Jun 13, 2015

Review: The Wolverine (2013)


X-Men Origins: Wolverine left a seriously bad taste in my mouth as it did for many fans of the X-Men series. Besides an at-times alright final fight and the presences of Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber, there's almost nothing going for it. It was a serious misstep and even Hugh Jackman has admitted as much. Even after an already sub-par X-Men: The Last Stand, it wasn't like the X-Men franchise was in trouble though. Matthew Vaughn's First Class proved that Fox could still make a good X-Men movie and all it took was the right people.

Enter Darren Aronofsky who Hugh Jackman had worked with in The Fountain. He was just coming off the release of The Black Swan and most likely would have been a slam dunk as a director. He unfortunately couldn't come to an agreement with Fox and stepped down. To take his place was James Mangold who had worked with Jackman in romantic comedy Kate & Leopold which is a surprisingly OK movie for its genre. I would rank Mangold as a relatively good director. He's no Aronofsky, but he was definitely a step in the right direction.

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At a Glance


Genre: action, adventure, sci-fi
Directed by: James Mangold
Produced by: Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner, Hugh Jackman, etc.
Written by: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Running time: 126 minutes
Production company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Donners' Company, Marvel Entertainment, etc.
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 20th Century Fox, China Film Co., etc.
Country: United States, United Kingdom
Language: English, Japanese
Budget: $120,000,000
Box office: $414,828,246 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee, Hal Yamanouchi, Will Yun Lee, Ken Yamamura, Famke Janssen, Nobutaka Aoyagi, Seiji Funamoto, Shinji Ikefuji

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Synopsis


Logan (Hugh Jackman) has retreated to a forest hideout in the Yukon where he lives on his own. Ever since the battle that pitted the X-Men vs. the Brotherhood, he's been torn up with guilt over what happened to Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and haunted by her in his dreams. His isolation is interrupted when he gets an invitation from a mutant named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to come back to Japan and pay an old friend a visit.


Review


The Wolverine has a very steady pace which is something quite different from most superhero movies. Most people would definitely consider it slow. James Mangold takes the time to really flesh out what Logan is all about and what he's going through which he does better than any other X-Men movie has been able to do so far. That's no surprise really since most of them have been ensemble-cast focused. It's night and day though if you compare X-Men: Origins to The Wolverine. It's rare that superhero movies get this character-based and it's a great change of pace.

The atmosphere of TW is decidedly moody and relatively dark save for some well-placed and colourful lighting. Seriously, Mangold has actually made The Wolverine into a very pretty movie. Japan is positioned as a strange place, making Logan even more of an outside than he was anywhere in North America. I can't really vouch for the legitimacy of how Japan and its culture is portrayed, but to my untrained eye there isn't too much that's amiss. Mind you, I'm no expert on Japan though. I'm sure actual natives can point out the inevitable inaccuracies. Still, there's nothing gamebreaking if you ask me.

I will say though that it aggravates me to no end when the Japanese characters of TW speak to each other in English. That's a Hollywood thing and it's actually surprising just how much Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Yukio do speak Japanese to each other. They still change it up to English though for no conceivable reason other than the fact that the makers didn't want to annoy viewers with all the subtitles.

The Wolverine takes itself pretty seriously, but there still are some moments of comedy that feel well-placed and well-timed. That's especially because of Hugh Jackman who just hits all the right notes at all the right times. More than ever, he truly has become Wolverine. From the prickly personality to the unbelievably chiseled physique, the day it's not Hugh Jackman wearing the claws is going to be a tough one. Some actor is going to have some pretty big shoes to fill.

Anyhow, in terms of the action which is of course one of the most important parts of any superhero movies, I'd rate The Wolverine as passable. The first real fight scene taking place in Japan is pretty disappointing actually since it falls victim to choppy editing and distracting camera work. It's enough to make you think that Mangold doesn't know how to handle action really. Things get much better though. Most impressive of all is a bullet train sequence which despite all the CGI to make it work really is quite thrilling.

Overall, the action continues to motor on to great effect until we get the final confrontation. That's where The Wolverine completely collapses unfortunately. This final portion doesn't even feel like it belongs in the same movie honestly and it's a shame. The villainess named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is particularly bothersome and I couldn't help but roll my eyes when she had her "girl fight" with Yukio. It's bland, superhero blockbuster nonsense that ruins a great thing.


The Wolverine isn't perfect even when you remove its less than perfect climactic fight. It's also more than serviceable as well. The story works, the characters feel nicely fleshed out and the action looks great for the most part. Even the romance that develops in The Wolverine doesn't feel forced or out of place. So much goes right in Mangold's first attempt at a superhero movie, but there are also some significant issues that can't be ignored either. The climactic battle is just a major ball-and-chain that cannot be ignored.

Rating

6.5/10

Related Reviews:

X-Men (2000)
X2 [X-Men 2: X-Men United] (2003)
X-Men: The Last Stand [X-Men 3: The Last Stand] (2006) 
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) 
X-Men: First Class (2011)