6 years

Review: The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine sees Hugh Jackman return meaner and moodier – but is it any better?

A review of The Wolverine

The critical mauling X-Men Origins: Wolverine received from critics and fans – and coming off the back of the equally panned X-Men: The Last Stand – meant Marvel’s tentpole character, Wolverine, demanded major redemption. So when it was announced that the next instalment was going to be based on the much lauded 1982 miniseries comic by Frank Miller, it brought plenty of fanboy approval. But The Wolverine was going to take more than just the definite article being added to the title to banish the memories of Origins and The Last Stand.

Opening the film towards the end of WWII with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki certainly adds to the intention of how serious The Wolverine is going to be. Present day sees our hero, Logan aka Wolverine, sleeping rough in the wilderness, haunted in his dreams by a dead Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. When he travels to Japan at the request of an old friend, he becomes embroiled in a family tug-of-war that sees him battling the Japanese mafia and his own personal demons.

James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) was the uninspired choice to replace original director Darren Aronofsky, but he did guarantee safe hands for the project. And safe is exactly how The Wolverine plays; just focus everything on the big man in a different setting and everything will be fine. While this sort of works, the issues which are most interesting – his immortality, seeing those he loves die – are not really focused on enough.

The introductory segment is well polished but much like Origins which also opened promisingly, it never really takes off. Bar the excellent fight scene involving the Yakuza at a funeral, followed by an inventive sequence atop of a bullet train, there’s nothing different this has to offer.

In fact, it’s the flaws – and they are quite fundamental – which really stand out:

1)      Making part of The Last Stand which was so reviled (Jean Grey’s death) as a recurring theme was a huge mistake. We know it’s there to highlight how much Logan loved her but the way The Last Stand ripped any sort of heart out of their relationship meant everything feels meaningless here.

2)      Similarly, relying on a connection to a franchise that is meant to be a team negates some of his individual status. The mid-credits scene which sets-up Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past is a prime example. As this takes place two years later, it already distances the audience from The Wolverine before the credits have even finished.

3)      If the writers were going to base the plot on such a revered comic, they shouldn’t just use the character names and setting, but to take advantage of the rich source material. It barely touches it, adding further ire to dedicated fans.

Add to the above that there’s zero build-up between him and his love interest, Mariko, who also has about as much personality as a blank piece of paper (no doubt attributed to it being model Tao Okamoto’s first acting role), while the only real female he does have a spark with, Yukio, a future-seeing mutant, is reduced to his annoying sidekick, which results in there being an unbalanced feel to the main supporting roles. And is there really any need for a bright green, lycra-wearing villainess in a supposedly darker film?

These problems continue to plague the integrity of the character, and it certainly doesn’t help when our hard man proclaims, in possibly the worst line of the franchise, “Don’t hurt my friend!”.

So just because Logan is meaner, moodier and scowls a lot more, does not necessitate that The Wolverine is a success. While it does placate those wanting an improvement from Origins, it still only scratches the surface of what a really good standalone Wolverine film could be. With Fox’s claws dug deep into this cash cow, they’ll no doubt be plenty more opportunities for improvement.

  • Opening sequence and bullet-train fight scene.
  • No chemistry between Wolverine and his love interest, constant annoying references to Jean Grey.

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    First and foremost I must say that I absolutely loved this movie. But as I will cover in my review it may largely be due to the fact that I have always held the source material of this film in very high regard. Having said that, I do recognize that their may be a sliding scale of enjoyability for this film. If you are a fan of the 1983 Claremont/Miller miniseries of Wolverine then this is the movie you have been waiting for. If you are fond of the character Wolverine and interested into delving deeper into his chronology and exploring his inner conflicts, you will certainly enjoy this movie. If however, you have no familiarity, or no desire to familiarize with the character of Wolverine, you may find yourself not caring about many of the slower moments and longing for a more evenly paced action film. Fans of Claremont's Wolverine rejoice, this Wolverine does it right. The film does its best keeping characters intact while deviating from the comics in the sake of a self contained story and grander character development. There are several of the shots in this film that are near recreations of the comic's original panels, and although story lines have been shifted and shuffled in some places, its all there. Mariko, Yukio, Harada, Shingen and Viper may develop differently than in the comic series, but their relation to each other and contextual significance is intact. As a Wolverine fan it was also nice to see a meaningful relationship blossom between Wolverine and Mariko, unlike the comics where it really is love at first sight. Instead here Wolverine falls in love not entirely with the character of Mariko, but rather with the idea of being a protector, a take that is a welcome addition to the Claremont storyline. The characters of Silver Samurai and Viper undergo the largest facelift in this film, but it isn't entirely out of place. Let us not forget they were involved in the X Men issues directly connecting to the Wolverine miniseries. Although their characters have undertaken slight adjustments in order to incorporate ideas from the Fatal Attractions storyline, the plot does well to take from Wolverine's side of this storyline because it was one of the few times in the series where Logan did feel vulnerable. Many fans will recognize that the plot device and character of Master Yashida cannot be found in any of the original comics, but one must keep in mind it serves as a useful device to connect all the developments of Logan's journey. All in all I think its the best character study of Wolverine that any fan could ask for. Wolverine struggles with his animalistic urges and his commitment to reform, he grapples to find meaning in his endless immortality, and he ultimately finds purpose and resolution that he had not before. None of these developments are significantly or profoundly discovered, rather they are slowly revealed, which may turn casual movie goers off from enjoying this film. As a thoughtful exploration of Wolverine's character and a grand homage to incredible source material though, how can any Wolverine fan say no to this movie? It is the best X-Men movie and one of the best comic based movies. For those who would not consider themselves fans, but are rather moviegoers intent on enjoying a superhero epic, be warned. This film is a character study, it does not grapple with any conflicts outside of Wolverine's internal struggles. The world is not being threatened, and not many lives outside of Logan's are even being threatened, so the storyline does not crescendo in epic suspense like the Avengers or the Dark Knight. So for those not invested in Wolverine's personal self discovery, some of the action can seem unmotivated and the pacing an obstacle to satisfaction. The film does its job in providing action sequences, but it intersperses several moments of symbolic soul searching, cryptic metaphors and relationship building that serve as pavement for Wolverine's self discovery. This movie can still be enjoyable without interest in Wolverine's inner conflicts however. With an outstanding supporting cast, a beautiful setting, and gripping and intense action sequences, it plays a lot like a token Bond film for those unfamiliar with Wolverine. Whether you are familiar with the original comics or not, this movie will certainly provide entertaining thrills and intriguing themes. If, however, you are a fan of the original comic books, this film is a wonderful achievement.