The Wolverine is nothing like the previous films that featured the clawed mutant with the healing factor. That is to its benefit.
The Wolverine finds Logan (Hugh Jackman) living in a cave in Canada’s Yukon – sharing the area with a grizzly bear and having nightmares about having killed the woman he loved (Jean Grey from the X-Men movies, played with an ethereal edge by Famke Janssen). When he finds the bear wounded and dying, with an arrow in its back, he puts the animal out of its misery and stalks into town to confront its killer, leading to a meeting with Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a crimson-tressed, sword-wielding vision out of a manga fan’s fondest dreams who has come to bring him to Tokyo to bid farewell to Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a Japanese tech tycoon whom he had saved when the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in world War II.
Yashida offers Logan a chance to rid himself of his mutant healing factor which, effectively, makes him immortal – giving him the opportunity to live a normal life and have a normal death. He wouldn’t have to go on, seeing everyone he loved die while he went on. Logan refuses the offer; Yashida dies – though Logan does indeed lose his healing factor – which gives us a chance to see that he is not defined by it.
At the funeral, Yakuza try to kidnap Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) but Logan intervenes – with the unseen aid of a mysterious, ninja-like archer (Will Yun Lee). Mariko’s fiancé, Japan’s Minister of Justice, Noboru (Brian Tee) and Mariko’s father, Lord Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) factor into the tale in unexpected ways (unless, of course, you’ve read the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller comic on which The Wolverine is based) and there’s always the toxic blonde oncologist (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who kept Yashida alive for much longer than expected.
The Wolverine differs from all the previous X-films in a number of ways: tonally it combines a bit of noir, a touch of Clint Eastwood, a bit of Toshiro Mifune and more than a hint of John Woo with some outstanding superheroics (and some silly ones).
The script – by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank – transports the Claremont/Miller tale to a post X:Men: Last Stand time period and gives a look at the melancholy, tortured Logan who has given up ‘soldiering’ because its cost was too high – even for him. Jackman makes his angst as real as he made Logan’s anger management issues and tendency to quip in the previous X-films. Other than Jean Grey’s appearance in his dreams, though, there’s no real connection to those other films, so newcomers to the character won’t feel lost. Longtime fans of the comics and movies will still find plenty of stuff to make them happy, too.
Fukushima – with her large, deceptively sleepy eyes, crimson hair and angular face – gives Yukio both gravity and a deeply dark wit. Pay attention to everything she says – she’s not just a pretty face, or a wicked swordswoman. Okamoto gives Mariko an ethereal presence that even tops Janssen. She’s quietly fierce and capable and it is thoroughly believable that her character would capture Logan’s heart. Both Fukushima and Okamoto acquit themselves well in their action sequences – Fukushima moreso simply because she has more of them.
James Mangold, the director, is responsible for some very good movies (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) and he effectively blends all the tones the movie requires. Except for the bang up action sequences, The Wolverine is paced fairly deliberately –we get to know the three main characters – Logan, Yukio and Mariko – very well.
All of the action sequences are well done – though the fight sequence on the bullet train is outstanding and the final sequence is both too over the top for the rest of the movie and a bit too long. It is apparent that Jackman, probably more ripped than he’s ever been in his life, did the majority of the required stuntwork.
Outside of the final fight sequence – which does include an interesting twist, another flaw is that the Khodchenkova character, Viper, is given little characterization other than her statement that she’s strictly a mercenary – and Khodchenkova is only barely adequate in the role. One other thing that bothered me just a tad, is that even while he is being hurt by bullets and assorted pummellings, Logan’s hands heal after every usage of his claws. It’s a small thing, but over a period of time, kind of annoying.
Overall, The Wolverine is an A+ movie before its third act skitters off track. It’s still the second-best of the X-movies (behind X-Men: First Class) and a lot of darkly twisted fun – and the mid-credits tag is pretty cool, too.
Final Grade: B+