If you’re like me and you’ve been waiting years for Hollywood to finally make the ultimate Wolverine movie, one that perfectly captures the burly badass and his adamantium-laced adventures, well, you’re going to be waiting a while longer, Bub. Because although it’s not bad, the latest film rendition of the Canadian paladin, simply called “The Wolverine,” is not the best there is at what he does.
Hugh Jackman once again dons the adamantium claws as Logan,The Wolverine, the scruffy hero and reluctant member of the mutant team of crime-fighters known as the X-Men. When Jackman, an Australian song & dance man, was first cast as the popular Canucklehead in the original X-Men movie (2000), I thought the filmmaking powers-that-be had made one of the biggest mistakes in the history of cinema; but Hugh won me over and today I honestly can’t imagine anyone else filling that role. He brings a sincere love of the character to the part and gives one-hundred percent of himself when he embodies Logan – so my problems with this new film are not with him.
The Wolverine movie is loosely based on the first few issues of the hero’s initial solo comic-book run from 1982 (written by Chris Claremont, art by Frank Miller), with a storyline that has Logan traveling to Japan and becoming embroiled in battle with the Yakuza crime syndicate while protecting his Japanese love interest, Mariko Yashida. Although these are very well made comics, I personally never cared much for Wolverine’s exotic Japanese adventures – so having the movie set in that locale added little extra appeal for me. (Although I’m certain it will help the film do well in foreign markets – something you know was thought about in advance.)
Another “business versus art” decision that was clearly made on this film was to create it as a PG-13 rated movie. You know, to get the kids in over the summer while Mom & Dad are at work. That’s fine, but they also try to push the edge of the envelope, especially with language that is out of character for Wolverine and unusual for a PG-13 film (i.e. the F-bomb.) It’s a case of the studio wanting to have its cake and eat it too, with the end result being an awkward tone that probably won’t appease adults or kids.
The film starts with Logan (Jackman) hiding in a mountain cave in self-imposed exile, but returning to civilization in order to bring justice to some illegal bear hunters (yes, bear hunters – who have killed a very poorly rendered CG ursidae).
After revealing himself in public, Logan is approached by a waifish Japanese warrior, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who has been searching for him and encourages him to return with her to Japan so he can pay his last respects to a now aged soldier he once saved during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945.
The always cautious Logan begrudgingly follows Yukio overseas to the house of Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), where the dying old man offers to transfer Wolverine’s “healing factor” to himself, using some form of comic-booky nanotechnology, so that he can become immortal, while relinquishing Logan from the burden of living forever.
Logan declines the proposal, but while saving Yashida’s grand-daughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), from attacking Yakuza baddies, who want to take over the mob boss’ empire, Wolverine finds his healing ability has been mysteriously taken from him anyway and he must battle like a normal mortal man (albeit one that still has razor-sharp claws, several lifetimes of experience and an adamantium skeleton.)
While on the run in Japan, Logan and Mariko fall in love, and after the Yakuza kidnap the woman, Wolverine teams-up with Yukio, who is Mariko’s childhood friend, to take on the bad guys; including the Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a snake-like villainess (AKA Madame Hydra from the comic books) who spits poison, and the Silver Samurai, who has adamantium armor and a sword that becomes super-heated and will cut through anything.
The story here, as directed by James Mangold (Knight and Day), takes place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), when Logan had to kill Phoenix/Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) in order to save the world from destruction. Janssen appears throughout the film, haunting Logan’s dreams and encouraging him to join her in death. The film returns to this repeatedly giving new meaning to the word “overkill.” While actress Famke Janssen in a nightgown almost never grows old, these tedious dream sequences did.
The Viper is a wasted villain in this film, and like most of the X-Men movies, this one falls victim to trying to cram as many comic-book characters into the story as possible. Sure, it’s fun to see them come to life on the big screen (sometimes), but if they are just thrown in as underdeveloped super-filler, their inclusion hampers an otherwise decent tale, and that’s the case in The Wolverine.
On the other hand, the Silver Samurai is a good fit for this story, but don’t expect his backstory to be anything like the comic-book character; an issue that will probably only bother hardcore comic-book fans of Kenuichio Harada. (Oh, and let the tachyon-sword versus adamantium debate begin.)
One expects a comic-book film to be loaded with melodrama, but The Wolverine is slathered in a couple of extra-sticky layers. I was fine with the corny dialogue and exaggerated situations as they go hand-in-hand with four-color storytelling, but if you are expecting “Shakespeare in the Park,” you’re probably at the wrong movie. (Consider “Thor: The Dark World,” coming in November, instead. Bam!)
On the plus side, the pouty-lipped badassette, Yukio, is awesome in this film and plays very well off of Logan. I think I would have preferred to see these two in a separate adventure, without all the forced and lackluster Mariko business.
There is also a very exciting fight sequence on top of a speeding Japanese bullet train where Wolverine is ducking and dodging obstacles that pass just a couple of inches over his head. And if you are into a scantily clad Hugh Jackman, then you will also be rewarded by many scenes of the pumped-up shirtless star posing seductively (I mean heroically.)
X-Fans, be sure to stay through the first pass of the closing credits for an awesome set up of the next X-Film, X-Men: Days of Future Past (coming in May, 2014.) I hate to say that the end of the movie was the best part, but, well.this was the best part of the movie.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) caught a lot of grief from fans, and it had its problems, but I actually liked that film despite a few minor complaints. I think The Wolverine is as good as or better than the original solo effort, but for me Wolvie has been at his best in the X-Movies and an excellent solo movie has yet to be made. Hopefully this one will do well at the box office and maybe the third time will be the charm. Grade: 6.5/10
3D Note: The converted 3D effect in this film is horrendously bad and pointless, and I highly recommend that you pass on paying extra to see the movie in that format.
NERDVANA EXTRA: Last week at San Diego Comic-Con, while attending a discussion panel with former Marvel writer and Editor-in-Chief, Roy Thomas, the comic-book veteran commented on Wolverine’s creation (back in The Incredible Hulk #180 from 1974.) Marvel books were apparently big sellers in Canada at the time and in hopes of appeasing the Canadian market, Mr. Thomas requested that Incredible Hulk writer Len Wein come up with a character that was “short, feisty and Canadian;” and so together with artist Herb Trimpe the Wolverine was born in one of comics’ all-time greatest battles (Incredible Hulk #180-181.) I, for one, would love to see a movie with the Wolverine going up against the Hulk and the Wendigo (even if he is in yellow spandex.)