The Wolverine Review
Posted by Terry Lewis on 07.26.2013
Marvel's most popular mutant heads to Japan as Hugh Jackman dons the claws again for The Wolverine! But is it return to form for the X-Men film franchise or does it continue the downward spiral? 411's Terry Lewis checks in with his full review!
Hugh Jackman - Logan / The Wolverine Tao - Mariko Yashida Rila Fukushima - Yukio Haruhiko Yamanouchi - Master Yashida Hiroyuki Sanada - Shingen Yashida Svetlana Khodchenkova - Viper Will Yun Lee - Harada Famke Janssen - Jean Grey
The art of diminished returns is a plague on films without a doubt. Take the X-Men film franchise for example. Whilst it maybe still doing alright at the box office, a couple of stinkers in The Last Stand & Origins: Wolverine and an average return from First Class means that the Fox and Marvel Comics mutant series has lost a great deal of luster which Bryan Singer built. Considering it’s the FIFTH full appearance of Logan on the big screen in 13 years, it’s a damn good thing the team behind The Wolverine have gone back to the character’s roots and tackled his history in Japan. Free from the X-continuity, it's a creative success.
Indebted to Logan (Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables) for saving his life at Hiroshima as a young man, a dying elder Master Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) offers to cure the former Wolverine from his cursed immortality and a chance at a normal life. Logan has lived as a recluse, afraid to get involved with the ones he loves again after his prolonged life robs him the chance to end his heart ache, especially after he had to kill Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, Taken 2). After travelling to Japan and discovering the barrage of attacks Yashida, his family and his advanced technology company are experiencing, Logan decides to stick around, only for his healing powers to be taken away from him by the snake-like mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). Now at his most vulnerable, Logan has to keep his animalistic traits at bay whilst protecting the heir to Yashida’s empire, his granddaughter Mariko (in her acting debut, Japanese model Tao).
Despite being the fifth time on the merry-go-round as the main lead of an X-film as The Wolverine, Jackman still brings that terrific charisma which brings the popular comic character to life. He looks ripped and an absolute machine which is needed, showing off his fantastic physique at any opportunity. He gets the quips and numerous one-liners down to a tee as usual and it’s another thumbs up. You do have to wonder how much interest he has in continuing playing the character though. An easy cash cow yes but even he must be wondering where else they can take Wolverine beyond the upcoming Days of Future Past.
For a first time actress, Tao wasn’t as bad as I thought she could have been. As a fast lover and love interest, she’s fine. We get an insight into the honorable respect relationship we have from the comics as Mariko. In continuing with comic tradition, Logan is lumped with a kid sidekick again in Yukio (another model Rila Fukushima) who holds her own in battle and at least she isn't as annoying as other kid-kicks we’ve seen in other media.
On the other hand, the cavalcade of numerous superfluous characters who reveal their motivations and true allegiances were led by average-to-terrible performances. The worst culprit is Khodchenkova who puts on a terrible American accent over her Russian background. Whilst she looked pretty as Viper, she was rather dull and, apart from the money and science, I never once picked up on the reasoning behind her evil. Similarly, the reason why Yashida’s son and Mariko’s father, Shingen (Lost’sHiroyuki Sanada), is so cartoony evil to the point of threatening to kill his daughter that his motivations are left up in the air, apart from a power play.
Similarly, Brian Tee’s (Grimm) character of Mori is introduced to some hype but just connect the plot from A to B in one scene before we move on, despite being Mariko’s husband-in-waiting. Will Yun Lee’s (The Red Dawn remake) Harada maybe a badass ninja looking after the Yashida clan’s interests but even his motivations were fishy as he’s hanging out with Viper. So poor. To be honest, the only joy from the secondary characters were from Janssen’s cameos as Jean Grey, trying to help and/or hinder Logan’s recovery from her death.
Director James Mangold may not seem the most obvious candidate to replace Darren in a superhero action film with credits like Girl, Interrupted and Kate & Leopold, but then he has action film credits like Knight & Day on his resume, leading him get the mix between character and action bang on. Neither overshadows the other with both given enough time to shine, although there was a clear need for a better focus on antagonist motivations. There’s a ven diagram somewhere which states each Japanese character’s relationship clearly. It’s not translated into this film though. In keeping inside the remit of a non-R Rated Wolverine film, Mangold does an okay job although there are some shots and scenes you’re left pulling your hair out wanting to see Wolvie cut loose as per tradition of the character, but that’s hardly Mangold’s fault.
In terms of whether The Wolverine’s premise of ‘Logan has lost his healing powers, he’s at his most vulnerable, he could buy it’ works or not, it gets away with it. Just. After being infected with what ails him and curbs his healing at Yashida’s funeral, Wolvie feels the effects of the numerous beatings and gunshots the Yakuza dish out and struggles to get back to 100% leading him to be more cautious in fights and goes underground. As the film goes on, he gets tired out by simple tasks like chopping trees just like any man would and needs rest. Compared to Superman and his two modes of invincible demigod and weak as a kitten with kryptonite, it’s made believable that Wolverine could be finished off any time after his character weakness is removed, in scenes where he’s patched up for the first ever time by a vet, making him more sympathetic. Still, there isn’t really a threat to Logan outside of the early moments of losing his healing powers. I wanted to see this taken to its limits with a broken Logan bleeding out, waiting on death to arrive for him finally.
There were one or two things which disappointed in the sense that I wanted to see more of Logan being a fish out of water in Japan which didn’t come across on screen at all. Of course, there’s an awkward moment or two, with Logan going to a ‘Love Hotel’ with Mariko for example, but it feels like a missed opportunity. In a post-The Last Stand world though, with Wolvie living as a recluse until he came out of his shell to do what’s right as an eco-warrior, it’s bang on. Logan standing up to idiot drunk hunters to avenge a poor poisoned bear is on par with the man at nature we know and love. I liked how The Wolverine’s refers to how Wolvie has lived so long and he’s picked up tons of one-off meeting friends, like Yashida, over the years and drops in on them now and again in what’s now a running joke in the comic books.
What irked me a lot was the weird handling of Mutantkind here. Considering this isn’t really an X-Men film but still set in the same continuity and universe, the dialogue and direction don’t know how to handle the evolution of the Human race. They blatantly ignore the term or sub-group for a good hour or so before Viper finally gets the chance to speak. I suppose it is refreshing just to have a straight Wolverine movie without any of his X-baggage (Jean notwithstanding) but the worst crime here of this dodgy handling is when Logan uses the word ‘Mutant’ as a slur to another mutant. ….WHAT?! Complete out of character moment with some real venom in Jackman’s delivery too so it cannot be misinterpreted as anything but intentional. Logan has always backed mutant rights when needed as seen in previously X-movies. There’s no reason for this to be here at all and doesn’t make sense to throw in something ill judged like this.
You can’t fault the action at all in The Wolverine. Whilst Mangold may not have been the most obvious candidate for a superhero action film, he does a credible job with the various scenes. All of the fight choreography is superb in the various Logan vs. Yakuza and Black Ninja clan battles. There are some standout moments with said Black Ninjas turning Wolvie into a giant pin cushion using 20-30 arrows with ropes and poison tips to slow the man down on the way to the final battle. Said final battle consists of Logan taking on a giant Silver Samurai robot when he’s at his weakest in a ‘so ridiculous it’s great’ fight. The highlight of the film comes halfway through when Logan takes on a group of Yakuza on a Bullet Train, only for the fight to lead outside and he leaps about the 300 mph train, avoiding overhead barriers and the like to dispatch Mariko’s assassins. Pure awesomeness, even if it felt like a quick time event from a video game.
I must admit in the build up to the release, I was worried about the mishandling of a western backed film representing eastern traditions and culture. Thankfully, Mangold gives a mostly respectful treatment of Japanese culture and history. There’s the little things that matter like upright chopsticks are a source of bad luck which Logan gets chewed out over and people bowing as a mark of respect. Of course there are pure stereotypes like the Yakuza being just tattooed, blinged up henchmen which you could copy/paste into another film but when they treat Japanese attitudes of family with respect and even challenge them with the rise of Mariko, a woman, through the Yashida company, it’s a thumbs up.
The 411: Despite a weak second half and some very dodgy ignorance of previous source material in Wolvie’s slur, it’s a return to form for the “modern” X-franchise after the last couple of rubbish outings. Jackman proves again he’s the best at what he does, and that’s bringing Logan to life. The Wolverine is a top action film with some great character moments and, for me, the superhero film of the year so far.