The Fight Of His Life Will Be For His Own

James Mangold

Hugh Jackman
Tao Okamoto
Rila Fukushima
Svetlana Khodchenkova

Set several years after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan/Wolverine [Jackman] has taken the death of Jean Grey [Famke Janssen] badly, relegating himself to a life of isolation in the mountains. There he is haunted by both nightmares of his past and a phantom Jean Grey, bidding him to rest – which being close to immortal, he can’t. After punishing a hunter in a bar, Wolverine is approached by Yukio [Fukushima], who has been hired to bring Logan to Japan, so that an old acquaintance can say his final farewell. Upon arrival in Japan, Logan quickly learns that the acquaintance is in fact Yashida [Hal Yamanouchi], a soldier whose life he saved during World War II. Close to death, he asks for Wolverine’s regenerative powers, so that he can continue his successful company’s work. Wolverine refuses, despite being tempted by the concept of a peaceful death. Trying to remain spoiler free for as long as I can, I will simply skip a few details and explain that certain events unfold and Wolverine is forced to protect Yashida’s granddaughter and heir, Mariko [Okamoto].

The first thing to note is the setting for this story. Japan is a country with strict investments in honour, discipline and decorum – three things Logan isn’t known for exuding. Having said that, Logan is gifted with a clear sense of right and wrong and this aids him when his harsh manner fails to. Unlike, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there are far fewer mutants and at times feels more like a grumpy ex-cop/soldier in a fish out of water tale, rather than a science fiction action film about mutated humans with special powers. Origins was a flat-out travesty. Shoe-horned continuity, terrible visual effects, pitiful plot development, stupid casting, meaningless exposition and uninspired action sequences. Which is primarily annoying as the first ten minutes were very good and quite loyal to the comic. Learning from these mistakes, this movie focuses intently on story and character development over action. Some will label it boring but exploring the heart and soul of a weary warrior, doomed to walk the earth for eternity is interesting. What’s more, the imbued Japanese ronin elements (a samurai who serves no master) from the 80’s comic series and a capturing of subtle mythology is wholly appreciated: a young soldier meets a mystical creature at the bottom of a well who has magic powers, who then protects the Yashida family and fights his way through a castle to rescue a princess from a golem-like warrior. It’s folklore and mythology without the heavy-handed need to turn to the audience and scream FANTASY! What’s more the location change offers audiences something unique, rather than simply depicting Wolverine on a motorbike, roaming North America, gritting his teeth and flashing his claws at random mutants.

Jackman has been and always will be a wonderful Wolverine. Not every X-Men fan will agree with that but in his sixth appearance as the character, he really has made it his own. Outside of the obvious and oh-so-very established lead, the acting was all commendable but I felt there should have been more Japanese dialogue. Admittedly, getting even this much in a major US blockbuster was quite an achievement but since Inglourious Basterds had the balls to challenge how English speaking countries watch film, studios shouldn’t be afraid of it. But this is a minor quibble. Hiroyuki Sanada as Yashida’s son, Shingen was very good – but then, I think he’s pretty much brilliant in whatever he’s cast in. No, he’s not the same Shingen in the comics but I’ll elaborate on that in my highlighted character section. Two points of contention, however, would be Khodchenkova as Viper and Okamoto’s Mariko. When on-screen, Viper is a moderately interesting character but a henchman more than a lead villain. Rather than fully developing her character and giving her any sort of history or dimension, she’s merely given various costume changes – probably to amuse/appease the fans but serves little actual purpose. Then there’s Mariko, who’s a rather atypical Asian casting type; quiet subdued female who happens to be a relatively gifted fighter but too oppressed to explore it. There’s a sort of half-explored love story between Logan and Mariko but it never really connects and part of that is the inclusion of the Jean Grey scenes. Personally, I’m not entirely sure the Jean inclusion worked.. at least, not as intended. Story wise, they make absolutely perfect sense; of course Logan would be plagued by the memory of the one woman he truly cared for and had to sacrifice to save others (who he couldn’t give a crap about). But those events happened so long ago and with an Origins prequel and X-Men: First Class, we’re resolving an issue that people had sort of forgotten about.

No matter how much I enjoyed this movie, I couldn’t help but expect something bigger from Mangold. Everything was perfectly commendable but lacked a certain joie de vivre. Marco Beltrami’s score was paced and tender at times, rising to fittingly triumphant without being overwhelming or stifling. The subdued use of CGI.. or obvious CGI was a welcome treat. And the fight scenes were grounded, brutal and inventive enough without exceeding their PG-13/12A boundaries. But after a while, the action sequences felt a little disjointed. Certain editorial cuts came off a little jarring as the filmmakers have clearly removed a handful of frames of violence – which will no doubt be seamlessly reinserted into an unrated director’s cut for DVD and Blu-Ray. The overall problem is the movie simply isn’t layered enough (the problem with all the Marvel films released by Fox). It told a story, it gave the audience something thrilling and pretty to look at and managed to further a character’s massive arc a little more but there’s not enough going on. In summation, The Wolverine is a nice solo outing and curiously more entertaining than X-Men: The Last Stand or (obviously) X-Men Origins: Wolverine but there seems to have been little point to it and that’s the feeling that really takes root and grows in the back of your mind as you leave the cinema.

Release Date:
26th July 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
The monk’s reward. I appreciate most post credits scenes are self-serving ego trips or, in Marvel’s case, a trailer for the next film but this was a very welcome treat. No, I’m not going to describe it. Don’t want to hype or spoil it. But it was awesome.

Notable Characters:
Fox have little concern for comic loyalty. They own the property and will do as they please with it. Point in case, Origin’s excuse for Deadpool. But to a degree, that shouldn’t be a problem. So if anyone is expecting me to tear apart characters who happen to share names with their comic counterparts, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, I’ll discuss Yukio. Neither a family member, nor an employee, Yukio is a potentially interesting individual. An orphaned child, adopted by the Yashida family as a friend for Mariko but also for her mutant abilities. Add to that an exceptionally talented fighter and she makes for a curious break from the useless, skimpy outfit clad, action genre heroines we’re usually force fed.

Highlighted Quote:
“I told you a long time ago, you’re not the only one with gifts”

In A Few Words:
“Far from perfect but a very enjoyable standalone film for one of the most popular X-Men characters. In no way necessary but a nice stepping stone between X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Total Score: