The Wolverine Director: James Mangold
Screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Janssen Twentieth Century Fox
Rated PG-13 | 126 Minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2013
Based on the 1982 comic book series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, James Mangold‘s The Wolverine picks up years after X-Men: The Last Stand with Logan (Hugh Jackman) traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Stripped of his immortality and vulnerable for the first time, Logan is pushed to his physical and emotional limits as he battles the yakuza, ninjas, samurai, and his own inner demons.
Mangold’s film begins with a bearded, long-haired Logan living in the Alaskan wilderness. He’s tracked by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and summoned to Japan, where her dying employer, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), wishes to say good-bye to an old friend.
Japan, 1945. Logan – a prisoner of war – saves Yashida from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, exposing his regenerative abilities to the young Japanese soldier. Nearly seventy years later, Yashida wants to reward the Wolverine with what he seeks most: death. The elderly Japanese mogul wants Logan to transfer his mutant powers over to him, so that he can live run his empire in perpetuity, and Logan can finally shed his mortal coil and be reunited with his late love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).
When Logan not-so-politely declines, he becomes embroiled in a family drama involving Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and her father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), a yakuza crime boss with plans to murder his own daughter and inherit his dying father’s power and wealth. Now the Wolverine must protect Mariko from gangsters, ninjas, samurai, and Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a venomous mutant who has developed a toxin that suppresses Logan’s healing factor.
The Wolverine is a surprisingly deft, emotional piece of inspired filmmaking by Mangold that provides Hugh Jackman with a compelling character arc to sink his adamantium claws into. Influenced by films like The Outlaw Josey Wales, Chinatown, and Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy, The Wolverine deviates so far from the conventional comic book format that it doesn’t even feel like a superhero movie – which is a good thing – until the convoluted, formulaic third act, that is.
The film is less concerned with super powers and explosions and more with exploring Logan’s tortured condition, plagued by visions of the deceased Jean Grey who beckons Logan to join her in the afterlife. Here Logan is a rōnin: a wandering samurai without a master; a man with no purpose. When he meets Mariko, he finds a reason to live, to fight – and he slowly recovers not only his mutant abilities but his heroic potential as well.
There are numerous skillfully choreographed action sequences in The Wolverine but none of them overpower the film’s focus on Logan’s internal struggles. Wolverine combats a gang of yakuza thugs atop a speeding bullet train, uses his claws to battle sword-wielding samurai, and goes toe-to-toe with mutant baddies and ninja warriors, but it’s all in service of protecting Mariko.
The film’s main problem is the third act, where too many villains with muddled motivations converge in a rather unimaginative, stereotypical futuristic laboratory for a final showdown. Silver Samurai, one of Wolverine’s most iconic foes, has been reduced to an Iron Man villain – just another egomaniac in a big metal suit that looks like the product of an unholy union between the Decepticons and Super Shredder.
Still, The Wolverine is a solid improvement over Brett Ratner’s misguided X-Men: The Last Stand and Gavin Hood’s silly, downright insufferable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, both of which nearly destroyed Fox’s X-Men franchise. Luckily, Mangold’s film acts as an adamantium bullet and erases the memory of Hood’s film, and while Silver Samurai is more Iron Samurai, The Wolverine‘s missteps are less severe than its predecessors.
The Wolverine is the best superhero movie of 2013, and a fantastic lead-in to Fox’s upcoming apocalyptic mutant mash-up, 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Nothing is without meaning in Mangold’s straight-faced film, a reminder that everything finds peace, even the tormented soul of the immortal Wolverine.