REVIEW: “The Wolverine”

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One of the best things to come out of the first three X-Men movies was the casting of Hugh Jackman as the feral, adamantium clawed Wolverine. I was amazed at just how well Jackman embodied the look, attitude, and violence of one of Marvel’s most popular characters. While the trilogy’s final X-Men flick was an utter disappointment, Jackman never failed to be convincing. But even his personality and gravitas couldn’t save the mess that was “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, a spin-off film intended to build on the success of the character. It was a wreck plagued by poor writing and poor execution.

But that disaster didn’t sink Jackman’s Wolverine adventure. Now four years later we have another attempt at giving us a good stand alone movie. It’s simply titled “The Wolverine” and let me start by saying it’s a considerably better film. In fact, it’s not only better, it’s a really good summer superhero flick anchored by a good story, fantastic action, and yet another great performance from Jackman. It’s a pleasant surprise that helps wipe the last unmitigated travesty from my memory.

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“The Wolverine” takes our indestructible anti-hero to Japan, a place where (in comic book mythology) he has strong ties. Logan (Jackman) finds himself to be an emotional wreck. Driven by the pain of Jean Grey’s (Famke Janssen) death in “The Last Stand”, he lives in a secluded mountain cave, vowing to never hurt anyone again. But wouldn’t it be a boring movie if he kept that vow? Logan encounters a secretive Japanese woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who convinces him to come to Japan to say goodbye to a dying past acquaintance. Once there he finds himself wrapped up in a web of family dysfunction, political corruption, and organized crime. With his healing powers mysteriously targeted, he finds himself vulnerable for the first time and threatened by an assortment of baddies.

The vast majority of the film takes place in Japan and it works wonderfully. The locations and environments look great and the setting and the story meld to perfection. It’s also helped by an array of interesting characters. Haruhiko Yamanouchi plays Logan’s old acquaintance Yashida, a billionaire technology mogul now on his deathbed. Svetlana Khodchenkova plays an American nurse hired to keep Yashida alive. The fantastic Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada plays Yashida’s son, a man knee-deep with mob ties. The beautiful Tao Okamoto is great as Yashido’s beloved granddaughter Mariko. Will Yun Lee is quite fun as Kenuichio Harada, a shadowy character with mixed motivations. Fanboys like me will recognize that name as the original Silver Samurai. Sadly this is a much different role but he’s still very good.

All of these characters flourish in a sharp and entertaining script that never loses sight of what it is. It perfectly utilizes Jackman’s abilities to channel a tortured soul mixed with a volatile and violent nature. He’s such a fascinating character. I also have to applaud the special touches brought by director James Mangold. Even when his handheld camera becomes a bit disorienting, he still gives the movie a beautiful visual flair. But as you know, Wolverine is all about the action. The fight scenes are great and there’s one particular chase sequence through the streets and shops of Tokyo that I really liked.

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Yet while the action was very good, I never got past the feeling that Mangold was holding back. Obviously the studios wanted a PG-13 movie and I get that. But Wolverine’s special brand of action mixed with this particular story seemed to be begging for a grittier and more violent edge. And I have to mention that the movie does raise some pretty big questions in the final act. Questions based more on inconsistencies and gaps and logic. In other words, it had its share of head scratching moments. It also occasionally flirts with cliché yet thankfully never fully embraces it. Most importantly, none of these blemishes dampened my enjoyment of this film.

“The Wolverine” may have been lost in the shadows of bigger 2013 comic book movies such as “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel” but it deserves its place at the table. Jackman hasn’t lost a step and his charisma and physicality ooze from every scene. And unlike the earlier “Iron Man 3”, this felt more like a Marvel superhero experience – a great central character, an exciting story, some awesome action, and a mid-credits secret scene that instantly amped me up for what’s next. In other words, “The Wolverine” is a really good movie and one of the better surprises of the year.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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46 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Wolverine”

  1. Great review, Keith! I have been looking forward to this one…needs to be more gritty and violent? An R rating? Interesting. I bet it would make it better, but I suspect the mainstream Marvel films have to be held back because they know tweens are a major audience?

    • Thanks Cindy. It’s a really good movie and a nice surprise. I was a little cautious after the last disaster. But this more than makes up for it.

      As for the rating, I really have no problem with it being PG-13. In fact, much of me likes it because I can watch it with my kids. Well at least some of it. But you could tell there was a grittier side to the story that Mangold just wasn’t able to tell.

  2. Great review Keith. I was a skeptical to say the least when this film was announced, simply because of the previous disaster. I’m really glad you enjoyed it, now I’m more optimistic about heading to the theatre to watch it :).

    • Oh I’m with you. My dislike for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine has only grown over the years. It butchers the source material and wastes a great casting and performance from Liev Schrieber. This one is a MUCH better film!

  3. Perfectly reviewed! I feel pretty much the same (writing my review now)–it is not a perfect film…but it is a great summer movie!

    And yes–this is (again) 100% Hugh Jackman! He is Wolverine and we love him. Period. I loved that he was extra grumpy in this one–as he should be. 😉

    I am also glad you mentioned the Japanese setting–it is truly a character in the film and a great counter balance to Logan’s quest for purpose and meaning.

