Taking place several months after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand (yes, this movie states the atrocity that was Lamest Stand counts as X-Men movie canon), The Wolverine picks up with a haunted Logan (Hugh Jackman) coerced out of his cave by an assassin (Rila Fukushima) and taken to Japan for a meeting with an old friend (Hal Yamanouchi) who wants to repay Wolverine for saving his life at Nagasaki more than 70 years ago (in a terrific sequence) by offering the hero turned hermit the one thing denied to him – morality.
Although interspersed with several action scenes, some which work well (such as pretty cool sequence on top of a moving bullet train) and some which don’t (such as nauseating shaky-cam chase sequence through the city and the film’s climactic battle), The Wolverine is more character-driven drama than action for much its 126-minute running time. Of course for this to work the movie has to accept the events of the other X-Men films, while embellishing certain aspects to help tell the tale, such as Logan’s relationship with Jean Grey (played by Famke Janssen and who, for a dead character, has a far larger role than I anticipated).
Although the movie tries to distance itself from other Fox, Sony, and Marvel Studios productions in the style of story we get here, the script throws in the towel for a by-the-numbers final battle (with yet another giant robot) which fails for a number of reasons including an ill-conceived plan by the movie’s villain, a weird tonal shift, and a series of events that will give you a tremendous headache if you try to make sense of them.
Although neither Fukushima nor Tao Okamoto have much acting experience, they both work well in their roles as Logan’s sidekick and love interest respectively. I can’t say the same for Svetlana Khodchenkova whose over-the-top performance as Viper doesn’t mesh well with the dramatic tone of the film. Honestly it feels as if she was cast in an entirely different film. Okamato is also by far the most interesting member of the family as neither her father (Hiroyuki Sanada) nor grandfather (Yamanouchi) are much more than plot pieces and obstacles for our hero to overcome.
Without giving too much away, the plot does center on an under-powered Wolverine whose healing powers are suppressed for most of the film. Although this means we get very little of Wolverine in full bad-ass mode, it does allow for a Jon McClane or Donald Westlake’s Parker-style hero who keeps on coming no matter how many times you knock him down.
Inspired by the 1982 Wolverine mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the movie makes several changes to the story, most notably the film’s version of the character being far less at home in Japan than in the comic. Jackman’s character doesn’t speak Japanese and has little to no knowledge about the culture of the country which he’s dragged to rather than choosing to relocate to in an attempt to separate himself from his life with the X-Men. Although the terms like ronin and samurai are thrown about, the movie (much like Logan) doesn’t really seem to know what those terms mean. Nor does Logan’s arc of over the course of the film justify the use of those terms.
Much like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine is a flawed film, albeit for different reasons. Where Origins provided plenty of ridiculous (and dumb) fun it struggled mightily with its dramatic sequences. The Wolverine is the flip-side of that same coin. When the film focuses on the dramatic arc of Logan dealing with his situation and trying to protect Mariko it works well. When it tries to play things fast and loose, particularly with Viper and the script’s unfortunate final act, the movie looses its way.
When The Wolverine works it’s primarily because of how easily Hugh Jackman inhabits the character. I’d recommend the film to fans of his version of the character although I’d say keep your expectations low and certainly don’t spend the extra money for the 3D (which is especially troubling during the shaky-cam sequences). It’s no Iron Man 3, in fact I’m not sure its even as good as Daredevil or The Incredible Hulk, but it’s certainly better than any of the Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four, or Punisher films released in recent years.