By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee, and Svetlana Khodchenkova
Growing up, there was not a cooler character than Wolverine. Possessing a combination of short man’s attitude and superhuman mutant capabilities, I was transfixed with each comic that had his image on the cover. By the same token, Aussie actor Hugh Jackman has to be commended with how he has personified the role, made it his own, and tried his darndest to make the character just as loved in the movies. He has accomplished two out of these three things with commendability. Yet, with the exception of a few moments in the third and first X-Men film, along with the fantastic story that revolves around him in X2, and a pure gold moment from 2011’s First Class, the Wolverine character has lost the battle to win over movie audiences –and the hardcore comic book readers that were drawn to him to begin with-. The nail in the coffin seemed to be 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. A badly misguided picture, Jackman was far from going through the motions. Yet it seemed like everyone else involved in the production was. Here, with The Wolverine –the sixth time sliding his hands into adamantium claws-, Jackman has a major chance to redeem himself. And let’s face it: now in his mid-forties, Jackman is running out of chances to do so. However, armed with a director who knows how to shoot action, a well renowned storyline that at least for three-fourths of the film’s running time is beautifully realized onscreen, and enough of an intimate storyline to clearly distinguish itself from all this summer’s other comic book efforts, The Wolverine, in my eyes, stands head and heels above any other realization of the character to ever be told onscreen.Before I get into it, let me say that like most people who read comics, I was taken in by the samurai storyline on which this film is based. A big part of building the Wolverine character’s soul, it was a true character edifice set of comics that I was encompassed by as a disenfranchised teen. Here, within the confines of film, I must say that The Wolverine is a different kind of superhero movie. And one that I relished in seeing. Instead of decorating the film with character after character that wet dream bearing fanboys can get their rocks off at, screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Scott Frank (Minority Report) have done a great job of making this mostly just about the film’s namesake. Another interesting choice was making this film take place after the events of 2006’s X-Men: Last Stand. In essence, what director James Mangold is saying that combined with the events of the first three X-Men films, THIS is what makes Wolverine exactly who he is. Whether in the end that can be counted as a good or bad choice is up for debate, but one thing I will say is that I actually respected the efforts made to forget that monstrosity known as X-Men Origins. Speaking of Mangold. I have always been on the fence about him. On one end, I feel he is one of the most underrated character drama building specialists working in Hollywood today. He was able to eek an Oscar-winning performance out of Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line, and did wonders within the western genre with The Assassination of Jesse James. The question of his ability to make an intimate style comic book film weighed heavily on my mind going in however, and his first collaboration with Jackman (Kate and Leopold) did nothing to bring my expectations up. I am happy to say that this question was answered with abundant authority by Mangold, as he brings the action full force in The Wolverine. That’s not to say the film was wall to wall action. But when it did appear, it was fun to watch. From a spectacular shootout that takes place in a funeral to a magnificently set-up and breathtakingly executed fight on top of a bullet train, Mangold set up his action quite nicely and amazingly pulled it all off without too many jump cuts or uses of shaky cam.
Jackman pulls out all the stops here in the follow-up to his Oscar nominated performance in Les Miserables, and even in his advancing age, the guy is about as cut as I have ever seen him. However, it is in the film’s final act that the wheels start to come off the semi as it drives full speed. Wolvie has never had much luck in keeping ladies, yet even amongst nightmares of his past love Jean Grey (if you call Famke Janssen laying in bed wearing nothing but negligee a nightmare), he seems to find time to get involved in yet another horribly rendered love story. His romantic connection with Mariko (Okamoto) seems to be that they are both good-looking people in danger. And that’s it. It is also within the film’s final act that the predictability of all that takes place, combined with an admittedly fun bit of main baddie Viper shedding her skin in the midst of battle, made for an almost completely unfulfilling conclusion.
I am sure if Jackman read this review, he would ask, ‘what more do you want?’ Truth is, The Wolverine was one of the most satisfying films of the summer for me. It was an intimate story that had all the hype of being built around a well revered storyline brought to life in a more than favorable light. The action was wonderfully staged, the development behind Jackman’s character was nicely done, and the final fight between him and the Silver Samurai, while predictable in its development, was fun to watch. I have had more satisfying movie going experiences than The Wolverine(Pacific Rim.) But I have also definitely had worse (Man of Steel.) And if this is the type of intimately told superhero tale that we get on a more consistent basis, then maybe, just maybe, I can find myself getting excited about comic book movies again.