    Yeah…I had fun! Talk to you later, Keith! 😀

    • Awesome! Glad to hear I’m not alone. It seems this film is getting a lot of average reviews. Personally I think it’s quite better-than-average. I had a lot of fun with it.

  4. this is a fantastically written review. i’m very glad to see you got to enjoy yourself more than I did! hahah. and you bring up an excellent point about the need to open up to a larger, mainstream/younger crowd so the PG-13 rating and a considerable “softer” violent element explains that away sufficiently, I really hadn’t thought of that in all of my ranting. lol. I still couldn’t really get past how vulgar i thought the Viper was, though. She was just atrocious in my opinion. But, you take some and you leave some, I suppose. Maybe I should go back and revisit this on DVD sometime.

    • I really didn’t have that big of a problem with Viper other than she wasn’t a prominent character that casual fans would recognize. Still, you’re not alone in your reaction to it. It’ll be interesting to see how it holds up at the box office.

  5. I am glad to see that it went so well! Awesome review, really looking forward to this, but most likely only next weekend for me! 😦

    • Thanks Zoë! I didn’t really give this much attention at all this year but I was very pleased and surprised. It does have some issues especially near the end, but that never hurt my overall enjoyment of the movie. Good stuff!

  6. There have been a lot of average film reviews for this one, and coupled with getting bombarded with trailers, my excitement for it waned enough for me to not want to see it on the big screen anymore. Seriously. Wolverine is fantastic and Hugh as Wolverine is just perfect. But … there’s just nothing about this film that intrigues me enough to go and see it on the big screen.

    i think im getting old and boring!

    • LOL, old and boring? Naaa…

      To be honest I had the same feelings as I approached this movie. Of all the big summer flicks this one excited me little. But I have to say I’m really glad I went. It loses a little in the final act but it’s a really good story that feels different than all of the other superhero tales that we get. I got to say it was a pleasant surprise and I’m pretty anxious to see it again.

  7. Well, I’m glad to hear it’s better than the travesty of the last one. In fact, your review is giving it higher praise than I expected to hear, so that’s really encouraging.

  8. Nice review Keith, I agree with you for the most part. although I thought Mangold didn’t really do a good job on the action scenes, with exception of the speeding bullet train sequence which was awesome. Another thing that bothered me was the lack of a great antagonist, it seems the filmmakers wanted us to guess who the real villain was but I think most will figure it out way before the film’s climax.

    “But Wolverine’s special brand of action mixed with this particular story seemed to be begging for a grittier and more violent edge.”

    I totally agree with you on this, which is why I was disappointed when Darren Aronofsky left the project. He really liked McQuarrie’s original script and sprinkled it with his style and I thought the script was brilliant! I assume the reason Aronofsky left was because he won’t be able to make a violent Wolverine film. It’s too bad though, at least this one was miles better than the pile of poo that was Oringins: Wolverine film.

    • Thanks for the comments Ted. I did think about the whole antagonist thing and you’re exactly right. There really is no one who will stick with you as the significant “bad guy”. I guess for me it was okay mainly because I did appreciate how it didn’t really go by the normal superhero movie blueprint. That was refreshing. Although, a hero kinda needs a villain.

      I’m not the biggest Aronofsky fan but his visual interpretation of Wolverine would have been VERY interesting. But I wasn’t really fair to Mangold. He has said that there is a director’s cut of the film that will be released on DVD. It has some 12 to 15 minutes of extra footage which he had to leave out to ensure the PG-13 rating. I’ll be anxious to see how that version plays.

  9. You’ve made an excellent argument for this Keith, but sorry I just don’t see it. The Japanese setting shows a huge promise to make this a real personal and character-driven piece, but like I said, it ended up being superficial to me. As much as I like seeing interracial romance on film, this one falls incredibly flat. I wish there were more scenes w/ Hiroyuki Sanada, I think he’s my fave character apart from Wolverine itself. I wish I could love this movie, but alas…

    • I hear ya Ruth. I loved how Japan was used. We got everything from the dense cityscapes to the beautiful countrysides. I also liked how it incorporated everything from the extremely modern nature of the country to its very real love for tradition.

      The main romance could have had a bit more spark. Sure cant argue with you there. But I still bought into it. Maybe only because Tao Okamoto was so pretty! 😀

      • Ahah yeah Tao is pretty indeed, as pretty as an ornament 😀 That’s the thing though, there’s not much else going on with her, hence my comment about this movie ‘fetishizing’ the Japanese elements, so it doesn’t feel genuine to me.

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  13. Nice review Keith. I have to admit the trailers don’t really intrigue me enough to see it in the theaters. But it’s great to hear all the positive reviews for this.

    • This was a huge surprise for me. My expectations were so low that it couldn’t disappoint me. But the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did was a very pleasant thing.

  14. Nice post! I’m still wrestling with the notion that I might be giving this film a little too much credit because the last one was SOOO bad. But I have to admit, despite some flaws, and “holding back” notion that I completely agree with, it was a fun summer popcorn flick.

    Thanks for the write up!

    • Glad you enjoyed it too. I’m with you on your feelings about the first Wolverine film. But this one beats it hands down for me. Better story and smarter liberties made a lot of difference for me. Plus it didn’t necessarily follow the standard superhero plotline and I found that refreshing. Not a perfect film but a good summer movie.

      Thanks for commenting and checking out my review. Appreciate it.

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