Hugh Jackman as Logan
Rila Fukushima as Yukio
Tao Okamoto as Mariko Yashida
Hiroyuki Sanada as Shingen
Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper
Brian Tee as Noburo
Hal Yamanouchi as Yashida
Will Yun Lee as Harada
Brian Tee as Noburo Mori
Ken Yamamura as Young Yashida
Famke Janssen as Jean Grey
Directed by James Mangold
"The Wolverine" puts everyone's favorite mutant back on track thanks to a more character-driven plot and reality-based approach. It's a little light on action, but otherwise it's the movie Wolverine fans have been waiting for.
Sometime after the events of "X-Men: The Last Stand," Logan is living alone in the Canadian wilderness. Haunted by the death of Jean Grey, he has lost purpose in life and longs to die, yet he can't because of his healing powers. Things change when a young Japanese girl by the name of Yukio tracks him down. She has been sent by Yashida, a man from Logan's past. Yukio convinces Logan to return with her to Japan to meet Yashida.
During World War II, Yashida's life was saved by Logan. Since that time, Yashida became the most powerful businessman in Japan. Now dying, Yashida desires to reward Logan with the one thing he cannot have – death. Yashida believes that he can transfer Logan's healing powers to himself, thus allowing Wolverine to complete his life as a normal human being while Yashida can live on. Fair trade, right?
As Logan contemplates the offer, he discovers that there is hidden turmoil among Yashida's family. His son is eager to inherit the business fortune, yet his granddaughter Mariko is the one who he gives it all to in his will. This, of course, makes Mariko a major target for the various forces wanting control of the Yashida fortune. Soon enough Wolverine is pulled into the conflict to save Mariko, but he will have to do it without his greatest weapon – his healing power.
"The Wolverine" is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language.
Before watching "The Wolverine," I went back and re-watched 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Though it is generally regarded as an inferior Wolverine movie, I was surprised to see that a lot of the film held up pretty well until a point. Where it started falling apart was where it became a bit more outrageous and a bit more over the top. It departed from the reality, character-based Bryan Singer "X-Men" movies and fell into noisy visual effects spectacle. So as I watched "The Wolverine," it quickly became apparent that Fox, director James Mangold, and everyone else involved in the film learned from the lessons of their predecessor and delivered a Wolverine movie much more in line with what everyone wants to see. It's not perfect, but it's a course correction that puts Hugh Jackman and the Wolverine franchise solidly in the right direction.
First of all, the story is not about a large cast of mutants with crazy powers. Wolverine is the clear focus of the film. He no longer struggles with his mysterious past and blocked memories. Instead, he struggles with the burden of his immortality and the fact that everyone he cares for eventually dies, frequently because of him. This makes the movie feel a lot less redundant, because Wolverine is progressing and moving ahead as a character. Hugh Jackman remains at the top of his game. Not only does he bring emotion and sincerity to the role, but he brings the physicality, action, and violence that fans want to see. Few actors so perfectly embody their characters as Jackman does Wolverine.
The action is another great aspect of "The Wolverine." It's less about CG spectacle and more about great fight choreography and fantastic set pieces. Wolverine slicing and dicing Yakuza gang members and ninjas is a lot of fun to behold. Another fight scene atop a speeding bullet train is one of the best action scenes of the year. I saw early clips of this fight online, but it really didn't do the sequence justice. Then the final fight scene with the Silver Samurai puts Wolverine in jeopardy in a way he hasn't been before. That's impressive considering some of the foes he's faced in the past. Then there is a memorable moment in the opening scenes showing just how far Logan's healing power can be pushed. Wolverine fans will really enjoy the gory effects.
"The Wolverine" also gives Logan a new sidekick with Rila Fukushima as Yukio. Fans of the comic book will realize that she has little in common with the character from the Frank Miller/Chris Claremont series, but she's more of a hybrid of Jubilee and Yukio. The end result is a pretty satisfying character. Fukushima has great chemistry with Jackman and, in reality, I left the theater wishing I had seen more of the two together. Logan is grumpy, a loner, and finished with society. Yukio has pink hair, is a Wolverine fangirl, and follows him like a puppy in a messy car. The contrast ends up making them a great odd couple.
Mangold had a big challenge in making the audience believe that Logan could fall for Tao Okamoto as Mariko in such short order. This is further complicated by the fact that he is haunted by visions of Famke Janssen as Jean Grey. Yet Mangold successfully makes Mariko a likable character and you see why Logan would fall for her. While their relationship doesn't go to the extent of marriage like in the comics, they have something special and she sets Logan back on the noble path he should be. (As a side note, Logan and Mariko crashing for the night in a themed Japanese hotel is one of the funniest moments in the entire "X-Men" series.)
While this movie departs a lot from the Frank Miller/Chris Claremont series, comic book fans should still be pretty satisfied with the end result. There are numerous scenes from the comics and some of the shots come straight from the panels. A noticeable nod to Frank Miller is a scene of Wolverine filled with arrows like a pincushion. Fans will notice a few more here and there.
As for the 3D, it's pretty good considering this is a 2D conversion. Ninja arrows fly out of the screen. Wolverine's claws pop out. And when he fights the Yakuza on top of the bullet train, the 3D adds a bit of suspense to the action as signs fly towards our hero at 300 mph. If you like 3D, you should enjoy this.
As fun as "The Wolverine" is, the post-credits scene is what's really going to whet your appetite for more mutant mayhem. I won't spoil it here, but it's pretty exciting. Don't go to the bathroom when the credits start rolling.
What Didn't Work:
While James Mangold absolutely made the right decision to jettison the absurd action and effects for more character based moments, "The Wolverine" does end up feeling a tad light on action. I actually visited the set in October 2012 and watched them film a lot more ninja action than was included in the final cut of the film. There is a lot left on the cutting room floor including Yukio and Logan battling ninjas, ninjas attacking Logan with motorcycles, and more. The movie is already long at around 2 hours, but I think if Mangold had removed a Jean Grey scene and added back a few more minutes of action, "The Wolverine" may have had the perfect balance of action and drama. Maybe we'll see more in an extended edition on Blu-ray.
I also felt Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper wasn't quite the right villainess for this film. A woman with snake powers and a shiny green outfit doesn't fit the tone of the rest of the movie. She helps ground the film in the mutant universe, but she ends up feeling more 'comic-booky' in an otherwise realistic film. It's akin to putting a spandex-clad, primary colored villain in a "Bourne Identity" movie. It doesn't fit. Viper would have made a better fit in an "X-Men" movie.
The plot is also a bit convoluted. It's a little hard to understand who the bad guy is as loyalties seem to shift back and forth. By the time the movie is over, it's still a little hard to explain. But ultimately it's almost irrelevant. If they're chasing Wolverine, then they are the bad guy. Nuff said.
On a final note, I know that with a PG-13 rating you're allowed to have one ‘f**k' in the dialogue, but I'm a bit disappointed they opted to use it. It did nothing for the story or character and, with a theater of full of young kids watching, it was inappropriate. Marvel movies should be OK for everyone. Otherwise they should go all the way R rated and make it clear who the film is intended for. Throw in some blood and severed body parts along with the ‘f**ks' if you feel they are critical to the film.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, this is a movie that Wolverine fans are going to enjoy. Hugh Jackman remains the perfect man to play Wolverine and Marvel should spend some of their millions to cryogenically preserve him to play the character forever.