The Wolverine (2013)


The X-Men franchise is one series of movies that amazingly survived what seemed like a concerted effort to destroy it.  Between sabotaging the goodwill built up by the first two movies with the mess that was X-Men: The Last Stand and following it up with an even worse film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there seemed to be little to no reason to even continue paying attention and, I'll admit, I didn't.  When X-Men: First Class dropped I had long since tapped out.  I didn't even initially stick around for Origins, and didn't see another X-Men film until X-Men: Days of Future Passed.

It was a shame, since First Class was actually good, but underperformed due to how bad the preceding movies were and terrible advertising.  In all honesty, though The Wolverine cost $120 million to make, I don't even remember trailers for it.  I know it didn't do well in the U.S., but made most of its money back on the overseas market.  The only reason I later found out it existed was because of Logan, its sequel, which was also directed by James Mangold. That movie did such a great job of wrapping up both the Wolverine spin-off films and the original set of X-Men movies that it made me want to take the time to go back and see what I had missed. 

Part of the reason I didn't even think about this film is because it is called The Wolverine.  The title is so close to X-Men Origins: Wolverine that if one isn't paying attention it would be easy to think someone just retitled that film, put new art on the DVD box and hoped it might fool a few people,  It also doesn't help that it's got that "In 3-D" tag on it, a trend that was dying before the pandemic hit and one of the few things it's nice to see gone because of it.  Most movies throughout the 2010s had a 3-D version, and blaring it on the poster art was often little more than a sign of desperation.  That, combined with the artwork itself, just seems to be an alert that this was a film dumped by a studio that, like a lot of the audience, were done with the whole idea of X-Men.  Though, just like First Class, there was a much better movie buried under the strange attempts to make audiences think otherwise. 

Logan (Hugh Jackman) is being held in a POW camp near Nagasaki in 1945 and, just as he is about to be let out, the Americans drop the second of two atomic bombs.  He saves a prison guard named Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) from the blast.  While Wolverine goes on to become the hero and leader he would be, Yashida becomes one of the biggest business owners in Asia.  In the present day, Logan has retreated into isolation after the events of The Last Stand, and is frequently haunted by dreams of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).  His isolation is disturbed by the arrival of Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young woman sent by a dying Yashida to bring Logan to Tokyo to say farewell.

Yashida has other things in mind than a simple farewell.  He remembers well Logan's healing powers, and wants them for himself.  Logan declines the exchange, but sticks around for the funeral, which comes under attack by the yakuza.  They attempt to kidnap Yashida's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who it turns out is heir to the family fortune, much to her father Shingen's (Hiroyuki Sanada) displeasure.  During the rescue attempt Logan finds out something disturbing; he is no longer healing like he used to, and that seems to be due to another mutant in Yashida's employ that calls herself Viper (Svetlana Kodchenkova).  While he tries to protect Mariko from all the different forces that want her out of the way Logan soon finds out, quite painfully, what it is like to have to fight his battles with normal human weaknesses. 

Not only does The Wolverine seem an attempt to reboot everything X-Men Origins: Wolverine messed up, it also serves to bridge the gap between The Last Stand and Days of Future Passed, which was in production at the time this was made.  The original bone claws are one of the few things held over from Origins, while rather than concentrate on what happened with the X-Men after The Last Stand the focus is wisely on Wolverine's regret for having to kill the woman he loved.  In fact, this is less a sequel to the other spinoff than it is an attempt to further the main series. 

Jackman as usual does a great job as the character.  Rilo Fukushima is underused, particularly as Yukio is quite interesting (and a mutant with an interesting ability) who isn't shoved into a romantic relationship with Logan.  She also isn't an invincible fighting machine, losing almost as much as she wins.  Tao Okamoto, unfortunately, gets to kick and scream a lot.  After hating Logan at first she succumbs to his charms.  It's so basic that it's embarrassing, even more so given that it feels there was more of an attempt to make a decent movie this time rather than wowing the audience with cameos and special effects.

As for those they are much better than Origins, with Logan's claws no longer looking like cartoons.  The fight on the bullet train, however, is horribly green screened, and implausible to the point of pulling the audience out of the film.  It doesn't help that at this point the healing powers are gone, but he is still able to hold on to the top of a train going 300 miles per hour.  Even worse is the person he's fighting, somehow able to hold on using a knife.  At least Wolverine has the claws.  The worst use of the effects come at the end, not because they're bad but because at that point writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank just ran out of ideas and thought, "It's Japan!  Let's go with a giant robot!".  Either that or some studio exec told them and Mangold to do it and no one had the guts to say no. 

The movie has problems (some of them being some weirdly stereotypical portrayals of Japanese culture, although they at least hired Japanese actors), but the majority of the movie is still a decently paced and fun entry in the series.  It's not as good as First Class, but at least it's not taking a giant step backward once again, and for once in the series didn't feel like it had to shoehorn cameos every step of the way.  Except for a mid-credits scene the mutants we meet are ones we haven't seen before and they serve a purpose.  The ultimate villain, and even the secondary villain in Viper, are not as interesting as the mystery about who wants Mariko out of the way, but it could have been a lot worse.  

The Wolverine (2013)
Time: 126 minutes
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hal Yamanouchi, Svetlana Kodchenkova
Director: James Mangold

 

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