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Awesome: 3.23%
Worth A Look: 25.81%
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4 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Wolverine, The
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brett Gallman

"You won't be wishing for an amnesia bullet after this one."
3 stars

Has there been a recent movie that put us through a rollercoaster of expectations like “The Wolverine?” The previous solo outing either flat-lined hopes or ensured everyone that whatever came next couldn’t be any worse. When Darren Arronofsky was initially attached to direct a follow-up that would disavow “Origins,” it was easy to assume that redemption was in short order. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as he eventually jumped ship, leaving Fox to cycle through an assortment of names before “settling” for James Mangold, which admittedly sounds a bit snide and dismissive because you could certainly “settle” for worse. Now that the train has finally entered the station, it’s done so solidly enough, which brings us full circle since just managing to bring it to port still beats careening right off the rails.

Contrary to Aronofsky’s original conception, “The Wolverine” doesn’t disavow any of the previous lore; in fact, it’s framed by the climax of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” wherein Logan (Hugh Jackman) gutted Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) as a mercy killing. After that incident, he’s retreated into a snowy, woodsy, and heavily bearded solitude—he’s Jeremiah Johnson with an Adamantium skeleton. Still haunted by visions of Jean (Janssen returns for a cushy extended cameo where she rarely has to leave a bed and gets to wear lingerie the whole time—not even Logan can resist the male gaze), Wolverine has disowned his role as an X-Man and generally avoids confrontation (save for bar-room brawls that erupt whenever the local hunters dare to leave the wildlife suffering in pain, bleeding out on the snowy hillside).

The world eventually finds him in the form of Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young Japanese mutant sent to fetch Logan on behalf of Ichirō Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a technological magnate on the verge of death. He’s summoned Logan under the pretense of thanking him for saving him during the bombing of Nagasaki, but the old man reveals his true intentions: he wants to transfer Logan’s regenerative powers into himself. Despite his cynical, gloomy outlook on life, Logan actually wants no part of the deal, and Yashida soon succumbs to his illness. Suddenly, Logan, sans mutant abilities after a bizarre encounter with Yashida’s vixen of a doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova), finds himself embroiled in a feud between the Yakuza and the Yashida clan over the empire, which has been left in the care of granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).

This will sound like damning with faint praise, but “The Wolverine” actually bothers to be a movie. Unlike its episodic, herky-jerky, connect-the-prequel-dots predecessor, it has a clearly defined arc that’s spread across a sustained story. You get the sense that both Mangold and Jackman revere this character and want to do him justice, and they go right for the jugular by sticking Wolverine in Japan, a concept that echoes the beloved Chris Claremont arc from the 80s (speaking of expectations). Their reverence doesn’t extend to absolute fealty, though—this is not that storyline, not by a long shot. The spirit of it is sort of here, though, at least in the sense that “The Wolverine” is somewhat meditative and actually considers the humanity of its title character: his sorrow, his regrets, his longings. Ozu it ain’t (at least beyond some surface affectations), but it beats watching Wolverine beat the shit out of CGI mutants for 100 minutes.

In fact, “The Wolverine” is positively measured and restrained compared to most superhero movies. It opens with a long, mesmerizing shot that captures a B-52’s approach to Nagasaki, and Mangold keeps a largely steadied hand throughout. When action scenes do intrude in the form of bar-fights, funeral shoot-outs, and one-on-one fisticuffs, they remain grounded and physical. Even the vaunted bullet train sequence, which finds Logan fending off a couple of Yakuza pursuers atop a speeding light rail, has a clearly defined set of physics that eventually serve as a great action punchline. The film doesn’t shy away from the grisly, savage violence that Wolverine often encounters, either, as it’s littered with impalements, stabbings, and even a climactic operation sequence that vaguely recalls a similar set-piece in “Prometheus.” Large chunks of “The Wolverine” almost feel like an honest-to-god Yakuza movie—think Miike-light.

