Review: 'The Wolverine' is a Welcome Return with Edge & Excitement
by Jeremy Kirk
July 26, 2013
After 13 years and 5 movies - some none too good - it's pretty undeniable that Hugh Jackman OWNS the Wolverine role. The people's champion of X-Men needed a powerhouse actor flicking his claws and snarling his…snarl to make his cinematic version as iconic as the comic book character. With The Wolverine, the character's second standalone film, Jackman has never been more fierce, but it's exciting to note that the film is just as fierce. The Wolverine is unlike most blockbusters in terms of scope, but makes up for its grounded dryness with thrills that come when they're needed and an edge the character so richly deserves.
Immediately being better than the character's first stand-alone film, The Wolverine chooses to continue the mutant's age-old story in the present, after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. After a brief prologue set in 1945 Nagasaki, we jump to the now where Logan, nicknamed The Wolverine for his indestructible, metal claws and perfect facial hair, lives alone in the wilderness. He's haunted by nightmares of the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), the X-Men teammate and Logan's most recent love who fell under darker spells. The Wolverine is content with living out eternity in the woods, hunting and killing food, and generally being so much cooler than Bear Grylls.
He's out of those woods and off to Japan quickly, though. A mysterious woman, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), finds and confronts Logan on orders from her employer,Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a Japanese soldier whose life was saved in Nagasaki by the Wolverine. Now an old man, he feels in debt to Logan and offers him something the mutant never thought he could get, the chance to grow old and die. Yashida explains he has a way to take Logan's powers from him, so the old soldier can live forever and the Wolverine can finally live out the final years of his long life.
Even at its setup, The Wolverine isn't loaded with action. The story, written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, takes its time, builds itself up before any real action kicks in. There are a few moments early on where Logan gets to brandish those claws, but the necessity to use them as lethal weapons doesn't show up until all the pieces have been set for a decent story. It continues to grow, and the twists and turns brush up against convoluted territory. You're never lost, but don't zone out for more than 30 seconds.
When it decides its time for some heavy-hitting action, that story allows these more exciting moments to have both a visual and mental impact on the movie. Director James Mangold - always an under-appreciated favorite - keeps most of the action on the ground, at eye-level. In a Summer movie season where planets are exploding and cities of millions are being demolished, The Wolverine chooses to stay low on scale, and it's a welcome change of course.
The blockbuster moments are in there. Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) has a way of getting chased by the Yakuza, and the resulting fight on board a speeding train with Logan is pretty damn breathtaking. The Wolverine doesn't get into real summer territory until the final act. It's a predictable resolution to the story. That's the worst you can say about it, because the marriage of genuine drama, interesting and well-crafted - given the CG - final villain, and big budget stunt-work blows you away. The action, if nothing else, in The Wolverine is legit.
And it's impossible not to say the same for Jackman. He embodies the character of Logan, as if he and the character are one and the same person. That's not an easy thing for someone to do even with six films under his belt to grow the Wolverine in his image. In The Wolverine, he doesn't have a myriad of colorful mutants to back him up in every scene, not that they're needed. But Jackman's ferocious yet superb turn in this film proves what most of us had already suspected, that any problems X-Men Origins: Wolverine had can in no way be placed at the actor's feet.
The franchise didn't exactly need new life injected into it. X-Men First Class pretty much took care of the downward spiral the series was taking after X-Men: The Last Stand and the first Wolverine movie. However, The Wolverine, choosing character over spectacle and something of a mystery thriller over massive-budgeted actioner, delivers the most solid Wolverine story we could have possibly hoped for. There's no "if" about it. This film and the five that precede it are a clear indication of just how well Jackman fits as the iconic character. But, if The Wolverine is any indication of the level of subdued storytelling and quality execution the X-Men series is ready to take, let the next six films do their worst. At the very least, we'll know Wolverine's claws will continue to keep their edge.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10