Despite the fact that there are many characters in the X-Men universe, Wolverine has a monopoly on the series. He is the most identifiable to the casual fan and sports a legitimate leading-man portraying him in Hugh Jackman. 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' was an absolute joke of a movie that didn't work but that didn't stop Marvel from trying again with 'The Wolverine.'
We begin in 1945 during World War 2. Logan (Jackman) aka. Wolverine, is a POW near Nagasaki as the atomic bomb is being dropped. Out of the goodness of his heart, he provides cover for a young guard named Yashida.
Decades later, Logan is wandering around in the Yukon, haunted by visions of his dear departed Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). A mutant named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) finds him and says that she has been sent on behalf of Yashida because he is on his deathbed and wants to repay Logan for saving him.
In Tokyo, Logan meets Yashida's son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the latter who is set to inherit the entire company. Upon seeing Yashida again, it is revealed that the dying old man is proposing to Logan to take his healing abilities from him and transfer it into his own body. That would let Yashida live forever and would give Logan the mortality that he seems to desire. Logan refuses, though and that night, Yashida's Dr. Green (Svetlana Khodchenkova) may or may not tamper with Logan in his sleep who awakens to find that Yashida is dead.
The next day, Logan attends the funeral which is attacked by the Yakuza who try to kidnap Mariko. This attempt is thwarted but Logan doesn't heal as quickly as he usually does after being shot. These two remain on the run while trying to learn who is truly behind the violence and Logan's deteriorating powers.
If this all sounds like an elaborate way of saying the story is Wolverine versus the Yakuza, you are mostly right. Many generalizations about Japanese culture are on display (were ninjas REALLY necessary?) but this mostly seems like an attempt to start fresh with Wolverine by transporting him to a different and easily identified setting. The decision to significantly reduce his powers forces our hero to be more resourceful than usual. Don't worry, if you are hoping for over-the-top action, there is a train sequence that redefines 'ridiculous', some improvised surgery and a moment where a Logan and a human survive a nuclear explosion while hiding in the equivalent of a well. Those who followed this story in the comic run from the '80s are free to judge how much this film captures the spirit of that.
A desire to reach as wide an audience as possible looms large with this PG-13 rating. Wolverine attacks and kills many, many people with his claws, yet the action is mostly bloodless. Economically, it makes sense, but a further commitment to the pseudo-noir approach would have helped things along artistically. Instead, we have the briefly mentioned theme of our hero being a 'ronin' (masterless samurai) of sorts. Our hero even becomes disarmed at one point and is forced to use a sword, which the front cover will give you a hint about.
The ending manages to be slightly predictable and both unpredictably over the top. Nothing can compare to outrunning and surviving a nuclear blast like the beginning of the film, but how many levels can one man fall through? Also, the Viper character makes sense for the story, but is still a reasonably lame way to ensure that mutants are represented. We also get some closure to the genuine mystery (though you might see it coming) that is at the heart of this story which is clearly more carefully-considered than most straightforward superhero action flicks.
James Mangold is an accomplished director, so he fares better all the way around than with 'X-Men Origins'. Though he punctuates the film with some action set pieces, he seems to be far more interested in the character's desire for mortality and weariness of being unable to survive through the ages. That inner turmoil is probably Wolverine's greatest asset because most of his other X-Men peers have been cinematically represented in a relatively superficial manner.
Special features include: a featurette called ‘A Ronin’s Journey.’
‘The Wolverine’ probably won’t have the widespread appeal of many other superhero films. It explores a less action-oriented corner of the beloved character’s history and offers relatively little to the casual fan. That said, it is put together much better than the last few installments that the character was involved in and is an interesting, if imperfect, side-story.
At the time of this review, a sequel to this was being filmed, so prepare yourself for even more Wolverine action.
Rated PG-13 127 minutes 2013