Review: THE WOLVERINE - Imperfect, But Breathless & Infused with Comic Book Nerdery

The Wolverine
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Inspired by the 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine miniseries, The Wolverine takes enough liberties to better adapt it to the Marvel X-Universe that Fox has been building (and sometimes tearing down) since Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men. For better or for worse, this film fits completely into that continuity and takes place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand.

Wolverine (played once again by the redoubtable Hugh Jackman) is inconsolable after the loss of Jean Grey in The Last Stand and has withdrawn from society completely, only to be drawn back into the world by a girl named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who delivers Logan into a web of mystery that needs unraveling.

Director James Mangold (Copland, Walk the Line) has to navigate two very different sets of expectation. For a Wolverine solo film, that bar has been set very low, and as long as The Wolverine exceeds the low standard set by X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it will probably be regarded as a success. But this film also co-exists in the world of movie X-Men, and that bar was re-raised to an impossibly high standard by not only Fox’s last theatrical X-outing, 2011’ X-Men: First Class, but the standard being set by Marvel’s own in-house Marvel Cinematic Universe films starring the various Avengers.

Could Mangold carve out a unique film befitting the fact Fox does have its own unique universe to play in, and also meet the demands of fans accustomed to the high quality the overall Marvel brand is now known for?

The answer is a resounding yes.

That’s not to say The Wolverine is perfect and there are definitely moments that might make some ardent fanboys cringe, but Mangold and screenwriters Mark Bomback, Scott Frank, and Christopher McQuarrie give us a Logan fans haven’t seen on screen before. Not just the “Japanese” flavor of Wolverine the source material called for, but we also get the gritty, but classy, badass solo Wolverine that seems lifted from some comic book creators like Mike Allred's version of him. The Wolverine, in fact, plays like a highly-stylized Wolverine limited series or one-shot removed by the house style of the ongoing series.

A comic book superhero film that that doesn’t really play like one, The Wolverine is more noir thriller with notes of Kurosawa. It’s structured pleasingly like on old private investigator movie - the ‘dame’ shows up offering an alluring mystery, the tough guy is meant to be the patsy and has to unravel that mystery to find out why and then, more importantly, to knock everything arrayed against him down. And... you know... he gets the girl in the process too. The ‘dame' in this case is Mariko (Tao Yakamoto), who has a long history with Logan in the comics. The scene setups and themes are reminiscent of Kurosawa’s noir films, but with a Canadian tough guy who would fit in Frank Miller’s Sin City right in the middle of the action.

As the films big baddies, we’re given Viper and Silver Samurai. Silver Samurai makes complete sense in the context of the film, though his origin has been changed significantly and Harada (the original 616 Silver Samurai) is a completely separate but worthy character with some of the coolest fight moments in the film.

Viper and Logan
Viper and Logan
Credit: FOX

Viper’s involvement feels more like an act of convenience, however, there to perform some perfunctory mutant tasks, and Svetlana Khodchenkova is the weakest link in an otherwise brilliant cast.

Yes, fanboys will gripe about events in the third act. but it’s a damn entertaining third act despite it all. The imagery is iconic, the stakes for Wolverine have never been higher in a big screen adventure, and Fox delivered on the promise of making a film head and shoulders better than his previous solo outing.

Though not quite to the level of First Class, Mangold and Jackman offer a solid chapter in Wolverine’s on-screen life.

Breathless and funny and imperfect and infused with so much Marvel comics nerdery that if fans can keep the X-Men comic book and film universe’s separate they’ll almost certainly have a great time, The Wolverine plays like the second act in an X-Men movie universe apology for the sins of The Last Stand and Origins ... and then the need to stick around until after the final credits roll for the opening paragraph of the third act...

 

 

SPOILER ALERT

 

 

Taking a page from the Marvel Studios playbook (smart choice, given it’s the fan’s favorite page), The Wolverine sets up the future of Fox’s X-Men movie universe in a big way.

Echoing a fan-favorite moment from First Class, we’ll leave the details at that, only to say the extended scene offers a promise that what’s to come will be nothing short of amazing.

Bryan Young is an author, Star Wars podcaster, and writer for Big Shiny Robot!

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