I've always had a soft spot for Wolverine as a character. He's just the sort of charismatic character that has endless staying power and appeal. But he's had a bit of a crap run, cinematically speaking.
I liked the first X-Men. I absolutely loved X2. But then came X-Men: The Last Straw, er, I mean Stand, which was an abysmal trainwreck of a flick. Years passed, and we got the first solo tale, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This wasn't much better. In fact, it was so laughably terrible that I assumed someone made an ill-advised bet after a heavy night of binge drinking in the Fox executives' offices: "Hey dudes, I totes bet I can get this turd stain released! And people will pay to see it!" Oh, yes. We paid a price.
So when they announced The Wolverine as a sort of reboot of Wolvie's solo adventures, I wondered if they'd get it right. Then I heard Darren Aronofsky was tapped to direct - one of my favorite filmmakers working today (Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan). I got excited. Then he left the project. I got skeptical. But Hugh Jackman (who, let's face it, pretty much IS Wolverine at this point) kept carrying the torch for the project. And the guy's passion is a little contagious, so I kept the faith. Thankfully, I'm happy to report that this installment is actually quite good. And it's loaded with some of the best Wolverine material in the entire franchise.
Thankfully choosing to completely ignore the entirety of the events of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (it's as if that film doesn't even exist - a dream come true!), this tale picks up directly where The Last Stand left off, with Logan (Wolverine, for the few of you who might not know) grieving over losing Jean Grey. Living in the wilderness, haunted by visions of his lost love, he mostly focuses on hanging with grizzly bears and being morosely awesome. That is, until a mysterious little samurai chick with spunky hair named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) shows up and tells him that her boss wants to see him. Off we go to Japan. See, as we learned in a prologue, there's a soldier that Logan saved back during World War II when the bomb was dropped by using himself as a human shield to the atomic blast. Like a boss. This young soldier grew up to be the richest and most successful man in Japan. And he's dying. But he wants to offer Logan something as a thank you: with the technology from his company he can strip Logan of his healing powers, making him mortal so that he will no longer suffer on this Earth. That's the gist of the setup. From here, conspiracies are uncovered, there's assassination attempts and lots of ninjas occur in front of our faces.
One of the greatest things this film does is present us with a vulnerable Wolverine. With his healing powers damaged, it's no longer a case of an unstoppable and impenetrable force walking into battle. Every bullet, every wound, hits Logan with a sort of newfound surprising agony. He still powers through it, but it's a much more sympathetic struggle as we know that he's not untouchable anymore. And Jackman delivers a fantastic performance. I mean, he's always been great as Wolverine, even in the crap installments of the franchise, but here he has more character depth to dig his claws into. And the dude is seriously jacked up this time out. He lost a lot of weight for his performance in Les Miserables and went from that to immediately training to be Wolverine for two films straight (he's continuing his role in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past). And from what I've read, he's a bit of a madman in the gym. It pays off, as he more or less LOOKS like a comic book character.
Director James Mangold (Identity, Walk The Line) handles the film quite well, keeping everything balanced and razor-sharp focused on character. I think he's better at the dramatic/character bits than the action sequences, but there are some real stunner sequences to behold. The fight atop a bullet train is forget-to-breathe fantastic. And while ultimately underwhelming (which is disappointing), there is something just iconic about seeing Wolverine struggle forward while his back is pierced with countless arrows secured by ropes, each of which is being pulled on by the ninja who fired it. A true hero moment.
The film is littered with fun characters also. The real standout is Yukio - a serious badass with a great sense of heart. And Logan gets a bit of a love story in this outing. A different iteration than the Jean storyline, this serves to provide Logan with some actual peace, rather than torment. He's plagued by subconsciously projected nightmares of Jean, in which he converses with her as she taunts him subtly in a "you were too late to save me" fashion. But with this new love interest, we get to see our warrior find a few fleeting moments of tranquility, which are well deserved.
The main problems lie in the script. The third act is a bit of a mess, and the reveal twist (which I don't understand how anyone could not see coming a mile away) is like a bad, old serial cartoon (borderline Scooby Doo territory). There are some eye-rolling bits of exposition and ill-motivated character decisions, but overall these are mere hiccups in the overarching whole, which is enormously entertaining.
It's a rich, visually lush spectacle of a superhero film. It's scope and ambition are not nearly as grand or rewarding as some of the larger headlining comic book films (The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Avengers, even Man of Steel), but as an intimate character piece, this solo film is in ways more rewarding than some of its brethren, despite its flaws. More than anything, this film made me care again about a character I had nearly tapped out of, cinematically-speaking. And there's a great stinger in the credits, which sets up and ties into the next film - X-Men: Days of Future Past (where both the "grown up" cast of the X-Men films and the "young" cast of X-Men: First Class join forces thanks to time travel) quite nicely. So make sure you don't leave when the credits hit. It's a stunner of a sequence. And I couldn't be more pumped for future adventures.
The film is out now on Blu-ray and DVD, and the 4-disc 3D edition has an unrated, extended cut of the film, which I've read is an improvement (I haven't seen it myself) – including added blood (yay!), a few additional f-bombs (goodbye PG-13) and two all new action sequences, one of which is a greatly extended ninja fight from the above scene I said was underwhelming. So some of my complaints might disappear upon viewing this new cut. Though this version is exclusive to the 3D Blu-ray edition, supposedly. Considering it's included as a separate 2D disc in the set, I don't see why Fox didn't just make the extended cut available on all editions.
The Wolverine is a flawed but entertaining character-driven superhero endeavor. Definitely recommended and probably my third favorite of the six installments in the X franchise.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
ANOTHER TAKE: 'The Wolverine' Review: Well, It's Better Than the Last One
PREVIOUS JAKOB BILINSKI POST: The Conjuring: One of the scariest movies ever now on DVD
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