Ask anyone that is close to me. I love the X-Men. I grew up collecting hundreds of the comics and still love them to this day. I always loved the team concept and how they worked together using their powers in unison. However there has always one exception to the rule. One loner amongst the team. Wolverine. Undoubtedly the most popular to the general public of all the X-Men and one of the most recognizable characters in the entire Marvel roster.
In his second solo feature film, Wolverine delivers like he never has before. I certainly had my doubts going in however. Fox has not been known for even trying to follow the comic storylines when it comes to the X movies. With Wolverine, there are two major storylines when you are talking about just him. There is his origin story which was the subject of the much maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine. While I did not hate it, it is generally considered one of the worst comic book movies out there. His other major solo storyline covers the significant time he spent in Japan and that is where his new film, The Wolverine, picks up.
We begin by flashing back to an earlier point in Logan’s life, Nagasaki, Japan during WWII. He is in a war prisoner camp that is being evacuated as the Americans are about the drop the atomic bomb on the city. He saves the life reveals his mutant power to a young guard of and reveals his mutant power to a young guard named Yashida. That young guard would grow up obsessed with Logan and go on to become the most powerful business man in all of Japan.
We catch up with Logan living in the Canadian wilderness. He looks quite disheveled and is obviously haunted by the events that occurred in X-Men: The Last Stand where he killed his love Jean Gray. He is keeping to himself and has given up the Wolverine persona. He is soon drawn into a conflict with locals until a mysterious young Japanese woman named Yukio drags him away. She tells him that Yashida is dying and that he wants to say goodbye to Logan. This sets in motion a chain of events that will change Logan forever. Comic fans rejoice as he will meet up with Mariko, Yahida’s granddaughter, and one of his most iconic foes, the Silver Samurai.
Surprisingly, one of the strongest aspects of this movie was the acting. This was Hugh Jackman’s sixth outing as the Ol’ Canucklehead (thank Jubilee for that term, not me), and in my opinion, easily his best. The slower pace and better direction allowed Jackman to really get into character and show us what he could do when he wasn’t forced to be in constant action. Sometimes less is more and I think this movie definitely proved that with Jackman this time around. Tao Okamoto also stood out for me with her portrayal of Mariko. She was able to convey the perfect mix of a sympathetic traditional Japanese woman, and be modern and sexy at the same time.
On the negative side, we were forced to endure Famke Janssen as Jean Grey yet again. Jean Grey is one of the best characters in all of comics and Janssen has just ruined her. I honestly do not understand how this woman keeps getting work. Also bad, just not Famke Janssen bad, was Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper. In a movie where it seems the franchise has finally taken the step forward into seriousness and left the ultra-campiness of the early 2000’s behind, it seems Khodchenkova just didn’t get the memo. I didn’t love her portrayal of Viper period, but the way she delivered her lines just felt out of place with the rest of the storytelling which was always a notch above.
As I said, Fox has not been known for caring about the comic storylines at all. I think this is due in part to X1 being such a surprise success and really jumping off the comic book movie craze. I don’t think they had any idea that these movies would go as far as they have so they didn’t worry about sticking to cannon when writing them. I thought that they might try to set it straight with X-Men: First Class, a reboot of sorts, but even it was way off when it came to comic book cannon. (Although it was an amazing movie). I think that all of this kind of caught up with them in The Wolverine. Yuriko Oyama should have been in this story. Some of you may know her as Lady Deathstrike. Her father is the one that creates the process of bonding adamantium to bone. She considers Logan her mortal enemy and she has deep ties with Mariko. Unfortunately they couldn’t include her in the storyline she belonged in because they put her in X2 for no apparent reason without giving her any back story and then got rid of her (sigh). I will never understand this practice by Fox. While The Wolverine was a bit better about staying closer to cannon, it still strayed big time in certain areas. If you go see this and you know anything about Silver Samurai, you should know that he is a completely different person with completely different powers in this movie.
