I know there are more than one of you wondering how a second Wolverine movie even got made considering the complete abomination that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine and you would be right to think that. The movie made money, but is universally reviled by most comic fans and let’s not even start on Deadpool fans. The simple answer is that Wolverine is the most bankable of all of the X-Men, so that is why director James Mangold was given the helm and the character has been given a second chance to make a first impression.
You would think the surprising part is the fact that there is another Wolverine movie given what I just said. That’s not the truth. The surprising part is that The Wolverine is actually really good.
Director James Mangold and screen writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank have decided to take the character on a personal journey based on one of the greatest Wolverine stories ever written by the legendary Chris Claremont. Not only is Claremont’s Japanese epic the basis for The Wolverine, but there are plenty of nods to other historic stories in the Logan/X-Men universe including Fatal Attractions and Old Man Logan. When you notice these it becomes clear that some care was taken with the character this time instead of just having him wrestle The Blob, fight the shittiest Deadpool ever and deal with bad CGI.
The Wolverine takes place after X-Men: The Last Stand with Logan playing the part of mountain man recluse living his life as a Grizzly Adams look-a-like and deep in despair over having had killed his love, Jean Grey. There really is no reason to watch X-Men 3 to catch up (or any reason to watch it at all) because that is the only main part that connects to this movie. He is content to spend his days drinking whiskey and listening to the radio while dreams of Jean haunt him. A young Japanese woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) tracks him down and requests that he come to Japan with her so that her employer, Yashida, be given the opportunity to say goodbye and thank Logan for saving his life in World War II when the bomb hit Nagasaki. Through some coaxing he boards a plane for the Land of the Rising Sun.
Meeting Yashida becomes more complicated than anticipated when he informs Logan that he has the ability to transfer his healing ability to another and can allow Logan to live a normal life. And yes, you guessed it, Yashida would like it transferred to him so he can keep on living. Needless to say Wolvie declines with a simple “you don’t want what I got”, but that is not quite good enough for the dying man and has his associate Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) implant a device in Logan that robs him of his ability to heal correctly. It is still too late for Yashida as he passes and control of his corporation passes not to his son, but his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). This puts a target on her back as the Yakuza try to kidnap her at her father’s funeral. Reluctantly, she allows Logan to help her flee and during their escape and hideout the two form a relationship. Eventually the Yakuza gets their tattooed, grubby mits on Mariko and Logan has to figure out a way to reverse what has been done to him and save his new found love.
Like I said, this isn’t On The Waterfront.
What The Wolverine manages to do well is pacing. The slow parts do not drag on for too long and the dialogue is believable for a action movie like this. It is always interesting, for me, to watch the Japanese culture clash with anything different. Of course, the different this time is a self-healing mutant with adamantium claws that calls everyone “bub” and it completely works. You can never adapt Claremont’s story perfectly and there is plenty to point out that has been altered, but the central heart of the story is still there.
The set pieces are handled well including a Yakuza shootout at a funeral which leads to a chase throughout the street of Tokyo and ends with a fight on top of a bullet train which you may have seen in the previews. As over the top as the train scene is, it is still handled with a deft hand. The fighting never really gets too over the top or for the lack of a better term, comic book-y, until the final moments of the movie and it is in the final 15 minutes of the film where the train doesn’t fly off the track, but it begins to wobble like someone put a penny on the rails.
The final showdown, while wrapping up the story, left a little to be desired when compared to all the good the story had set up in the first 90% of the film. Yes, there is a nine-foot tall robotic Silver Samurai and you have already decided whether you hate this decision or not. For me, I was not hot on the idea, but it received a pass from me because of a very guessable reason. I am not saying the end ruins the movie…far from it. It is just a decent end game to a very good movie.
The Wolverine has surprised me more than any other movie this summer. Going in with blinders on, not wanting to remember the horrors of X-Men Origins is the best way to view this. It is far and away better than its should-have-been aborted offspring. It also holds up on its own as a singular movie including Jackman’s best performance as Logan due to a much better script than he has ever had for the character. If this had been the first movie for Wolverine, we would be talking about what an amazing future the character has in his own set of movies, but with the stench of Origins hanging this feels like an apology to fans and a hope that maybe there is more in store for “The Ol’ Canucklehead”.
NERD RATING- 8.0/10