The film opens on a Japanese military base. Right away, I was impressed with how the director, James Mangold, wisely chose to show and not tell the time period. By showing a certain someone's bone claws and then, later, a pretty terrifying event in history, we have all that's needed. This prologue ends up serving a more important purpose than a fancy effects shot, as it is an introduction to a new character that will drive the story of the remainder of the film. From here, we flash to what is more or less the modern day, with all the events in this new film taking place in the aftermath of X Men: The Last Stand (franchise fans can be relieved knowing that no new wrinkles are added to the already stressed continuity of all the previous installments). From the outset, it's clear that Logan (aka Wolverine) is tired. Tired of life and without any real drive or purpose, he has completely removed himself from civilization, literally living in a cave somewhere in Alaska.
However, it's clear that Logan hasn't learned his lesson from this whole "hiding out in the wilderness thing" in that if someone wants to find him, they will (see also the previously mentioned 2009 film). Once found, and convinced to go to Japan to say goodbye to someone whose life he saved many years ago, we get into the meat of the film. It was nice to see that the filmmakers weren't shy in fully embracing the feel of Japan, showcasing it in all it's urbanized and quirky glory (one pretty hilarious scene that comes to mind has Logan check into an infamous "love hotel"). The choice of director feeds into the overall feel, Marvel is clearly making it a habit to bank on lesser known directors in an effort to get more unique takes on these now well known characters and worlds. Mangold, like the director's of Iron Man 3, Thor and The Avengers (Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, and Joss Whedon respectively), puts his own stamp on the movie and it comes across as more thoughtful than the previous outing. Not to say action scenes aren't aplenty, a pretty great fight scene on top of one of the bullet trains is immediately memorable and really keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The cinematography has a strong focus and at times really gets you inside the head of Logan, the shaky cam is cast aside and the well played choreography is clearly visible. The soundtrack is vibrant and the slight infusion of Japanese motifs is a nice change of pace. The acting is good, especially considering two of the main characters are in their first real feature film. Hugh Jackman of course owns this role just as much as Robert Downey Jr. owns Iron Man. Being Jackman's sixth film portrayal as the now iconic character, it will be a sad day indeed if he is ever recast (which thankfully doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon). The movie also has some returning faces, which are probably better left for you to discover when you see the film. The story maintains enough focus and mystery to power it to it's final, satisfying conclusion.
Of course, not everything works perfectly. The one blight on an otherwise well done movie, is the villainess known as Viper. Her character is not only weak, but both poorly written and acted. I found myself strongly reminded of Uma Thurman's portrayal of Poison Ivy, in the all around terrible film Batman & Robin. What's even more frustrating about Viper is that by the end of the film, it's clear she never even had to exist. I certainly understand wanting to put different mutants in from the source material, but it needs to be done in a way that actually adds to the narrative. In addition another final villain ends up working fine, but their appearance is just a little bit too silly (think fire breathing in Iron Man 3). Then again this is based on a comic, so it's hard to completely ignore the roots of the source material.
This slight criticism aside, The Wolverine succeeds in making Wolverine interesting again. The movie is a more than worthy addition to X Men film mythos and solidifies the excitement that's been building since they actually did things right again with 2011's First Class.
I can make you mortal...
- Wolverine is back, and better than ever. The story is what counts, and fans won't be disappointed here.
- Marvel's continued gamble on less expected directors continues to work, as the slower more contemplative tone of this film brings a better balance to what makes Wolverine tick.
- Overall strong acting, with the always reliable Hugh Jackman and even strong turns from two complete newcomers.
- Bombastic and impressive action scenes, nicely balanced and infused with a good sense of humor and internalized tone.
- Wisely decides to continue with the timeline past the events of X Men: The Last Stand, and manages to not add any new inconsistencies to the admittedly shaky continuity of the franchise.
- Some impressive use of familiar faces, definitely stick around for the post-credits scene.
- There is a new Juggernaut in town, and this time her name is Viper. Badly written, acted and used: Viper manages to be the lone stain on an otherwise really good movie.
- The final "boss" as it were, is kind of over the top.
Verdict: Wolverine has returned, not with a whimper but a bang! Featuring a strong story, well worked continuity and cohesive directorial focus, The Wolverine is probably one of the best movies that has been released this summer.
Check out this hilarious so bad it's good "performance" of Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin. Ok, ok I'll admit Viper wasn't this bad, but this gives you an idea of what to expect!