Despite all of that, I forced myself to watch this just as an average moviegoer and not the comic nerd that I am. And when you take away all of the stuff that is changed from the book and just watch this film, I found there was only one conclusion. This was a damn good movie. Director James Mangold did a wonderful job of finally giving us a character in Wolverine that we could see the human side of. We see and feel his pain and we empathize with him. In past iterations, Wolvie has been light on the character development and has been more of a human face for a one liner machine and to overload us on action.
This movie has a noticeably slower pace to it than most comic, and especially X-men, movies. While some may groan at the thought of a slow Wolverine movie, worry not. The slow pace is what made this movie great. Logan has one of the most tragic and interesting back stories in all of comics and the slower pace here really allowed us to explore one of his most important story arcs. I have to admit that I was quite tired of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but after seeing what he can do when he is given a good script to work with, I am excited for his future roles as Logan.
The action, while smartly toned down, was certainly still present in this film however. Watching Logan go berserk with his claws is never dull and its twice as nice when he is fighting ninjas. It was fun to see some new moves that they gave him and the CG was very well done. I was a bit worried by the train fight scene that is in the previews, but now I can say that its an awesome scene that looks great.
My only complaint I touched on earlier was Viper. Yes, the comic character Viper was loosely tied to this story arc in the comics. Yet, I really think they should have gone for a bigger name villain for this one, as Viper is pretty obscure. Because the identity and reveal of Silver Samurai is kept for the end of the movie, Viper is the face villain for much of the film and a bigger villain would have just had much bigger impact. This is when it was especially sad that they couldn’t use Lady Deathstrike. My hope was that they would use a personal favorite of mine, in Sunfire, who is a member of the Yashida family. Yes, he isn’t a bad guy (most of the time) and he isn’t in this story in the comics, but when has that stopped Fox?! Sadly, they did go with Viper and it might have worked had she been written in properly. Yet as I said, her dialogue is awful and I just didn’t care for the acting. She felt totally out of place. Also, the Jean Grey hallucinations seemed like the exact same scene over and over again. Less Famke Janssen is more. No Famke Janssen if perfect.
Overall, I would highly recommend this movie to anyone. It is a great summer action film and is a breath of fresh air when it comes to story telling within the X franchise. Marvel is known for their post credit scenes and I have to say, this one is a big one! Probably my favorite one ever. The Wolverine perfectly set the tone for Fox with Days of Future Past coming our way next year and I’m more excited that I have ever been for that film. James Mangold, good job bub!
Thoughts from Free For All Staff
Josh: Following what most consider to be a disastrous effort in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine had to be seen as one of the tougher jobs in Hollywood. What it ended up being was a more intelligent, more focused and far more subtle film than when last we saw Marvel’s clawed hero. The Wolverine goes a route that is rare in recent super hero fare, sticking with a more intimate story that focuses solely on who the character that Logan is, and pits him against stakes that are considerably less epic than having to save the world. What it allowed was for Hugh Jackman to shine and the film to seem less goofy or gimmicky than other X-Films, and turns out to be one of the better one’s in the series. The slower tone may be a shock to some viewers, but this is certainly the step in the right direction that I wasn’t expecting. Not to mention, the credits sequence was enough to get me fully excited for the upcoming X-Men Days of Future Past adaptation.
Chuck: Wolverine is perhaps the most tragedy stricken character in the Marvel Universe and The Wolverine does a good job at conveying this through good writing, clever story pacing and decent acting… with some good action thrown in. Hugh Jackman is fantastic and owns this role like no other. He loves it and it shows.
Trey: The Wolverine was a movie I wasn’t sure about going in. Should I feel excited, worried, or unenthusiastic altogether? Turns out the later rang most true, as Fox’s newest entry into the convoluted, mostly underwhelming X-men franchise was slow paced, mediocrely acted, and just general dull. If there was a reason to get excited about the two or so hours I spent in the theater, it certainly wasn’t apparent to me.