Let’s face it. The last movie centered on Logan, 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was an absolute mess. While it had its moments, it just wasn’t worthy of the character, and just seemed inconsistent with the other X-Men movies. Many just weren’t pleased by that effort, and left disappointed. Well, fans can cheer up. I’m happy to report that director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) has delivered a movie worthy of the fan-favorite mutant. The Wolverine succeeds all around, as a great action movie as well as a character drama. It fits neatly into the X-Men movie universe and wipes away the bad taste that was Origins, and should satisfy fans of the character.
The Wolverine picks up after the events depicted in 2006’s X3- The Last Stand. Logan (Hugh Jackman, who just officially owns this character) has retreated to the wilderness, struggling to deal with the death of Jean Grey (Famke Jansen, returning to the role). In a flashback, we see him recall the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki at the end of World War 2, where Logan is being held as a prisoner of war. He ends up saving one of the prison camp guards, Yashida (Ken Yamamura) as the bomb explodes, and wakes from that memory to find Jean next to him in bed. That too turns out to be just a dream, as Logan is still haunted by what he had to do when he stopped Jean from unleashing her full power. A sequence involving hunters and a bear follows, and when Logan confronts the hunters in a bar he meets Yukio (Rila Fukushima). Yukio has been sent to find Logan by her boss, an now ailing old Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), who wishes Logan to come to Japan so that he can thank him for saving his life all of those years ago. Logan reluctantly agrees, and accompanies Yukio to Tokyo. There he meets Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who becomes the target for the Yakuza. When Yashida dies, Yakuza attack the funeral, trying to kidnap Mariko, and naturally Logan gets involved. But he has a problem- his regenerative abilities don’t work as they did, thanks to being infected by a mysterious doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who turns out to be a mutant called Viper. The pair make their escape in a thrilling action sequence that culminates in a fight atop one of Tokyo’s bullet trains. They then need to find out who is behind the plot to kidnap Mariko, and why.
And that plot is just one of the reasons why this movie is so much better than Origins. It provides focus, giving Logan a mystery to solve as he struggles with his guilt over Jean’s death. Mangold keeps things moving at a nice pace, infusing some nice character moments in between the action scenes, allowing for a natural relationship to build between Logan and Mariko. Nothing ever feels forced, and Jackman does a great job here in humanizing Wolverine as he strives to protect Mariko even though his abilities are failing him. Okamoto and Jackman have a nice chemistry on screen, and Fukushima provides some minor comic relief as Mariko’s adopted sister and self appointed bodyguard. The action scenes are well staged, filled with plenty of martial arts stunts without an overuse of CGI. The sequence atop the train is thrilling as both Logan and one of the Yakuza thugs try to hold on with their respective blades, and all the while try to reach Mariko. Things fall down ever so slightly towards the end of the movie, but even the scene featuring a battle between Logan and a robotic samurai warrior is nicely done, though it ends more abruptly than one might have liked. The villains of the piece are decent enough- Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), Yashida’s son, is quite believable, though Viper’s motives seem a bit fuzzy. Khodchenkova does her best to make the mutant foe menacing enough, and has a well executed battle with Yukio towards the end of the movie. In all, the cast does a fine job, in both action sequences and the dramatic moments in between. It offers a more fleshed out movie than your typical comic book action flick, and succeeds rather well in that endeavor.
All in all, The Wolverine marks yet another successful entry into comic book movies, giving us the third great comic book film this summer (the other two being Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel). It’s a movie that its titular character deserves, and ties in nicely with the films that have gone before (we’ll just forget about Origins, okay?). And as per usual, as Marvel fans know by now, stay in your seats after the initial credits sequence. That scene is a must see, and, without (I hope) giving too much away, provided one of the movie’s best surprises. Don’t miss this one. It’s well worth a trip to the theater.
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