The Wolverine - Review

After the brutal rape of several characters in the infamous X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the hopes of a good standalone Wolverine feature film were very limited. Although there is enough well crafted source material in terms of Wolverine adventures, it still took just two things to make this right: a good script and a good director.
With director James Mangold, known for movies such as Identity and 3:10 to Yuma, he shows up with quite an impressive lineup of solid to great movies. Along with it, The Wolverine is based on Wolverine's adventures in Japan, complete with Ninjas and Samurais.
Can this new spin-off wash away the bad taste of X-Men: Origins? Or is it just another nail in the coffin of X-Men spin-offs?  

The plot:
In modern day Japan, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is out of his depth in an unknown world as he faces his ultimate nemesis in a life-or-death battle that will leave him forever changed. Vulnerable for the first time and pushed to his physical and emotional limits, he confronts not only lethal samurai steel but also his inner struggle against his own immortality, emerging more powerful than we have ever seen him before.
(source: IMDb)

Different from Wolverine's first spin-off movie, The Wolverine is not an origin story but actually a sequel to 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand.

Still having nightmares about his lost love Jean Grey, which Logan was forced to kill in order to save the world, The Wolverine shows Logan living in the woods trying to escape his past. It's only shortly after that a strange Asian girl called Yukio (Rila Fukushima) tracks down Logan in a bar to tell him that a dying old friend of his needs to see him before he dies.
In a flashback to WWII it turns out, that a captured Logan once barely saved the live of a young Japanese soldier called Yashida from the Nagasaki nuclear attack.
Reluctantly travelling to Japan, Logan finds an old Yashida on his dying bed offering him a gift in return to Logan's past mercy of saving his live - the gift of mortality.

This is where the movie really starts.

Where can i get this bed?!

Taking away Wolverine's trademark healing power with the theme of the curse of immortality was a great move to put new tension and excitement to this new spin-off. Although it is revealed throughout the course of the movie that Logan's powers aren't actually completely taken away but rather immensely reduced, it is still enough to give the movie a new edge in story telling while also delivering great action scenes.

Furthermore, The Wolverine doesn't primarily feel like a Marvel or X-Men movie. With barely any mutants except Logan and the Viper included, the story focusses far more on actual storytelling than showing of as many mutant powers as possible (like X-Men 3 did).
This is probably the biggest strength in this new spin-off.
Although the viewer encounters many parts in the movie, where the exposition or "presentation of characters and relationships" is made incredibly obvious, those turn out very necessary to build up the story about a surprisingly well constructed conspiracy with several layers and many villains somewhat actually working against and with each other at the same time. Aside from that, memorizing all of those complicated Japanese names can be a bit overwhelming at the beginning.
Anyway, the conspiracy story might still be quite a stretch away from breaking new ground in comic book movies, but manages to still be far more complex and fulfilling than any X-Men movie has the right to be.
Additionally, with The Wolverine feeling way more like a complete standalone Logan story, it's a refreshing and new take on a Marvel movie, considering how nowadays all of the Marvel movies are incorporated into one great structure (like the Avengers phase movies).
It's a movie, which you can enjoy in itself without having to bring overly detailed knowledge about the previous X-Men movies with you.

This isn't your typical X-Men movie.

Still, The Wolverine is not a perfect movie. Although the movie boasts a cleverly constructed conspiracy story primarily focusses on the relationships of the Yashida family, the movie sometimes takes advantage of some clichee elements that somewhat slow the movie down and occasionally make it dumber than it should be.
Logan somewhat constantly dreaming about Jean, an unconvincing and forced love story, some clumsily delivered dialogue and a very cartoonish villain, Viper, who could've come out right out of a G.I. Joe movie, are the main downpoints in this otherwise very entertaining movie.

Looking at the acting, Hugh Jackman does his Wolverine thing as usual.
With that said, the biggest difference compared to the other X-Men movies here, is that Wolverine is shown from a far more human and less frantic and animalistic side. It shows a Logan, who is constantly fighting with his guilt of somehow being forced to always kill somebody. And although Logan's character development is quite not as convincing as the movie thinks it is, it is enough to make Logan a likable three-dimensional character to root for throughout this entire 2-hour adventure.
Aside from that, there's a surprisingly big amount of Logan swearing and cursing, which just so often happens to express the audience's feelings throughout some scenes (which therefore makes them pretty funny).

The already mentioned cartoonish black sheep of the bunch is Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper. She just always chews on the scenery with her performance and constantly manages to strangely stick out among the other far more grounded characters. Aside from Logan, she is the only other mutant in this movie with obvious mutant powers. Although spitting acid and poison is cool and all, her role in the end feels more like a plot device or at best a sidevillain than any real threat. She is extremely bland and unfittingly over-the-top compared to the rest of the movie.
And by the way, what was up with that weird peeling off her skin? What the fuck was the point of that?

The entire Asian cast does a solid job in acting. Despite them being not as well known in Hollywood as actors like Ken Watanabe or Lucy Liu, they most of the time do a better job in acting than most other American sidecharacters in blockbuster movies.
While the movie of course still mainly focusses on Hugh Jackman's performance, Rila Fukushima's role as the sort-of-sidekick Yukio, who inexplicably happens to have the ability to foretell death, her character sticks out the most positive out of the Asian actors.
Tao Okamoto as the to-protect-person Mariko next to Logan has probably the most screentime but never really catches fire. I know that she is supposed to be a mostly silent and introvert person, but the movie just gives her not enough personality to act with to make her performance any less wooden than it sadly turns out to be.

She always wears green because...poison...and stuff.

As i said, while this story focused new adventure of Wolverine still has some mutant action in there, hardcore fans expecting a bunch of new mutants and abilities being shown off will probably be left disappointed (and seriously, if you just want to see that, then just go watch X-Men: Origins).
With that said, that doesn't mean that the action isn't good.
The Wolverine has some very distinct and well placed action set-pieces, that balance the movie out fairly well despite some occasionally dragging dialogue heavy parts.
Wolverine fighting ninjas and samurais is depicted fittingly awesome and despite his weakened healing ability, Logan can still take an impressive amount of damage making the action scenes last long enough and give them tension.
Especially the bullet train fight is a great showstopper and easily the best action scene in the movie.

Furthermore, i had the feeling that The Wolverine, despite obviously lacking some blood, has shockingly brutal kills at times, which, if shown with proper gore, would easily give this movie an M rating. Understandably the producers can't let the Marvel movies be anywhere nearly as violent as the comics actually are, but a bit more blood/gore in the action scenes would've made them feel a quite bit more intense...but that's just me.

Fighting ninjas, samurais and on trains. The usual stuff.

Overall, despite my worries i had after the X-Men Origins: Wolverine disaster (Deadpool R.I.P.), The Wolverine manages to wipe away the bad taste of that horrendous movie with a standalone Wolverine adventure that focusses on characters, their relationships and a surprisingly deep multi-layered story (for a Marvel movie). Considering how interconnected every single Marvel movie is nowadays, it's a refreshing spin-off that draws away from all of this and manages to not only be a good comic book movie but a good movie all in itself.
With important and more interesting themes like the curse of immortality and Logan's powers taken away, James Mangold did a great job in utilizing them to make for a new kind of Wolverine movie, that doesn't actually feel like an X-Men movie for its own good.
Although there still are some downpoints like the over-the-top Viper performance, some slightly overused clichee elements and clumsy dialogue, those are easily forgotten when the movie's overall package turns out to be so surprisingly compelling and entertaining.
The Wolverine is without any doubt one of the best surprises this year.

Final Verdict: 6 out of 10 

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