After the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the new film focused on the Adamantium Clawed One makes two right decisions:
First, it doesn’t try to present yet another prequel story and sets it after the events of the horribly mediocre Ratner-fied X-Men: The Last Stand. This way the screenplay doesn’t have to jump through unnecessary hoops, limiting many storytelling possibilities simply because it has to fit the original X-Men storyline and coming up with yet another hokey amnesia twist.
Second, this truly is a film that focuses on Logan a.k.a. Wolverine, now immortalized on the silver screen by Hugh Jackman and his ripped bod. Even though the Origins film was supposed to be about Wolverine, it tried too hard to shoehorn in the mutants that were left out from the first three X-Men movies in order to create an impromptu, unofficial X-Men sequel.
The Wolverine introduces us to two new mutants, again taken directly from the comics, but this time the screenplay’s focus is on Logan’s inner struggle with his immortality while dealing with the immense guilt that came with having to kill his one true love Jean Grey. Famke Janssen and her famous cleavage make a much welcome return to the franchise via ever-convenient dream sequences.
In my book, whenever a 100 million dollar popcorn movie at least attempts to deal with such philosophical issues, it should get an A for effort even if the approach falls flat. In this case, the screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank might be the strongest element in the film, which is an oddity in this genre.
During the first act of the film, Logan is now a hobo living in the forest. He swore to not kill anymore after Jean Gray’s death. One side note, after the "Superhero hiding as a hobo" trope of The Wolverine and Man of Steel, will kids today be extra nice to real homeless people just in case they’re Superman in disguise? I hope so.
Logan finds out that Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a man he saved in WWII, who’s now the head of the biggest corporation in Asia, wants to thank him one last time before he dies. After begrudgingly heading out to Japan, Logan finds himself in the middle of a delicate and dangerous family conflict, which forces him to protect Yashida’s beautiful granddaughter from the Yakuza while a mysterious force deprives him of his super healing powers.
The storyline, inspired by Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s comic book mini-series published in 1982, resembles the Ronin (Masterless samurai) films of Akira Kurosawa, such as Yojimbo, The Hidden Fortress and Seven Samurai.
In those stories, a hired warrior, neutral to the cause of his patrons, becomes personally involved in a battle that’s much bigger than him. It’s not hard to make this connection with The Wolverine, since Logan is referred to as a Ronin on more than one occasion.
Once Logan’s bodyguard mission begins, it’s not really tough to predict where the story will take us from there. It’s especially easy to see the "surprise" twist coming from a kilometer away (This is Japan, after all). But it’s still commendable that director James Mangold focuses so much on Logan’s inner conflict. However, the fact that there is over thirty minutes of character development in between action set pieces might bore some fans of Adamantium.
It’s interesting that the action sequences are some of the least interesting scenes in the film. I remember when X2: X-Men United hit theaters, there was an audible gasp in the audience when Logan stabbed and killed a soldier in cold blood, since we weren’t used to such brutal killing in a comic book movie up until that time.
In The Wolverine, Logan stabs and slices through hundreds of Yakuza members willy-nilly, but it’s devoid of any excitement, probably because of Mangold’s useless shaky-cam and the limitations of the PG-13 rating.
It’s obvious that Mangold is attempting to create a samurai movie feeling by making Logan use his claws like a katana, but it cannot create the necessary thrill because the visceral and graphic violence expected from that genre is missing.
Mangold himself admitted that he was inspired by Takashi Miike’s uber-violent 13 Assassins, which somehow secured an R rating, proving that The MPAA will never give a movie an NC-17 based on violence alone. But in this case his budget and the producers’ mainstream expectations betray him. There are rumors that the DVD and Blu-Ray release will be Rated R, maybe it’s wise to wait for that version.
Just so I don’t sound too much like a sourwolverine, there are a couple of effective action sequences on display. As absurd as it becomes, the bullet train fight scene is breathtaking. I understand Logan’s powers, but are random Yakuza thugs really strong enough to stay on top of a bullet train riding 200 miles an hour? After The Wolverine and The Lone Ranger, I guess 2013 will go down in action movie history as The Year of The Train.
Even with these small criticisms, I believe The Wolverine will satisfy X-Men and superhero movie fans. One final note, do not leave the theatre when the closing credits begin.