Wolverine, The (United States, 2013)July 25, 2013
Finally - a superhero movie that doesn't feel like every other superhero movie. The Wolverine proves that it's possible to have a movie based on a comic book franchise that doesn't involve mass destruction, the fate of the planet, and a seemingly indestructible bad guy. The Wolverine is a surprisingly personal, intimate tale (at least insofar as an X-Men spinoff can be considered "intimate") - more of a crime story with superhero flavoring than an all-out CGI effects action orgy. That's not to intimate there's no action - there's enough to keep Wolverine fans involved, including a tremendous train-top chase/fight - but The Wolverine is character-based. That's something none of the other 2013 superhero movies can boast.
As a brand, "Wolverine" has taken something of a hit. It started with a fan backlash against the third film in the original X-Men trilogy and continued into the lackluster origin story, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Toning things down is probably the right direction to take the character, at least for a single story. It allows us to re-connect with Logan (Hugh Jackman) in the post-X-Men: Last Stand universe. When the movie begins, he's alone and isolated. The Wolverine is about his coming to grips with his immortality and his quest to put his past behind him and arrive at a place where he can return to his role as a "soldier." It also involves Logan's tentative steps toward loving someone other than Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whose image dominates his dreams and nightmares.
The majority of The Wolverine transpires in Japan, which lends the movie an exotic flair. He's there to bid farewell to an old compatriot, billionaire industrialist Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who lies on his dying bed. When the old man dies, Logan becomes the unwitting protector of his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who has been targeted for kidnapping by the Yakuza. Mariko's closest childhood friend, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), becomes Logan's sidekick, and he is aided in his quest by another of Mariko's protectors, Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee). There's also a mutant involved: the mysterious Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), whose ultimate goals are unclear but whose methods, such as robbing Wolverine of his self-healing powers, are deadly.
The Wolverine's director, James Mangold, is better known for drama than action, and much of the material in this movie plays to his strengths. The exception is the climax, which comes across as disappointingly generic in the wake of a mostly fresh first 90 minutes. Mangold does a better job with thriller elements and character interaction than he does with the introduction of a robot that looks like it got lost on the way to Iron Man 3.
This is, of course, Hugh Jackman's movie, and no one comes close to upstaging him. Jackman, one of the more charismatic actors currently working in superhero movies, is fully invested in this project. His eye-popping physique is on full display in a topless scene; he looks more like Schwarzenegger in his prime than the guy who played Jean Valjean. Jackman evidences some nice chemistry with his two female co-stars: Rile Fukushima, who executes a lot of martial arts stunts as Robin to Wolverine's Batman, and model-turned-actress Tao Okamoto, who plays the love interest. Svetlana Khodchenkova's Viper and Will Yun Lee's Harada are underused - The Wolverine could have done more with them and less with the big silver samurai robot.
The Wolverine begins with a bang - literally. The flashback to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki is one of the film's big money shots and it sets the stage nicely for what later transpires. For the most part, the look of the film is heavily influenced by film noir and translates poorly to the post-conversion 3-D. This is yet another example of a production that should have been allowed to open in 2-D only. Hollywood's decree that most big summer movies should be released in 3-D is damaging the format's limited credibility. There's no reason why a naturally dark movie should be subjected to a process that further limits light, but that's precisely what has happened.
The change-of-pace evident in The Wolverine saves it from the "just another superhero" movie label and offers an antidote to the fatigue that may have set in for the populace in general. Sometimes smaller is the way to go and Jackman's abilities are perfectly suited for a movie that requires some acting to accompany the stunts and special effects. And, for those who like post-credits Easter eggs, The Wolverine offers a big, memorable one. Whatever you do, don't leave until you've seen it (you'll know it when it happens about 1/3 of the way through the end credits). It's the cherry on the top of an otherwise tasty summer treat.
Wolverine, The (United States, 2013)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Screenplay: Mark Bomback and Scott Frank and Christopher McQuarrie
Cinematography: Ross Emery
Music: Marco Beltrami
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