Remember Darren Aranofsky was gonna do this new Wolverine movie? He’d done THE WRESTLER and he was the original director on THE FIGHTER and then he named it THE WOLVERINE, but he had to drop out to deal with The Child Custody. From the roll he was on I bet he would’ve made a hell of a movie, but his replacement James Mangold (COPLAND, 3:10 TO YUMA) came up with something pretty interesting too. For his movie the title is representative of the whole approach: strip away the convoluted series-connecting business indicated in the title of the last one (X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE) and just focus everything on this character, this Wolverine. The Wolverine.
I always thought Hugh Jackman as Wolverine looked like young Clint Eastwood – the guy does a good scowl – so it’s great that they gave him a movie that’s like a one-off action vehicle that happens to take place in the world of the X-Men. A movie without much more scope than THE GAUNTLET or BLOODWORK or something. Simple and intimate as far as the super hero pictures go.
Remember how cool it was that DREDD wasn’t about the most exciting thing that ever happened to him, it was just one day on the job? This is a little like that. There’s no scheme to destroy or rule the world, nothing that’s gonna affect all the humans or all the mutants, or destroy a city, or even a landmark. It’s just a story about the time Wolverine got called to Tokyo by an old acquaintance and got into some shit. It does revolve around Wolverine’s super powers (the guy wants his healing powers, and thinks he wants to lose them and be able to die in peace) and his unique story (Wolverine’s ageless and fought in a bunch of wars, so this is a guy he saved in WWII) but the plot boils down to the ol’ classic “guy protects young heiress in danger.” Not just that – in danger from the Yakuza! This could’ve been a Dolph Lundgren movie.
…maybe even a Seagal movie. In THE KEEPER he became bodyguard to an old rich friend’s daughter. And in INTO THE SUN (above) there’s a scene where he and a girl walk through a pachinko parlor, as Wolverine does in THE WOLVERINE. But Wolverine is with Mariko, the girl he’s protecting and falling in love with. Seagal is with Mai Ling, a young student who protects him with a sword, equivalent to the character Yukio in THE WOLVERINE. So it’s totally different.
THE WOLVERINE uses a bunch of tried-and-true elements of straight-ahead, non-super action movies: a fight with rednecks in a bar who underestimate him, a young girl with a samurai sword sworn to protect him, a ninja who follows the other girl around protecting her, an interrogation that ends in throwing a guy off a balcony even though he cooperated, a fight on a train, even a self surgery scene. But Wolverine does that a little different from how Rambo does it.
My favorite part of the movie is a skirmish and chase that leads to a fight on top of a bullet train. He has to hold on with his claws and let go to fly over low-hanging signs. It’s like UNDER SIEGE 2 meets the RETURN OF THE JEDI speeder bikes. Pretty fake looking, but the choreography makes it thrilling.
Alot of the other action seems less digital than in, say THE AVENGERS, and there’s plenty of clever business with arrows and snow and the way he uses his claws and etc. There’s a little too much camera shaking to quite call it old school, but it’s in that neighborhood. His guide Yukio (Rila Fukushima) is psychic, but otherwise the only mutant is Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), some kind of snake lady. She’s a pretty cheesy villainess (I’m not big on her cgi forked tongue) but luckily doesn’t have that much screen time. And it’s worth having her in there for the nasty part where she sheds her skin and leaves it for somebody to find and have nightmares about for the rest of their life.
(Honestly I thought all the mutant character cameos and shit they fit into the last WOLVERINE solo deal were fine, but it’s kinda nice to leave that out of this one, keep it simple. Don’t worry, there’s a little credits cliffhanger thing for the people who are into that.)
Despite the limited mutant representation, the mere presence of John “The Wolverine” Loganfield makes shit get crazier than in normal non comic book world. The aforementioned a-little-different-than-Rambo self surgery scene involves clawing into his chest to do surgery on his own heart. That shit would be dicey enough but then a fuckin ninja jumps in and tries to attack him while he’s doing it! Not cool. So Yukio has a sword fight to defend him and this for me is an action scene trifecta: the weirdness of clawing his own heart, the awesomeness of a ninja duel and the sweetness of Yukio showing her loyalty to Mr. Logan.
Everything’s going along nicely but then the climax feels a little off. It involves a CGI robot-like guy, not big enough to satisfy spectacle-seekers, but unnecessary for those of us happy to get a break from that stuff. When the battle turns personal again the villain starts talking like he knows he’s a villain, which is disappointingly out of character. He’d demonstrated himself to be a good person and had a goal that seemed self-centered but understandable. Now all the sudden he seems to just be evil, which is not as interesting, and not in keeping with the best qualities of previous X-villains. I always like that I kinda root for the villains. Shout out to Mystique.
