Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 6 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence, some Sexuality and Language
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Mark Bomback & Scott Frank
(based on the WOLVERINE comics by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rita Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi & Brian Tee
Wolverine is one of the biggest badasses in comic book history and is arguably the most popular character from the X-MEN franchise. It’s no wonder that studios seemed eager to give him his own big summer blockbuster with 2009’s X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE…which turned out to be a terrible film and was trashed by fans. In an effort to properly bring Wolverine to the big screen, 2013’s THE WOLVERINE attempted to right the wrongs of ORIGINS and served as a proper sequel to X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. Though it’s not the best X-MEN film by a long shot, THE WOLVERINE is a lot of fun!
After killing the love of his life (see the events of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND), Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has become a rugged, cave-dwelling mountain man. Through a few twists of fate, Logan runs into katana-wielding bodyguard Yukio (Rita Fukushima). She’s been looking for Logan because he has been summoned to Tokyo by dying friend Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi). However, there are suspicious motives behind the unexpected invitation. Logan soon finds himself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy that includes: ninjas, yakuza, a highly dysfunctional family, and poisonous mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova). To make matters even worse, something is seriously wrong with Logan’s healing abilities and he finds himself struggling with painful limitations.
The major improvements that THE WOLVERINE makes over its prequel predecessor are smart writing, an intense mystery, and high stakes. The first two qualities come from Logan being thrust into the plot of a thriller that requires him to do some digging into Yashida’s highly dysfunctional family. The script also captures the trauma that Logan suffers from as a result of the Dark Phoenix hijinks in THE LAST STAND. Though there may be a bit too many of these nightmare sequences, it was a nice way to see this film attempt to repair some of the damage done by the third X-MEN.
THE WOLVERINE also sees Logan facing weakness and potential death due to his sudden mysterious mortality. Though the film lays obvious groundwork early on and those with a careful eye will be able to correctly predict what is happening, it doesn’t make Wolverine’s struggle any less intense. Logan’s lack of healing abilities make the intense action more gripping to watch. Every bullet or hit he takes has an impact this time around, so he simply can’t take his usual approach rushing into the violent fray. This was a smart move on the part of the filmmaker and writers. It certainly helps that the action sequences are awesome anyway, with set pieces featuring ninjas, knife-wielding yakuza on the roof of a bullet train, and a giant silver samurai.
Hugh Jackman jumps right back into his iconic role as Wolverine and seems to be doing the character just as well as ever. New additions (a mainly Japanese cast of supporting characters) range across the board. Rita Fukushima is a badass, receiving her time to shine in action scenes and well-placed comic relief. Hiroyuki Sanada and Brian Tee play their characters with all the subtlety of moustache-twirling villains, but this makes their eventual showdowns even more satisfying.
Haruhiko Yamanouchi is mainly regulated to flashbacks, but gives a solid enough performance in his brief screen time. Tao Okamoto is good in her role as a girl on the run with Logan, but the romance between them feels forced. Finally, Viper (played by Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova) is lame villainess. She’s basically X-MEN’s hammy equivalent of Poison Ivy and one of her powers is the ability to shed skin (through not very convincing CGI). Also, Khodchenkova chews the scenery and goes into clichéd villainess territory with her performance. I cannot fully describe how terrible Viper is, but she’s the second-worst antagonist that I’ve seen in the X-MEN series (the first being the mouthless bastardization of Deadpool in X-MEN ORIGINS).
THE WOLVERINE is a far better Wolverine solo story than 2009’s lame X-MEN ORIGINS. Much of the positive qualities stem from a better script, better action scenes, high stakes, and better performances. This is a conspiracy-thriller that happens to have a clawed mutant as the main character. That concept is pretty neat by itself and when you throw in the idea of Wolverine losing his healing abilities, you’ve got yourself something special. The film stumbles in obvious foreshadowing, excessive dream sequences and a lame villainess. However, THE WOLVERINE’s positive qualities far outshine its problems. This is the fifth-best X-MEN film and the best WOLVERINE movie thus far (unless LOGAN tops it in two weeks).