And, for much of the runtime, all the action is at the service of a genuinely compelling story. Jackman is still clearly invested during his sixth outing as Logan, and he especially finds the inherent dignity that’s buried deep within his gruff exterior. He’s much different than the man we met 13 years ago in that he’s more vulnerable and wounded (both literally and figuratively), but he’s also still driven by a sense of duty. While this might be yet another superhero sequel with a hero stripped of his powers, he’s no less heroic, and Mangold finds a perfect middle ground between the self-seriousness of Chris Nolan and the jauntiness of the original source material. “The Wolverine” isn’t afraid to be a little pulpy and even a little playful with its banter, so it operates firmly in the same territory as his counterparts over at Marvel Studios—it’s heavy but not ponderous, light but not fluffy, breezy but not forgettable.

For about 90 minutes, anyway. During the second act, the film is on point whenever it’s focused on Logan and Mariko’s escape, but it’s otherwise a bit formless. We’re never quite sure who or what they’re on the run from—the Yakuza are definitely involved alongside a host of other characters, including Mariko’s father (Hiroyuki Sanada), her Minister of Justice fiancée (Brian Tee), and her former lover (Will Yun Lee), who has vowed to protect Mariko and the Yashida clan’s interests all at once. Most films would treat that as a real moral dilemma since those two goals quickly become at odds with each other (to no one’s surprise, the corrupt Minister of Justice and Mariko’s father—still smarting from being left out of the will—are in cahoots).

However, “The Wolverine” just resorts to baffling obfuscation, as Lee’s character simply acts out of convenience for the script—one minute, he’s bailing Logan out, the next he’s commanding a pack of ninjas to shoot arrows into him. In between, he’s conspiring with Khodchenkova’s Viper, who serves as glorified arm candy (much like most of the women here)—she shows flourishes of potential, especially when Khodchenkova throws herself into total vamp mode, but she lacks a clear sense of purpose.

Unfortunately, the twain must meet, so the great, intimate drama between Logan and Mariko eventually collides with the ancillary characters, at which point the film degenerates into unfortunate, big-budget nonsense. The entire 3rd act is rendered obtuse out of obligation to an obvious twist—when they don’t reveal who’s piloting the big, CGI Silver Samurai (here re-imagined as an Iron Man villain), it’s pretty obvious where the film is headed despite having other, more logical avenues to explore. Ultimately, the film becomes a mass of convoluted, muddled motivations and squanders some of its good will.

A lot of it still remains, though. “The Wolverine” is stylishly guided by good intentions, and it’s refreshingly compact and self-contained. It at least has the decency to completely realize its arc, even if it’s a bit obvious and undercooked. Mangold and company have a clear destination for Logan—I just wish they had a more defined map for the approach. Maybe it isn’t fair to hold this against the film, but “The Wolverine” still leaves me wondering what could have been had Aronofsky remained on board. Then again, maybe there’s a parallel universe where we’re all exiting the theater aghast at just how disappointing his “The Wolverine” is, so maybe it all worked out for the best.

Speaking of parallel universes—that’s where Logan is headed in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and a mid-credits tag here cracks open the lid on Bryan Singer’s upcoming film. Disappointing though the climax may be, this coda still sent me out of the auditorium pretty jazzed for next summer

How fitting that we’re back to discussing expectations, as it seems like that’s what we’ve resigned ourselves to: a carrousel of revolving blockbusters, each lapping up against each other in a parade of hype. Even something as self-contained as “The Wolverine” can’t escape the machine--we're essentially getting trailers before and after the features now.

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originally posted: 07/26/13 18:32:01
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User Comments

10/19/14 CCde974ba Jordan Disgrace n'a pas oublié sur toutes les stupide secondaire sneakerheads pied e 3 stars
1/03/14 Charles Tatum Not terrible, but instantly forgettable 4 stars
12/28/13 mr.mike I liked it. It LOOKED like a comic book. 4 stars
10/16/13 Carl Much better than "Origins" but not as good as it could have been. 3 stars
9/10/13 Man Out Six Bucks Wolverine looks like a Tokoyo commuter in the anti-climatic epilogue 2 stars
8/01/13 Davo Fabulous movie 5 stars
7/30/13 KingNeutron The action was OK but the script was severely lacking. STAY FOR THE CREDITS! 3 stars
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  26-Jul-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Dec-2013

  25-Jul-2013 (12A)

  DVD: 03-Dec-2013

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