Movie Reviews: The Wolverine

Back in 2009 one of my favourite Marvel characters got a solo outing on the big screen, and I was pretty excited to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine, unfortunately the film sucked. Despite some good casting (Liev Schreiber made a pretty good psycopathic Sabretooth and Ryan Reynolds would be perfect as Deadpool given a decent script) the whole thing felt watered down and lame, especially as it wasted some of the X-Men’s best characters (Deadpool, Gambit, Emma Frost).

You’d have thought that I’d have learnt my lesson, but no, when another solo adventure for Weapon X was mooted I found myself getting all caught up in excitement, especially as it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a direct sequel to the last one and that it would be set in Japan. Meaning it would involve ninjas, samurai and yakuza (oh my!). This is something they actually did in the comic books, with Wolverine having spent time in Japan learning to fight and trying to use the samurai teachings to control his anger.

So, I was pretty excited to check out The Wolverine yesterday.

wolv pos

Opening with a scene in World War II where Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a POW in Nagasaki when the bomb drops and saves the life of a young Japanese officer Yashida, from the blast by hiding in a prison pit and covering him with metal. Yashida witnesses Logan’s powers of regeneration.

In the present, following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan has withdrawn into the mountains and is haunted by having had to kill the woman he loved, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who appears in his dreams. Trying to avoid violence and his former ways, he nonetheless gets involved in a bar brawl with illegal hunters, but is aided by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) a mysterious Japanese girl who has been following him. She informs him that Yashida is dying and wants to say goodbye, and reluctantly Logan goes with her to Tokyo.

Yashida has become a rich man, head of a powerful business empire. Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) but is at death’s door. He believes he can offer Logan a deal- that he can take Logan’s healing factor and “immortality” so he can live on and that Logan can finally live a normal life and die and be at peace. Dubious of this, Logan refuses and is suspicious of Yashida’s shady Western doctor (played by Svetlana Khodchenkova).

Icy blonde doctor? I'm sure she'll prove to be trustworthy

Icy blonde doctor? I’m sure she’ll prove to be trustworthy

While staying at Yashida’s complex Logan sees the problems and tensions within the Yashida family, and is drawn to Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who appears to be controlled and trapped by her father and her strict sense of honour. After Yashida dies and Logan experiences bizarre dreams involving the doctor. At the funeral Mariko is attacked by yakuza heavies and Logan protects her, they escape thanks to the aid of a mysterious bowman who turns out to be Mariko’s ex, Harada (Will Yun Lee).

Logan and Mariko go on the run, but Logan realizes that something has been done to him and he is no longer healing as before. Weaker and more vulnerable, Logan still decides to protect Mariko and in hiding the two bond and try to unravel why someone is after Mariko and what’s happened to Logan.

Can they get to the bottom of things? Will Logan recover his powers and if he doesn’t how will he manage? And is the Wolverine side of his character really gone or does he need that savagery to win the day.

First of all, this movie is a vast improvement on Origins, but that’s faint praise. This movie is definitely more fun and while it doesn’t quite match up with the comic book character’s Japanese connections, it’s still an interesting spin. Wolverine is out of his comfort zone and struggles with some of the Japanese customs, and this, along with the loss of his healing powers ensures that the character is more vulnerable than before.

This is a nice move because his near-indestructible nature can strip some of the peril from his adventures. Here we see the character stripped of this and forced to adapt. Jackman does a great job capturing the surprise and confusion the character experiences throughout the film, while still being a total badass. It’s interesting because it highlights one of Wolverine’s flaws, he fights like someone who can’t be hurt and so wades in recklessly, which is usually fine and dandy, but here puts him at a disadvantage.

That’s not to say that the Canadian mutant can’t handle himself, and some of the fights are wonderfully choreographed, with him slashing, hacking and brawling through martial artists. I quite like that his fighting style reflects his character and that they didn’t just make him a kung fu master. Unfortunately, while there are feral about him we’re still yet to see the character fully unleash the berserker rage comic fans are familiar with. But I guess, they’re never going to make a 15 movie and lose a massive chunk of their audience.

Jackman, is as ever, superb in the title role. While some of the films he’s appeared in have been a little shaky, the actor always does a good job with the character, and here he manages to convey the conflict and changes the character experiences. From his haunted, despairing first appearances right through the film as Wolverine starts to live again. The growing passion and dedication bleeds into the character slowly, and is one of the character’s lasting traits- despite his protestations of being a loner and cynicism, Logan is still a hero and is unable to sit on the sidelines when he sees injustice going on. That being said, he does have a nice line in sarky quips.

It also has to be said that Jackman looks sensational, he’s insanely ripped and carries himself with this understated confidence which gives the impression that he is a man not to be trifled with.

There's plenty of topless Jackman action for the ladies (and some of the fellas)

There’s plenty of topless Jackman action for the ladies (and some of the fellas)

The rest of the cast do alright too, especially Rila Fukushima as the young Japanese girl sent to collect Wolverine, she bosses him about, declares that she’s his bodyguard and brings a wonderful streak of humour to proceedings, and the two characters have genuine chemistry. Her own mutant power is handled well, and brings a touch of sadness to the character. Also, she’s never overly sexualised and something of a badass when she gets fighting, and I found myself really warming to the character.

Yukio in action

Yukio in action

As the love interest Mariko, Okamoto does well enough and is rather sweet and decent, but despite them making her know a bit of karate and be a skilled knife thrower, she does slip into “damsel in distress” mode a bit too much. And the whole Japanese honour thing is a little forced in places.

Famke Janssen’s dream appearances as Jean Grey are quite well done, giving insight into Logan’s turmoil, but with Jean also being rather nasty to the poor dude in places, showing how his subconscious is torturing him.

One of the flaws is there’s lack of any real villain until the end stages. The yakuza and ninjas are good heavies, but you know that as soon as Wolverine sorts out getting his powers back they won’t be much of a challenge. Svetlana Khodchenkova’s snakelike mutant is quite good fun, but underused.

And when the big bad does finally rock up it’ssomething of a disappointment, and looks kinda dumb.

There are a few nice touches of humour, and some good one-liners, and the script is rather well done, and manages to handle some of the dafter plot aspects well enough.

All in all it’s a thoroughly entertaining superhero romp, but compared to the Marvel Universe films this is lagging behind. Jackman’s performance is good and the action sequences are well done, and the ending is encouraging for further adventures where Wolverine won’t be quite as mopey,

Verdict: In terms of the X-movies this is one of the better installments and great fun, with Jackman continuing his great work as the cigar chomping mutant. He’s far and away the film’s greatest strengths. It’s a little daft in places, but pulls through, however it suffers from lack of a decent villain and in comparison to the Avengers movie universe it looks shakier. 7/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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