The X-Men franchise has had a tumultuous history on the big screen. The first two installments are loved by fans and critics alike, but “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” were universally panned.
2011’s “X-Men: First Class” was a return to form, but this put a lot of the pressure on “The Wolverine” to maintain that kind of quality. And although it doesn’t in any way live up to those expectations, it’s still an improvement over Wolverine’s previous standalone movie.
“The Wolverine” is very different not only to its predecessor, but to most comic book movies nowadays in that it’s very small scale. The story is pretty confined in regards to location, plot and theme; it’s almost like a side story for the Wolverine character, an epilogue to the X-Men trilogy. This isn’t what one expects from big-budget comic book adaptations, which normally present a dangerous villain’s plans for world domination or rampant destruction. “The Wolverine” favors a more low-key approach, and that makes it somewhat unique.
Another thing that “The Wolverine” handles well is the Wolverine himself. Hugh Jackmam does an awesome job of exploring Logan’s damaged mental state and the consequences of his immortality. He IS this character, just as much as Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. There are also some well-written scenes between Wolverine and the other characters, particularly in the first two-thirds of the movie.
Treating “The Wolverine” like a standalone story, with virtually no ties to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” was the filmmakers’ best decision. That being said, this movie feels very much a part of the X-Men mythology, far more so than “Origins” as it deals with the emotional fallout from “X-Men: The Last Stand.” A fantastic mid-credits scene also sets the stage for next year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which will bring together all of the X-Men franchise’s different arms in an ambitious and exciting way.
James Mangold redeems himself from the woeful “Knight and Day” with “The Wolverine,” which features some decent directing feats. The opening scene, set during the bombing of Nagaski at the end of World War II, is particularly excellent, and all of the fight scenes are hard-hitting and well choreographed. Along with a few instances of great cinematography, there is a surprising amount of practical effects, which in a movie with lots of close-quarters combat really makes everything feel all the more visceral. The bullet train fight scene is pretty well executed, with an effective absence of musical accompaniment and effects that are far better than they appeared in the trailer.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Despite Wolverine’s character being written well, the rest of the plot is very thin. The film may be an intriguing side story, but it also lacks impact, and even relevance. Granted, some interesting themes are explored, but in a very superficial manner, and the conclusion fails to successfully deliver payoff for both the story and the emotional arcs.
Unfortunately, the final act of the movie falls apart quite spectacularly. Most of the reasonably well-developed character arcs are dropped in favor of ridiculous action in a sequence that feels far removed from the rest of the movie (but would have been quite at home in “Origins”).
Aside from Jackman, few of the cast are able to impress. Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima do good jobs as Mariko and Yukio, respectively. Famke Jannsen returns as Jean Grey in dream sequences, but unfortunately these are used far too much. Everyone else gives very flat and forgettable performances, except for Ken Yamamura, who has a very small role as the young Ichirō Yashida in World War II.
The character of Viper, a mutant played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, is particularly awfully handled by both the actress and the writers. She serves no purpose in the story and her motivations are never explained at all throughout the movie. The Silver Samurai, who shows up in a very lame way toward the end of the movie, eliminates any element of plausibility that the rest of the movie established.
Although the directing is solid throughout, there are more than a few instances of dodgy visual effects and poor camera work. During a mid-movie chase scene, the amount of shaky cam is ridiculous and completely unnecessary.
“The Wolverine” is better than most expected it to be — it’s an enjoyable action film and a decent exploration of Wolverine’s character. It unfortunately suffers from an awful final act, iffy supporting characters and a thin plot. While it’s definitely not the film it could have been had “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky stayed on the project, “The Wolverine” is a fun if flawed superhero flick and a solid transition into “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
GIVING CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
Released by 20th Century Fox, “The Wolverine” was directed by James Mangold from a screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank. The film was produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Hugh Jackman, Hutch Parker and John Palermo. It stars Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Svetlana Khodchenkova and Will Yun Lee.