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The Wolverine (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE WOLVERINE (2013)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Janssen

Written By: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank Directed By: James Mangold

The Short Version

The most popular of the X-Men gets a second – and much better – headline treatment.

Make sure you’ve seen the original X-Men trilogy first.

The Wolverine is predictable, but it stays interesting anyway.

The setting very much enriches the story.

If you like comic book flicks, The Wolverine is worth your time.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SMOKED GOUDA.

Familiar but flavorful stuff that inspires contemplation.


Pairs Well With...

CROWN ROYAL.

Canadian whiskey that’s more worthy of Logan than the stuff you actually seem him drinking as a mountain man.

“Who is Jean?”


I will admit that I walked into The Wolverine with decidedly tempered expectations.  While I’ve always enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s performances as the most popular of the X-Men, the last couple of movies that he’s played that character in – including his previous solo headlining effort – have been disappointments.  The trailers for this film did little to boost my hopes, and after feeling rather let down by Marvel’s earlier major attraction of the season – Iron Man 3 – I had no great urge to set myself up for more sighs as end credits rolled.

However, The Wolverine turned out to be much better than I was expecting.  Not perfect, and certainly not unpredictable, but still a very good, solid comic book hero flick that takes a potentially wobbly concept and makes it work.

In a very real sense, The Wolverine plays like X-Men 4 minus the rest of the X-Men, since much like Iron Man 3 was the story of Tony Stark coming to terms with personal demons arising from the events of The Avengers, The Wolverine is the story of Logan coming to terms with personal demons arising from the events of X-Men: The Last Stand.  Therefore, it should go without saying that audiences will get much more out of the experience of watching this film after having first seen those that have come before.  (If you haven’t seen what came before, be warned, there are spoilers for X-Men: The Last Stand in the next paragraph.)

The Wolverine centers on Logan having a much-delayed midlife crisis as he seeks to comes to terms with who he is and what if anything he truly has to live for.  Having been a soldier – which in this story’s psychology is essentially synonymous with “honorably directed killing machine” – of one sort or another for almost his entire extended life, Logan now looks upon himself with shame.  Though he knows he had no choice but to kill the love of his life, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, Goldeneye), he is haunted by her death, and has vowed to give up his soldiers’ life and never kill again.  Not that retreating to a recluse’s life in the Canadian Rockies has done much for his ability to sleep, mind; he dreams of Jean every night without fail, and laments being unable to join her in death courtesy of his “gift” of super healing. 

But then he gets an unexpected invitation from another ghost from his past.  It seems that in August of 1945, Logan saved the life of a Japanese soldier named Yashida (Ken Yamamura) during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and now the man would like to repay that gift of life with an offer of death: release from the mutation that keeps Logan immortal while all of those he loves die around him.  The question is: will Logan accept the gift?

Oh, and while he’s at it, will be able to take down all of the Yakuza, ninjas, and souped-up Samurai being thrown his way?

For roughly the first quarter of The Wolverine, it seemed as though my initially tempered expectations would be realized.  The story of the immortal-or-near-immortal faced with the opportunity to either become mortal again or just plain die seems almost irresistible to writers after a while.  The vampire canon is loaded with them.  Superman learned to bleed in Superman II.  And so on.  Unfortunately, that seemingly profound question usually doesn’t translate well, especially on screen, and here it has the potential to fall even flatter, given that this film owns up to the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, which was all about refusing to “cure” mutants… though a “cure” is exactly the same “gift” being offered here.  (Oh, well; it’s not like this franchise is known for being particularly consistent with its own logic and plotlines, anyway.)  But suddenly, the movie becomes interesting in counterintuitive fashion: it throws away the meat of its own supposed premise by first having Logan refuse and then taking away the choice.

What follows can hardly be called unpredictable – the only surprise involves the ease with which Logan overcomes his predicament, and if you don’t know who the ultimate bad guy is long, long, long before the official reveal, then we definitely need to play cards sometime – but the setting and the supporting characters make it interesting, and this in turn gives Hugh Jackman the chance to flourish in a way that his previous Wolverine headliner did not. 

As a physical setting, Japan (or at least the facsimile of Japan offered by the magic of New South Wales filmmakers) is a dynamic and outstanding choice on its face, allowing for vibrant and often gorgeous backdrops for both drama and action sequences.  In story terms, Logan is the proverbial fish out of water in Japan, and having to deal with people who are part of what is to him an alien society allows him in turn to see himself through different eyes, and to take the audience along for the ride.  And let’s face it: the opportunity to see Wolverine face off against Yakuza, ninjas, and a boss villain that is essentially the Samurai version of Robocop (or, if you prefer, of Ironmonger) in a setting that allows these things to make some kind of sense is just too good to pass up.

On the character side, I very much like the way in which the contrasting characters of the traditionalistic Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and the more kitschy mod-Japanese Yukio (Rila Fukushima) each play their own very different roles in “shaping up” our hero while still proving to be interesting in their own right.  The evil mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) is also very well played, and though the character can’t exactly be considered deep, she’s no bore, either.  As for our ultimate Samurai boss… yeah, well.  You see him coming, but he works well enough in the context of the film, even if some of his personal details leave some room for head scratching.

Returning to the story, the fact that it can provoke not only interest but indeed real thought despite being so predictable is a feat worthy of applause; the whole definitely proves to be greater than the sum of its parts.  It also helps that there’s some very cool action thrown into the mix, and that said action never feels gratuitous – it’s always a real part of the story being told.  As for how the action looks, overall, it’s satisfying stuff, and serves to provide a healthy measure of fun in what otherwise could have been a too-heavy picture.

And hey, having an action-oriented joke that refers back to Diamonds Are Forever is pretty cool, too.

Indeed, when all is said and done, one could suggest lots of references and similarities to other films that can be spotted in The Wolverine, but another bit of positive magic that’s accomplished here is that nothing ever feels like a cheap lift.  If anything, the fact that so many of the movies that come to mind are from other genres serves to show how well-rounded this film really is.  Sure, you’ve seen bits and pieces of it before and this or that may remind you of another thing, but it’s never come together quite like this, and in a universe of a million stories, that’s all one can really ask.

All right, since this happens to be a story in the Marvel universe, one can also ask for a lead-in to an upcoming film, and The Wolverine provides that, too.  It doesn’t even make the audiences wait until the credits are done; look for the teaser just a few minutes into the end crawl.

Bottom line, The Wolverine can hardly be called unpredictable, but it is ultimately an interesting, fun, and satisfying film.  Hugh Jackman fans rejoice: you finally have a new Wolverine flick worthy of the guy playing him.

PS – To whoever came up with the idea to print teaser posters in traditional old school Japanese style: very nice job.  Kudos to you.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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