July 26, 2013
United States (English / Japanese)
Directed by James Mangold
Written by Scott Frank and Mark Bomback
The Wolverine is the rare superhero movie that uses the existing semantics of its locations just as well as it realizes the mythology of its lead character. A surprising cast completes one of the better studio pictures and comic book adaptations of the year.
Full disclosure, the only X-Men movie I've seen previous to The Wolverine is X-Men: First Class. In 2011 I saw that film as an ideal jumping on point as it was essentially a reboot of Marvel's mutant all-stars. Sure, I've been aware of the film series and comics in my pop-culture peripheral, but I had never given it the time of day like I have for Spider-Man or DC's Batman. When this film's existence snuck up on me I made a mental note to catch up with the first trilogy and even the widely-disdained X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that has yet to happen. As a completion-ist I hate to do it any other way. The same type of entertainment education actually caused me to miss Fast & Furious 6 during it's recent theatrical run as I've still only made it up through Tokyo Drift. I decided I wasn't going to miss out on a theatrical experience again despite going in cold, as much as it rattled my OCD to do so. And you know what? I'm joyous that I did because The Wolverine is now one of my favorite superhero movies (granted, after what I've just confessed that might not be as much a declaration as one would think).
Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is a-haunted by his past. The film begins with not one, but two nightmares that we later learn are memories from his already lengthy stint in mortality. The first is set in Nagasaki, back when Logan was a POW during WWII. He/we experience the dropping of the atomic bomb, leading him to rescue Yashida, a Japanese officer who was wavering to perform harakiri just before the bombers appeared on the horizon. First Class had its ensemble directly involved with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The stellar opening to The Wolverine is yet another nod to history while laying groundwork for the fantastical. Back in the modern day Logan is tracked down (like the wild animal we see him living as in the Yukon) by Yukio, an assassin and assistant sent by a now aged and dying Yashida. This kicks off The Wolverine: Tokyo Drift.
Admittedly, I have an affinity for things made in/set in/about the Far East, Japan in particular. It's cinema is one of the grandest in the world and it's culture lends itself to infinitely peculiar subject matter for me. In The Wolverine we're privy to Yakuza and ninjas and even a most formidable foe known as Silver Samurai. All these ingredients made my superhero movie all the more appealing. I've yet to travel to Japan myself, but well-known attractions such as the bullet train and love hotels were clever (if obvious) scene headings that made their way into the final product. In fact, the former would be the best action sequence on a train this year if it weren't for The Lone Ranger. Our clawed and flawed hero causes the baddies to be hurled off its sleek surface. Wolverine must deal with gangsters intent on kidnapping Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko. She's played by Tao Okamoto, a Japanese model making her acting debut with this film. She's stunning, the type of beauty that'd make a geisha blush, and acts almost half as good as she looks - which is saying a lot! The aforementioned Yukio is played by Rila Fukushima, another model turned actress. She has one of the most interesting faces I've seen, and not just because of her red-dyed hair. Logan's relationship with each worked for me, on one hand a partner in butt-kicking justice, on the other a protection detail offering a fleeting romance. It's all the more telling to us about Logan's character where each relationship ultimately goes. Another female character is found in Dr. Green AKA Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova). She's a personal doctor to Yashida and while alluring at first ultimately feels out of place in the bigger picture. I felt there was enough substance to The Wolverine without her involvement at all. Too many villains can spoil the broth as Spider-Man 3 taught us oh-too well.
The Wolverine lulls a bit in its action-free middle and doesn't entirely deliver during its climax, especially when compared with that aforementioned train sequence and an earlier battle that breaks out during a funeral that is carried over to a chase on the surface streets and into the arcades of the city. A co-worker commented on how this film depicted Japan through a foreigner's eyes better than Lost in Translation. I don't know about that, but there is a case to be made in how this relates to The Last Samurai. A white warrior comes from a distant land to do battle on a field blood-soaked in its own antiquity. His ways are not their ways yet being thrust into their world gives an entirely new outlook on honor. In addition to his iconic adamantium claws Wolverine is imbued with a healing power. He finds himself a near-immortal in a place where life is guarded but taking your own is sometimes expected. Remember how Wolverine saved Yashida during WWII? He prevented him from performing a ritual and all these years later he's having to pay for doing what he thought was right. Yashida even refers to Wolverine as a ronin at one point (a term we'll come to better learn this cinematic year).
Should you see The Wolverine in theaters, and I really think you should, you ought to stay for the mid-credit "surprise." These are to be expected by now when a Marvel production is released. It is a direct tie-in to X-Men: Days of Future Past, due out next May. That film is reportedly serving as a bridge between the original Brian Singer films (who is actually returning to direct Days of Future Past) and the Matthew Vaughn-helmed re-imagining that is First Class. Singer has described the film as an "inbetwequel." Wolverine will be an integral part of that story, which perhaps has me most excited of all. While this is only my first romp with the character, Hugh Jackman's portrayal has to be one of my favorites among superheroes this side (or that side) of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man. We'll see if I enjoy the next film or previous films as much as I did The Wolverine, but until then I'll remain most fond of the adventures had and morals taught in the Empire of the Rising Sun.
"Eternity can be a curse. The losses you have had to suffer... a man can run out of things to care for, lose his purpose."
CONTENT: strong and intense action, some sensuality, brief disturbing images