Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013)


Logan Can’t Protect His Women

A Film Review of The Wolverine

By: Lawrence Napoli



So this was the Wolverine movie we were all waiting to see?  Oh I get it: a Wolverine movie where there’s a high body count, gore, dismemberment, lots of action, intrigue, a final one-on-one grudge match against a marquee villain and a last minute tie-in to the ever evolving X-franchise?  No, only having one of these elements doesn’t count.  Director James Mangold and writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank attempt to wipe away the visual stain that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine by taking the character back to basics: no X-affiliation, no team dynamics, just a simple re-origin tale where the most iconic X-Man finally deals with his inner demons amidst a rather pedestrian conflict.  Although anyone in the audience can still follow the general plot of The Wolverine, in order to appreciate all the references as well as key character cameos, familiarity with the original X-trilogy is a necessity.  As a result, this film cannot fully stand on its own considering the ultimate conflict of X-Men: The Last Stand is the key “demon” I previously mentioned that continues to dog Logan in this film. Perhaps this fact is what holds The Wolverine back, or perhaps it was the PG-13 rating because the Wolverine movie we’re all (still) waiting for is rated R.

The script represents a mixed bag in that the major plot points leave much to be desired when compared to other comic book adaptations, but the individual scenes deliver the best moment to moment depictions of Wolverine in a realistic world to date.  Bomback and Frank did their homework by examining dialogue sequences from the original trilogy that cuts to the very core of Logan’s roguish personality and applied them here.  Not one single line uttered by Wolverine sounds like forced exposition or contrived plot advancement.  He is every bit the loner and every bit the wounded soul we all know and love him to be, and for the most part, his interactions with everyone are spot on.  However, I found the plot points that lead Logan to Japan from his general state of self loathing to the details that keep him there for the duration of the film to be weak.  Wolverine is known for having a very unique sense of justice that usually crosses the line to vengeance, and appealing to that aspect would be a practical way to snap him back to reality.  The problem is that the messenger has to be someone more important to Logan than a vague voice from the distant past or someone he’s never met before.  When the story evolves after he lands in Tokyo, few things would keep the Wolverine around when he has no reason to stay and everyone’s trying to kill him.  Love would be a great reason, that is, if it was for someone he knew for more than a couple days.  There are just too many points in this film where I thought Wolverine would have simply walked away because a good reason to stay never manifested.  He hung around in the original trilogy mostly for his attraction to Jean and his protection of Rogue.  The connections he makes in this film to produce an artificial “need” in his character feel circumstantial at best.

The other major disappointment I felt The Wolverine laid out for the viewer was the curious approach to the action and combat throughout.  Mind you, this isn’t a criticism of the look of these sequences as they are all shot profoundly well.  There are plenty of wide shots to keep the audience oriented and blurry camera tricks to purposely obscure problematic angles are never used.  I’m specifically calling out the content of the action.  Most of the opposition Logan faces throughout comes in the form of a number of Yakuza thugs, security guards and ninjas.  A convenient plot device is used to level the playing field which makes these kinds of antagonists a viable threat to our hero, but that goes away at some point, yet he is still somehow kept in check by these non super-powered villains.  The ninja village sequence embodies this kind of disappointment perfectly because the audience is clearly being setup for an incessantly violent moment where the infamous “berserker rage” is about to erupt; only it never does and the entire confrontation fizzles.  The same criticism holds true for the climactic battle with the big bad of this film.  It doesn’t come off as big of a surprise, as I’m sure the writers originally banked on, and it displays the smallest window of Logan’s repertoire as a pugilist in any conflict we’ve seen on screen thus far.  If this is the Wolverine that will be a part of Days of Future Past, then I seriously question his worth as a combatant because he simply isn’t the best at what he does anymore.

The one thing I did respect about this production is the fact that this film approached the story from a more dramatic angle.  As such, certain performances that took full advantage of very small pockets of screen time truly shined and gave the movie an emotional anchor that not every X-film can claim to have.  One of the standouts was Hiroyuki Sanada’s enraged and embittered Shingen, the son of Yashida (the rich meyser who invites Logan to Japan in the first place).  Although his character is given virtually no importance to the story, no other antagonist matches this actor’s intensity on the screen at ANY point.  Rila Fukushima did an amazing job as Logan’s mutant sidekick/Japanese escort, Yukio, considering this woman is acting in her second movie ever.  She isn’t stereotypically gorgeous, but her playful mannerisms and emotive facial expressions make her character the most charismatic by far.  I’d also like to point out that Famke Janssen’s performance as the ghost of Jean Grey in this film is the best she’s ever performed as this character.  I never particularly agreed with her casting in the first place, but her contributions here redeem her . . . somewhat.

There were also some severe misses.  I didn’t care one bit for Hal Yamanouchi’s old Yashida, and my criticism is twofold for the character and his performance.  When your character has severely restricted body language, the performance must compensate in other areas (such as vocal intonation) to stand out.  Yamanouchi, perhaps, does too good of a job playing a man that is seconds away from death’s icy grasp and as such, Yashida is no more important than a standard crusty old rich man with nefarious ends.  The other villain that was an absolute waste of time was the mutant Viper, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova.  I understand that she was going for a femme fatale, but she was not particularly sexy, wasn’t very maniacal, and never seemed threatening on the screen.  I don’t know what else a performance can do to screw up the presentation of a villain, but at least she was thorough at it.

Like Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark - Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine.  His dedication to physical conditioning and the seriousness and preparation he approaches this character with is the essence of what it means to be a truly professional actor, and he is a credit to his calling.  

The Wolverine is not as awful as some make it out to be, but it is also nowhere close to being the definitive visual presentation of a story that fully embraces this character as the mainstream media has determined it to be.  I repeat: this is NOT the Wolverine movie we were all waiting for, but that’s not to take anything away from Hugh Jackman who still gave his all, but that same effort could not save Wolverine’s first solo outing.  This film cost slightly less than Origins to make, but it has also come up a tad short on its initial weekend at the box office despite opening at number one.  The Wolverine is yet another summer “blockbuster” that loses its luster for not having that “IT” factor that makes it a must see.  It is a good movie, but doesn’t feature the best action in the world, nor does it tote the best use of its licensed property; which is why people go to see comic book adaptations in the first place.  Chalk this one up to another that fell short of the hype despite being filled with potential.