Written by Zac Platt.
With two to three years passing between each film, and some pretty embarrassing (though financially successful) entries over the last 13 years, things were looking pretty grim for Fox’s X-Men movie franchise. Before X-Men: First Class it was looking like the magic might well and truly be gone. But you can rest assured, The Wolverine keeps the momentum going with a film that while admittedly less weighty, proves there is still plenty of fun to be had exploring mutant-kind.
As our lead in four of the previous five films, audiences should know what to expect from Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine; an extremely talented actor completely at the mercy of the scripts quality. Fortunately The Wolverine capitalizes on our familiarity with him and focuses on telling us a totally stand-alone story, with only our titular hero bringing in any of the franchise’s baggage.
The story follows Wolverine’s adventures through Japan, as he tries to protect a gorgeous Japanese heiress named Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from the Yakuza, ninjas, and her malevolent father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada). All the while dealing with the fact that he has suddenly lost his powers and been made mortal. Seriously, how could that not be fun?
It’s a safe bet the hero is going to come out on top, but the film does an excellent job of raising the stakes for a character that can easily seem indestructible. Even after regaining his powers, the final showdown provides a villain that even Wolverine’s abilities would logically be useless against. This is a street-level superhero-flick, with stakes a little more grounded and personal than the more recent blockbusters. While some might miss the exploration of intolerance and inequality of the previous films, I found it refreshing to put that aside for two hours and just watch Jackman kick some ass.
While the scale may be smaller, The Wolverine’s action sequences are well-constructed and refreshingly even paced throughout the film, something that superhero movies seem to struggle with. Director James Mangold has been around the block enough to put together an action movie that never loses your interest, even if it is quite cookie-cutter in its execution.
While the majority of The Wolverine does allow you to take it seriously, there are a few moments that are cringe-worthy, obviously made in service to the trailer and not the film. It wouldn’t be so bad if not for just how silly it gets in the final act. I really enjoyed the surface plot about greed and jealousy tearing the Yashida family apart; the characters were human and you could understand all of their motivations. But it’s all tidied up to make room for the reveal of an extremely contrived and uninteresting villain. On paper I can understand the film going in this direction, but it’s all so over the top and expository that it feels less like an X-Men movie and more like the 90s cartoon.
Equally frustrating is The Wolverine’s underwhelming and unimaginative rogues’ gallery. The Silver Samurai is little more than a bloated Iron Man with swords, and the less said about Viper the better. In a world where writers can just give bad-guys powers without having to explain them, and with a property so rich with characters to mine, they really just aren’t trying hard enough. I understand, and even applaud this movie separating itself tonally and thematically from the previous films, but we are still buying tickets for an X-Men movie. Let’s see some super-powers.
Third act mishaps aside, this is far from being the throwaway that X:Men Origins: Wolverine was. Your ability to enjoy The Wolverine depends on your appreciation for the character, and whether or not you can let yourself enjoy this entertaining, though perhaps uninspired, stand-alone adventure. If you are waiting for the next entry into the X-Men’s ongoing cinematic saga, you’d probably best wait for next year’s X-men: Days of Future Past. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Jackman’s Wolverine and have missed taking him seriously, or you just want some good action, you could do a lot worse.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10