I gotta admit I got a little confused too, I lost track of who wanted what. There’s the dying head of the company (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), his innocent granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), her jealous father (Yiroyuki Sanada, MESSAGE FROM SPACE), the corrupt minister of justice she’s arranged to marry (Brian Tee – D.K. from TOKYO DRIFT!), her ninja bodyguard/stalker ex-boyfriend (Will Yun Lee, ELEKTRA), the snake lady… alot to keep track of.
And in the middle of all this it’s kind of a surprise to realize that Wolverine is in love with Mariko. Or at least he fucks her. It kinda caught me off guard because she’s the granddaughter of his old friend, and she looks real young, I thought it was a fatherly relationship. Plus, so much of the movie is about him still being in love with Cyclops’s girlfriend from the other movies. And also, if he was gonna go for one of the young locals it seems like he has a better chemistry with asskicking Yukio. Not that anybody wants to see that. She’s like the other little sister he never had besides Rogue.
Anyway, Mariko feels more like a James Bondian conquest than like love, but from what I have read using researching computers and wikis this Mariko character in the comics is supposed to be the love of his life. (Though Yukio sounds like an overall more important character because she inspired Storm to get a mohawk.) In the movies I believe his dead wife from ORIGINS is the love of his life and his dead Jean Grey from X3 is the love of his life 2.0 so I don’t know if there’s room for Mariko to also be the love of his life. Though she’s alive, she has that going for her.
Anyway, I guess Seagal was engaged to the young lady in INTO THE SUN and that came kinda out of the blue too. It fits the genre.
While THE WOLVERINE works as its own standalone movie, if you’ve seen the other ones you know it’s also a bridge between X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and the upcoming X-MEN ORIGINS FIRST CLASS PART 2: GENERATIONS. He’s dealing with the consequences of what happened at the end of X3. It still haunts him every time he closes his eyes. I know everybody hated that one because… well, I honestly still don’t understand why exactly, but we can all agree that everybody hated it. Still, what happened at the end was pretty monumental for this character and works as a perfect backstory for why he would become a homeless wannabe-pacifist who disowns the name Wolverine or his X-Man affiliations. And lives out in the wilderness protecting animals from poachers. Like Seagal in OUT OF REACH.
Well, that’s why at the beginning of the movie he’s lost, and we see him find himself again. This is the story of how Wolverine got his groove back.
I don’t mean that like “the character used to be stupid and now they finally got him right”. I’ve always enjoyed this character on screen. I don’t know how representative it is of the Comic-Book-American community, but I noticed in Harry’s rave review he complained about the Wolverine character being terrible in the previous movies except for part 2. I thought that was kinda funny because I’m absolutely convinced that without this character in the first X-MEN there would be no Geek Renaissance for Harry to enjoy. BLADE invented the modern comic book movie, but X-MEN brought it mainstream and they lucked out with Jackman’s last minute casting and how great he was, and that is the main reason for the movie’s success. If that hadn’t happened I don’t think we’d get all the movies that led to the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and that whole cinematic universe that forms the foundation of Harry’s religion.
The other brilliant thing was hiring Bryan Singer to do that movie, a guy that didn’t worship at the altar of X-Men comic books but when introduced to them saw great characters and stories and metaphors that he knew how to translate to cinema. And Mangold strikes me as less nerdy than Singer. I bet he’s in that same mold.
I don’t think Mangold is the visionary they thought he was gonna be when he first popped up in the indie-crazy ’90s, but he’s made plenty of good ones (WALK THE LINE being an obvious highlight) and he’s an interesting choice for this. He sees the side of Logan that could try to get Russell Crowe onto that 3:10 train more than the one that puts on the jumpsuit and flies in the X-Jet.
The script is also by some gentlemen without strong comic book affiliations: Mark Bomback of LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD fame (okay, I guess he did an uncredited rewrite of CONSTANTINE) and Scott Frank, best known for OUT OF SIGHT and GET SHORTY. (I wonder if he and Mangold talked much about Elmore Leonard?) I guess JACK REACHER’s Christopher McQuarrie also did an uncredited rewrite on this, as he did with the first X-MEN. A few similarities to JACK REACHER too. Legendary badass drifter comes into town, fights guys in bars and on streets, gets involved in mystery that is maybe a little more convoluted than I’d prefer, roughs up some guys to get the answers he needs, gets beat up a little, faces down creepy old guy, mutters a few funny tough guy lines.
I wouldn’t say THE WOLVERINE is a home run, but it’s solid, it’s different from other comic book movies, it’s a character-driven action movie with a good central performance, a serious but not depressing tone, and plenty of cool shit. I like it. I’m sure I’ll watch it again.
3D NOTE: I went to a 2D showing since it’s fake 3D.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.