I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life. Oh, lord. The Japan arc of the Wolverine comics dates back to the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller days in the 80s. It was gritty ninja action that would be regarded as one of the all-time high points for Wolverine in comics, and define the character for all time. Since then, people weren’t sure if something like that series could work as a film, but that didn’t stop Hollywood creators from trying.
Hugh Jackman wanted this film since before the shitty X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie in 2009, which was mainly an introductory means to an end to get to the Japan arc. Lauren Schuler Donner, producer of the X-Men franchise searched for screenwriters and directors to bring this concept to development. Finally, Christopher McQuarrie, an uncredited writer on the original X-Men film, got the script together. Then Darren Aronofsky, the director of Requiem For a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan signed to direct, and I got a film-erection that lasted until 2011, when Aronofsky bowed out of the project due to concerns of being in Japan for production and away from his family for too long. And then the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami further put this film in development hell. Props to the production for still insisting on both following through with this movie, and committing to filming on location in Japan. With Aronofsky gone, James Mangold, the director of Girl Interrupted, 3:10 To Yuma, and Walk The Line signed on. Not a bad substitute.
So with all of these complications and anticipations, you can see why I’ve been nervously following the production for the past couple years. News that the film was finally coming out this year made me fist pump for joy. I wanted this film so bad, and I wanted it to be great. The Wolverine didn’t disappoint.
The story follows the events of X-Men 3, but only vaguely references the events. It acknowledges Jean Grey’s death, and the cause of her death, and doesn’t dwell on any of the other details (thank god). In coping with (spoiler alert) killing Jean, Logan has withdrawn, hiding in the Wilderness as a bearded hobo outside a small truckstop town. He isn’t left alone for long as he’s contacted by an old friend from the distant past, and called to Japan. In Japan, Logan is drawn into a conspiracy involving ninjas, crime lords, and the concept of immortality. This is a much different tone than any previous X-Men film, and I’d say even a big departure from the traditional superhero film format. Think of this story leaning more towards Harrison Ford/Tom Cruise action/suspense film than any of the previous X-Men films.
Outside of Spider-Man films, superhero films don’t develop a really strong romantic element. It tends to be there obligatorily, but it’s often dead and almost irrelevant.Wolverine’s character has always been about the tragic romances, whether it’s the forbidden love of Jean Grey, or the list of girlfriends that get murdered because that’s Wolverine’s life. The Wolverine builds on one of the most iconic relationships, that of Wolverine and Mariko Yashida. Mariko is your usual sweet daughter of a brutal crime lord type of character. She’s noble, brave, and dutiful. The film is wise in not pushing the relationship as the generic “They complete each other and should be in love forever” romance. Mariko serves more as the object of Logan’s redemption than affection. In rescuing her and essentially serving as the princess’s knight, Logan rediscovers his purpose in life, and gets back on track. In return, Mariko gets Logan’s protection as well as a liberation from the hopeless path of her family. He’s a stray dog that Mariko cleans up, and after that, he’s the loyal, protector. The film establishes a love square between Mariko, her arranged fiancee(he doesn’t really matter), Logan, and her childhood friend(he slightly matters), who she has a well-developed romance with. In true Japanese fashion, you can bet the childhood friend isn’t going to get the girl.
What makes this story great is it’s focus on a theme. With the original Spider-Man trilogy, each film had it’s theme (Spider-Man- Taking responsibility, Spider-Man 2- balancing multiple responsibilities to live a complete life, Spider-Man 3-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPN1BvR02Xo ) . With the X-Men films, we didn’t get such iconic themes being explored. The closest thing to a theme I can think of is “we should work together”. The Wolverine feels as though the whole film is an illustration of what Wolverine is about. It’s about endurance, and the ability to come back from anything. Logan experiences the worst, both physically and mentally, but no matter what, he always comes back, he always survives. It’s what makes him a hero and a rolemodel.
I need to pay special credit to the casting. It takes balls to make an American movie with only three non-white actors(two of which aren’t very prominent in the story). Other than that, it’s an all Asian, mostly Japanese cast. And they’re awesome. Hiroyuki Sanada as Mariko’s madman father provides for some glorious moments, and Haruhiko Yamanouchi has an ominous screen presence like no other as the head of the Yashida clan. Additional credit to rookie actor Rila Fukushima as Yukio, the badass samurai girl that serves as Wolverine’s sidekick for the movie. She’s fun, likable, and action packed. Fukushima is the kind of actress you want for an action role, and I want to see more of her.
The only criticisms I’d have of the story would be in the pacing and the ending. The film feels slow. I can’t argue against stressing story over action fluff, but drama can be a bit more exciting than what we get with The Wolverine. It’s a small complaint, small enough that I feel few fans of the film would agree with me. The ending is what seems to get everyone, and it is indeed cartoonish. Either as an attempt to appeal to kids or merely ramp up the action for the finale, we see the film change in tone in the last 30 minutes for the final battles involving Viper, a loosely adapted Hydra-related character with vague poison abilities, and the Silver Samurai, a big robot rather than the man in silver armor from the comics. It doesn’t kill the movie, but it does feel odd and out of place in a film about gangsters and ninjas.
The Wolverine delivers in the action department. Action movies haven’t been quite what they used to be. The days of watching Van Damme spin kick guys in the face have been replaced by gun-packed shoot-em-ups and epic superpowers. As one of the aforementioned successors to the martial arts blockbusters, it’s ironic that The Wolverine felt like a return to that 80s/90s era of action, with a considerable boost in the story department. Sure, Wolverine has powers, and there is a super hero/villain presence in the film, but the real business end of the action lies in hand-to-hand ass kicking, and it feels great to see again. The Wolverine doesn’t rely on CGI effects, but rather interesting fight scenarios and well-choreographed combat. The bullet train fight scene has a couple holes in it(how did no one in the train hear or notice anything), but is one of the great highlights in the action for it’s mix of intense, suspenseful action, and even a touch of Jackie Chan-esque humor.
This time, I won’t be ranting (as much) about the quality of critics for my latest review. The Wolverine stands at about 7.2/10 on IMDb and 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. I think it deserves about an 8.2/10 and a 77%, but reviewers hate summer blockbuster action movies. Once again, many of the negative reviews sound like the critic anticipated a universal panning of the film, and wrote up their vague criticisms before even seeing the movie. Just your usual meaningless hate, “The changes [to the original comic are] pretty stupid, designed more for summer blockbuster purposes than to serve the story” (Jeffrey M. Anderson- Combustible Celluloid). That’s why I’m happy to learn even critics generally liked this very well done Wolverine film. People let it go that the ending was a bit off because the first hour and a half is a perfect balance of entertaining and thematically intriguing.
Overall grade: B+/A-, for delivering in the most important ways, but having the occasional rough patch.
For those of you who still haven’t seen this film, I’m guessing it’s because you’ve slept on it. You figure it’s not a big deal, you’ll catch it on Netflix some day. I’m gonna tell you, this film is worth seeing. While it doesn’t quiet have the cinematic quality of Man of Steel, it does have an over-all better delivered story, and plenty to please the crowd. Also, the post-credits teaser for X-Men: Days of Future Past is awesome. don’t miss it, and don’t miss this film.