If you go into The Wolverine expecting the sort of train wreck that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Just the fact that the story makes sense and holds together throughout (Logan even gets a character arc! Really!) makes it an enormous improvement over the previous installment.
We open with Logan (Hugh Jackman) living in a cave in the Yukon, living as a hermit as he tries to forget killing his one true love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). A chance wandering into town exposes him to Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a woman working for Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a man whose life Logan saved in World War II. Yashida, a billionaire industrialist, is dying and wants to give Logan a gift–to swap out the mutant’s healing power from Logan’s body and putting it in his, granting Logan a normal life and a natural death. Regretfully, Logan wishes to spare the old man his curse (“Trust me, bub, you don’t want what I got”) and rejects the offer.
When Yashida dies, his estate passes over his son Shingen (Hirouki Sanada) and goes to his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), making her the most powerful woman in Japan. This also makes her marked for death by the Yakuza. Logan feels honor bound to defend her. Only problem is, his healing power isn’t working quite the way it once did.
The could very well be the best directed and best photographed comic book movie of all time. Director James Mangold and cinematographer Ross Emery subtly create striking scenes and images that become iconic without ever screaming out “Look at me! I’m creating iconic images!’ (And, yes, Zack Snyder, unlike you). The first two-thirds of the film is reminiscent of the best crime-thrillers from the 1970s. It is action-packed yet allows enough time for characters and relationships to grow. It the film stopped before putting the final third on the screen, it would rank as not only one of the best comic book films of all time, but also one of the best films of all time, period.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t end there. We get an ending where the typical superhero movie elements are amplified and put into play. I can’t believe that I am saying this, being a comic book fan, but that kind of ending takes away from the film. Not so much so that it makes The Wolverine into a bad film, the final third makes sense, completes Logan’s character arc, and does bring the film around full circle. But it takes what could have been a great movie and makes it it just a very, very good movie.
And if I was looking for more nits to pick, I’d look towards the way this film fits in with the rest of the film franchise. Once again, we get some serious breaks in the continuity. Logan is in a far different place at the beginning of this film than he was at the end of X-Men: Last Stand without any real reason given as to how or why the change happened. And a lot of this films relies on Logan’s memories from 70 years ago, but, as far as I can remember, he was still supposed to be suffering from amnesia.
Jackman gives his typical sterling performance, and the female roles are stronger than you’d typically see in a comic book film. Svetlana Khodchenkova does well as the slithery Viper, Okamoto’s Mariko is a stronger and more resilient character than she was for most of her comic book appearances. And I dug Fukushima’s Yukio and relished every time she appeared on screen.
All in all, The Wolverine is a very good film. It had the potential to be a great film, but as it stands it is one of the best entries into Fox’s X-franchise.