Directed by James Mangold - Written by Mark Bomback, Scott Frank - Produced by Stan Lee and some other chaps - Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hal Yamanouchi, Famke Janssen
When I first heard of plans to release another standalone Wolverine film, my initial reaction was why? X-Men Origins: Wolverine mostly mangled the mythology of its characters and, though Hugh Jackman carried the film well, it was ultimately a clunky, second-rate experience with one of the fakest looking final fights I've seen in a modern blockbuster (see Wolverine's battle with Deadpool, or don't for that matter). Furthermore, though it included a priceless cameo by Jackman, the fantastic X-Men: First Class seemed to take the franchise in a bit of a different direction. As a result, I was thoroughly surprised by the return to a solo Wolverine venture for the series' next outing. That being said, The Wolverine (they seem to be taking hints from The Fast and the Furious franchise with these titles... next up: Wolverine!) is for the most part the film Origins should have been. Smartly, The Wolverine tackles the title character almost exclusively, learning from the mistakes of Origins and limiting the number of other mutants to a select few. Though we get a few flashbacks here and there, this is also not an origin story, instead following Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to Japan after he is summoned by the dying CEO of a major tech corporation (Hal Yamanouchi), whom he saved from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Quickly, Wolverine becomes embroiled in the family's power struggle and must go on the run with the CEO's daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from Yakuka thugs and the viciously seductive mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
Solid performances all around ground The Wolverine, particularly from Jackman in all of his vascular glory, Okamoto, and Fukushima, who plays the expert swordswoman Yukio (almost needlessly turned into a mutant for this outing). The only character I didn't really buy was that of Viper, who's basically Poison Ivy + shedding... she just wasn't that strong of a villain. On the other hand, James Mangold, director of great dramas like Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma, has a fantastic grip on the dramatic side of the film, imbuing it with a sense of reality and a dark edge. Furthermore, the action sequences are pretty impressive. Though the film didn't end up with the R-rating it was on the verge of getting, Wolverine's numerous encounters with sword-toting ninjas and Yakuza thugs make for tense, visceral, and incredibly staged action sequences. Wolverine's loss of his regenerative capabilities, something that could have gone awry if handled incorrectly, only ups the stakes during these sequences.
What's also great is that The Wolverine is an almost entirely self-contained story, taking the character to a new environment with new characters. That being said, though, The Wolverine doesn't ignore what's come before it. Since brooding anti-hero is the new cool, Wolverine struggles with more than a few of his own demons. Effectively, anyone who's ever meant anything to him is gone at the close of X-Men: The Last Stand, so Logan is haunted by visions of Jean Grey and tortured by the events of The Last Stand. As are we all. A fanboy geek-out moment after the end credits also ties the The Wolverine into X-Men: Days of Future Past., so be sure to stick around for it. Though suffering from the usual plot-holes, The Wolverine is still miles better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine and functions well as a nice, focused solo outing to placate the ravenous fan in you eagerly awaiting Days of Future Past. I can only wonder, though, what the brilliant Darren Aronofsky would have done with this film had he stayed on to direct.
See it: If you have any affinity for the Wolverine character or the X-Men franchise as a whole, for The Wolverine is a worthy addition to that cinematic canon and a thrilling bit of summer fun, albeit one that lacks a particularly strong central villain and climax.
Pass: If sharp objects and bone claws aren't your thing, or if you're a staunch conservative when it comes to how Hollywood adapts your favorite, comic book story-lines.
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