Film Review: The Wolverine

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Plot: After the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan (Hugh Jackman) has shed the Wolverine name and is resigned to a life of solitude. But when a wealthy Japanese industrialist (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) who Logan saved years ago is about to die, he brings Logan to Japan to see him one last time. Logan gets entangled in a war between several Japanese factions as Yashida’s death has a ripple effect all over Japan.

While this is the sixth X-Men related movie, it’s really only the second film to focus solely on Wolverine, the other being 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Origins is widely despised by many and a huge reason why the X-Men franchise isn’t the financial juggernaut it once was. While I’ve enjoyed the X-Men films immensely, it wasn’t until 2011’s First Class where they finally had a clear focus – the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. Now we have The Wolverine, and unlike Origins where the studio just wanted to cram 900 mutants into one lackluster story, we finally get a movie that is absolutely and 100% about Wolverine, and it is among one of the best films in the entire X-Men franchise.

When the day comes where Hugh Jackman retires as Wolverine, it will be nearly impossible to replace him. This is his sixth time playing the character, and he is finally given a story that he can really sink his teeth into. Jackman embraces this with open arms, giving his best performance as the character. I love the first act of this film. It is just Logan completely unshaven and unkempt walking around in the woods looking like a bad ass. Jackman doesn’t say much, but it’s a powerful performance and something we really haven’t seen from the character. One of my favorite scenes in the first X-Men film is Wolverine’s introduction at a bar. In The Wolverine, we see him in another bar scene, and just like with that original film, he’s scary once again. He punishes this jackass hunter for using illegal weapons, and it is a tense yet wholly satisfying moment. The problem however is that this was the highpoint of the film. After this scene, he’s whisked away to Japan, and I would have liked to of seen a lot more of Logan just wandering around as a woodsman, but I guess the story has to move on.

While the biggest strength of this film is that it’s all about Wolverine, there are still some solid supporting characters. Rila Fukushima is great as Yukio, Wolverine’s pseudo caretaker while he’s in Japan. They have a great chemistry, and the character is a lot of fun. Then we have Svetlana Khodchenkova as the female villain Viper. This is a character we’ve seen a hundred times, the sexy ‘I’m always ten steps ahead of you’ mastermind, but whenever on screen, Khodchenkova was always captivating. She’s basically a well done version of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy from Batman & Robin. The other really nice addition to this film was Famke Janssen as Jean Grey in dream form. Logan is constantly talking to her in his dreams, and she was a nice connective tissue to have throughout the movie, and was the ultimate symbol of peace that Logan desperately strived for.

Unfortunately for every good character, the film suffers from a lot of ho-hum and underdeveloped ones as well. A lot of the minor villains like Yashida’s son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and political bigwig Noburo (Brian Tee) are basically playing generic dick head business guys #1 & 2, and I never want to see that in a superhero movie. One of the other major characters who desperately needed to be re-written was Harada (Will Yun Lee), an archer who was a childhood friend of Yashida’s granddaughter. This was a key character because you never really knew what side he was on, and when you have mysterious characters like that, they need to have a pulse, and there was none to be found with this guy.

Another problem is with Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s granddaughter who I mentioned earlier. She’s the second most important character in the film next to Logan. Okamoto gives a fine performance, but she suffers from early superhero movie syndrome of being a boring underwritten love interest. This is a big problem when there’s a huge chunk of the movie that focuses on just her and Logan, and it gave me quite a few yawns.

Once the love story diversion is tossed aside though, the last half hour of this film is pure pleasure. It’s a very high octane third act with a lot of twists and turns that I really didn’t see coming. There’s one moment in particular that is painful to watch involving Wolverine on a hospital bed, but it’s pretty damn gripping. Shortly after this moment, there’s a well lit heroic shot of Wolverine right after a sword fight that I want blown up and plastered on my wall…it’s glorious. And if you’re a die hard Wolverine fan, something happens in the third act that will almost make you cry. It’s not necessarily a character death, but it’s kind of hard to watch, albeit very effective.

I can basically sum up The Wolverine like this: Great first act. ‘Eh’ second act. Awesome third act. There isn’t a ton of action in this film, but when there is, James Mangold does a hell of a job directing it. There’s a sequence on top of a bullet train that will make you piss yourself. But this really is Jackman’s show. His dedication to this character alone makes the movie worth seeing, and it’s a damn good character arc for him to play with. After this, I want to see Wolverine in more X-Men movies, but I’m not sure what else they can do with him as far as solo adventures go. Jackman left it all out on the field for this one.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

P.S. Make sure you stay for the teaser in the middle of the credits…wow.

all photos and images credit: 20th Century Fox

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.