, aside from both films coming out in the same year, the fairest movie to compare this one to would be "Iron Man 3." Both are deep sequels, so the characters have a lot of backstory to build upon, and both movies move the characters forward while using the events that came before in a meaningful way. It was a great relief to have another satisfying Wolverine movie after "Origins," and I'm ready to see where Wolverine ends up next, which I couldn't say after the last installment. And you'll probably feel the same way, especially if you keep watching until after the credits end, which you should already know to do with Marvel Comics movies.
3.5 / 5 - Theatre (2D)