‘The Wolverine’ Review

Rating:

(The reviewer wrote this article with the assumption that the reader has seen the standard trailer for the film – provided conveniently at the bottom of this review. If you have not seen the trailer and wish to be kept completely unaware, you have no business even being here in the first place, you crazy person.)

Now that’s what I’m talking about! By far the finest film to feature the world’s most famous feral six-clawed mutant, The Wolverine is an exceptionally well-made superhero flick. Sure, it adheres to some tried-and-true formulae – there is most certainly a pronounced beginning, middle and end to this picture – however it avoids the potholes so often stepped in by similar genre films and delivers a nearly pitch-perfect story anchored by well-illustrated, three-dimensional characters of often dubious intent, phenomenally choreographed and inventive action sequences that raise the bar for every future Marvel movie and some of the finest pacing I’ve seen in a film this year.

Borrowing liberally from the 4-shot 1982 miniseries, Wolverine, penned by Chris Claremont and gorgeously illustrated by Frank Miller, The Wolverine opens up, via flashback, in wartime 1945 Japan. Logan (Hugh Jackman, who has repeatedly exceeded all expectations, both physically and dramatically, in the role he was born to play) is being held captive on a Japanese base. An air raid is coming in. A young Japanese soldier, against the orders of his superiors, sets free every P.O.W. and, after some hesitation, liberates our hero as well. If you’re even the least bit familiar with WWII history, the date and location listed above should be all the clues you’ll need to figure out what happens next. Logan’s subsequent act of heroism results in him revealing his legendary healing factor and, unbeknownst to him at the time, sets the wheels in motion for all that follows.

The main action of the film takes place after the events that unfolded during the dreadfully uneven Brett Ratner mess that was X-Men: The Last Stand. We find Wolverine essentially living as a caveman in the woods not far outside of a small hunting town. Haunted by the memory of having to kill the woman he loved – in X-Men: The Last Stand (a mishmash of several X-Men plotlines, the most prominent of which was the much-revered Dark Phoenix Saga), he was forced to kill Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a powerful telepathic/telekinetic teammate and love interest who had been possessed by the evil cosmic Dark Phoenix entity and was systematically wiping out her former friends and teammates – he has sworn to never take another life again.

Yeah. We’ll see about that. This movie, though not explicitly gory, unleashes “Wolvie” the way we’ve always wished.

Wolverine is tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a cute, quirky young Japanese woman who, in interrupting a bar altercation Logan has gotten himself into, reveals rather quickly that there is more to her than meets the eye. She informs him that her boss, Mr. Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) who is – surprise, surprise – the young soldier whom he saved so many years ago, now lays dying, his last wish to say goodbye to his old friend. After some brief coaxing, Logan agrees to visit him.

Through the first hour of the film, we are steadily introduced to a wide cast of characters in a wonderful and much-welcome change of scenery from the previous five X-films Jackman has portrayed Wolverine in. Most notably, we meet Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (a stunning Tao Okamoto) who, if you’ve read the miniseries, may wind up pulling at the man-sometimes-known-as-Patch’s heartstrings. Yashida’s oncologist (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a mysterious blonde woman of questionable motives and origin and Harada (Will Yun Lee), a ninja whose past with Mariko has him sworn to protect her at all costs, also add to the plot’s considerable intrigue. Events transpire that raise the stakes higher than ever for the character.

There are twists – some predictable, others not so much – and turns, all bolstered by phenomenal performances and gripping action sequences that are all different from one another. One action set piece in particular, an 8-minute melee scramble atop a speeding bullet train, is brilliant fun. Though The Wolverine clocks in at just over two hours, the movie feels lean. Everything in the film serves to either develop character or propel the plot forward. Director James Mangold, who burst onto the scene in 1997 with his second feature, the indie gem Cop Land, displays a deftness for interspersing action and drama that many – myself included – had forgotten he was capable of. His last film, the überclunker Knight and Day, was schlocky bop-and-bang entertainment that lacked a true center and 3:10 to Yuma, which wasn’t terrible, is still, in my opinion, remembered far too fondly. Of course, he’s also the guy who brought us Walk the Line, the neither overrated nor underrated Identity, and Girl, Interrupted.

Oh, and would you look at that – he and Jackman have worked together before, in the time-hopping rom-com Kate & Leopold.

The best thing about this movie – aside from its superlative pacing, elevated stakes and crisp delivery – is that it isn’t a stupid comic book movie; it’s a great, intelligently done movie by any standard. By now, we all know who Wolverine is. There’s a reason why, when it comes to superhero film serials, the second installation is often viewed as the best one: once the origin story is out of the way, the real action can truly begin. That we’ve seen the Wolverine origin story in arguably 3 different movies may make it all the more sweet that in The Wolverine, our favorite mutant with an adamantium skeleton can just do his thing. And he does it gloriously well.

It also must be noted – to what should be the elation of mutant fans across the globe – that this film continues the tradition of its chronological celluloid-based predecessors, which is to say that the saga of the mutants is propelled forward and that some characters involved may or may not be irreversibly changed as a result of what occurs in the film. Oh, and make sure to stick around for a minute after the credits begin to roll, because ooooooh boy!

To 3D or not to 3D – Like a great majority of summer fare, The Wolverine was not filmed with 3D cameras and therefore all the 3D effects seen, if you choose to go that route, have been added in post production. It is for that reason that I suggest you save $5 and see the flick on the cheap.

(Photo and trailer courtesy of Marvel Entertainment and 20th Century Fox)

 

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Jesse Scheckner

A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest performance in film has yet to come. He is TuffGnarl.com's editor-in-chief, a feature staff writer for MMASucka.com and the 2014 MMA Media Correspondent winner at the Florida MMA Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.

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