The Wolverine trugges onward grappling with if he wants an empty life or a meaningful death?
The theoretical Darren Aronofsky directed Wolverine film would definitely have been a more auteurist take on the character than previously seen. Something that is becoming more of a must as various franchise continue on year after year. Replacement director James Mangold(Walk The Line, 3:10 to Yuma), whose filmography I would describe as studio eclectic might have found his auteurist self in The Wolverine. Capturing the quiet moments from lead Hugh Jackman and melding them against the old and new iconography of Japan, before having to jump into a high octane action sequence. No, The Wolverine isn’t the hard R, blood soaked ride that some fans pine for (that is apparently coming in an unrated Blu Ray cut) it’s PG-13 in order to get the widest audience. This rating does not mean that Jackman and the film whiff on the character. Quiet to the contrary The Wolverine gets many things right about the Wolverine giving fans an emotionally grounded and character driven film.
Writers Scott Frank and Mark Bomback draw inspiration from the well known miniseries Wolverine written by Chris Claremont with pencils by Frank Miller. Frank and Bomback take some of the series important cells and plot points and mold their own story with them. Managing to keep the spirit of that four issue run alive, which is the only thing an adaptation can hope for. Logan is a haunted man who has lived too long and seen to many of his friends and loved ones die (some of which he also killed). There isn’t a moment where Logan can close his eyes without seeing Jean Grey(Famke Janssen) constantly begging and taunting him to join her in death. Removed from the world, Logan lives in the wilderness taking a vow of passivity but somethings you just can’t unlearn. When Ichirō Yashida, a man he saved during the bombing of Nagasaki calls on him from his deathbed, Logan travels back to his past and gets involved in a family civil war involving: Yakuza, Samurai, and Ninjas.
For how crazy (read: comic booky) that last sentence makes The Wolverine sound, Mangold manages to brush those moments to the side. Focusing in on the troubled Logan as he works through all the layers of guilt and breaks down some very old walls. Mangold even manages to have decent stretches of time where only Japanese is spoken (mostly with the addition of subtitles) keeping the eastern spirit of the film alive. Mangold could not however keep all the Yakuza, Samurai, and Ninja out forever though, partly due to studio mandate and partly due to the fact that those things are an intrinsic part of Wolverines character. Even as the poorly executed third act goes full blockbuster the film never loses sight of what this film is about.
The third act is likely going to draw a lot of eire from most places. It is very comic book esque with Wolverine battling an adamantium made Silver Samurai-esque robot while rescuing the princess. The trope isn’t anything new for fans of action cinema. In fact seeing Wolverine fight a giant robot is kinda cool. Where The Wolverine falters is how it sets it all up. The Yashida clan is very big and has a long history which isn’t told that well. So when multiple character have various turns of allegiance it becomes a soap opera parody in the worst way. Which is then justified poorly. The internal logic is there it just isn’t doled out well.
The inclusion of Viper(Svetlana Khodchenkova) who is also known as Madame Hydra in the comics is out of leftfield from a rights perspective. Viper also doesn't really serve much purpose beyond adding an additional villain (of which there are many) to the film.
It is to Hugh Jackman’s credit that he managed to make X-Men Origins: Wolverine watchable the first time. If I hadn’t paid for a ticket and he’d been so good I would have walked out and got my money back. Seven times now he’s played the haunted Canadian and he gives perhaps his best overall performance here. Showing the nobel ronin, feral beast, and haunted immortal sometimes all at the sametime. Like the title says it’s all about The Wolverine. Which mostly works for this film but some characters felt a little underdeveloped. Yukio felt like she operated with a bit more implied significance due to the comics than what was shown on screen. Others like Shingen Yashida are morphed to fit a new role but still manage to have nods to their origins. Surprisingly the character of Mariko isn’t a totally stock damsel in distress. Overall she does operate more as an object for Logan to live for than a real character with agency but she is shown to be a little spitfire who eventually succumbs to plot necessity.
With a 126 minutes runtime The Wolverine could have been stuffed to the gills with claws ripping through various things. It actually isn’t with only 3-4 major action set pieces. An early funeral one, that has been shown off in most marketing material, features a shaky cam that does undo some of the sequences’ coolness.The only good that comes from it is the moment of realization from Logan that getting shot hurts. Mangold uses a single camera to get in close and show Jackman emoteting which works in cramped or quieter spaces. In action, it is a style that continues to show limited success. Thankfully other sequences demand use of steadier cameras which make for enjoyable popcorn fun.
With a PG-13 rating The Wolverine is still really violent. Yes it lacks the arterial spray that would give it an R rating. Along with the apparent feeling from the MPAA that mutants simply aren’t human. Neither of these change the fact that Wolverine is basically stabbing and slashing men open in graphic (but not too graphic) fashion. What would be deemed too brutal happens just out of frame. The only evidence being the blood soaked claws once they renter. Wolverine himself gets very banged up throughout the film with open gunshot wounds just there slowly bleeding. This violence has actual weight and good on Mangold and director of photography Ross Emery for capturing it.
With the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con happening last weekend it’s easy to feel disenfranchised at the media spectacle the event has become. All the major studios show their old and new franchises off. All firmly trying to capture some of that Marvel magic with moves toward an interconnected universe of pictures. It’s easy to get the idea that there will never be another comics based property that isn’t simply feeding into itself or some other beast. Urging you to go continue the story next summer. If the story never ends how can there be any meaningful films? This is what makes The Wolverine feel special until the credits roll. There isn’t any allusions to something on the horizon or a greater universe. Yes this film happens after The Last Stand but prior knowledge is not necessary for enjoyment.The Wolverine feels just enough apart of but still segregated away from the overall X-Men franchise. The Wolverine tells a story about Logan and it ends, it is complete. Than the credits roll and before the long stream begins a stinger scene pops up. One that urges fans to come back next summer for another X-Men movie, The Days of Future Past. This trope is simply part of the blockbuster beast at this point and it serves a purpose so you can’t hate it too much. Luckily you can choose to get up and leave the theater or stop the DVD once the credits hit.