2013, 2 hrs, 6 min.
Full confession: I’m a bit of a nut for all things X-Men. As a teenager, I collected comics (primarily Marvel), and the X-Men franchise was by far my favorite, collecting issues 200-300, roughly, of the Uncanny series, as well as spin offs like X-Factor, Power Pack, and Wolverine, as well as whatever cross overs hit the shelves (Every once in a while, it’s “refreshing” to see Logan battle, say, Ghost Rider). So when the films starts popping up in the cinemas, I was excited while trepidatious — the first and second films were entertaining, while X3 suffered under Brett Ratner, and the first Wolverine spin-off was an unmitigated disaster.
Cut to The Wolverine, another shot at focusing on Hugh Jackman’s insanely popular clawed mutant, this time well past origins territory and instead following Wolvie on his adventures in Japan, a very popular storyline in the comics well suited for the big screen. It starts with a literal bang as Logan saves a Japanese soldier from obliteration at Nagasaki, only to quickly awaken to a conversation between him and the long since dead Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, reprising her role from the previous films), and awaken again to a cold rainy night in the wilderness, where our tormented hero has been wasting away since he killed his beloved. After making a “point” with a poisonous arrow to a repugnant hunter in a bar, Logan is whisked away to Japan by orphan and fellow mutant Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to say goodbye to Yashida, the soldier whose life he saved many years ago, who is now a powerful electronics manufacturer and is terminally ill. He offers Logan a chance to give up his immortality and find peace — but it appears to not come without consequences. What follows is a power struggle between Yashida’s family — his son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanda), his granddaughter Mariko (the stunning Tao Okamoto), her childhood flame turned ninja archer Harada (Will Yun Lee), and her arranged marriage to Noburo (Brian Tee), a corrupt but up-and-coming politician. Throw in a heavy doss of Yakuza thugs and ninjas and you’ve got plenty of folks for Logan to tussle with as his tries to protect Mariko and figure out just what is going on.
Director James Mangold (Copland, Identity, 3:10 to Yuma) might seen an odd choice to helm this installment, but I think he’s rather perfect, as the film functions first as a character study, second as an action film. It takes its time watching Wolvie relive his nightmares and search to find meaning in his life, a choice that probably wrinkles the feathers of those going to the multiplex for a rip-roaring good time. It’s not to say that there isn’t action — there is (one particularly memorable sequence take place atop a speeding bullet train, which go around 300mph, as Logan is keen to remind us). But the action sequences are few and far apart — which would bother me, if it wasn’t for Hugh Jackman’s incredible performance of a character that is probably my all-time favorite in comics. Spending time with him, even as he works through a plethora of issues, is totally engrossing to me, while others may find it a bit tedious. Plus, Wolverine isn’t the invincible, quick-healing wisecracker of films past; he’s a flawed, almost anti-hero who battles his toughest foe yet — his own, now mortal, body.
The film falls apart a bit in the third act — its as if the studio needed the action to get cranked up, so we get a lot of ninjas, a massive mechanical samurai, and a fairly weak villain in Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who struts around in tight spandex, spits venom, sheds her skin, and otherwise sticks out like a sore thumb. But for all the bells and whistles, it still manages to wrap up nicely, and a mid-credits sequence involving Professor X and Magneto generates a lot of excitement for the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past film. And that, ‘bub, should involve lots of the claws-first, questions-later Wolvie you may have been coming for here.