Superhero-themed movies and comic book adaptations have no doubt been dominating the summer box office for most of the last century. The Wolverine, directed by James Mangold, is the latest in the line of comic book based films to hit theatres this summer. However, The Wolverine feels unlike any other film in the genre released this year with its focus on character, slower pace and tightly controlled action set pieces.
After the huge disappointment X-men Origins: Wolverine turned out to be, fans cannot be blamed for being a little gun shy of its follow up. Thankfully, I believe The Wolverine restores faith in the idea of Wolverine standalone films much like X-men First Class restored faith in the franchise after X-men: The Last Stand. Without a doubt, The Wolverine is better than Origins in every aspect, so don’t let your distaste for that film keep you from watching Wolverine’s latest outing.
Story and Characters
The Wolverine begins in Japan during 1945 at around the time the atomic bomb is being dropped on Nagasaki. Logan/Wolverine, once again played by Hugh Jackman, saves the life a Japanese officer named Yashida, played by Ken Yamamura, shortly after the bomb hits.
The film fast forwards to after the events of Last Stand, where Logan wonders the Canadian wilderness in a guilt trip of sorts for killing Jean Grey, with Famke Janssen reprising her role, whom he loved. He is soon tracked down by Yukio, played Rila Fukushima, a Japanese woman with the ability to see the future. She was locating Logan for an elderly Yashida, now played by Hal Yamanouchi, who is now dying and has a last request to say goodbye to Logan in person.
Logan reluctantly travels to Japan to meet Yashida were he finds himself in the middle of conflict once again as he saves Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko, played by Tao Okamoto, from numerous kidnapping and assassination attempts. Logan also finds himself uncharacteristically vulnerable due to his healing factor being suppressed by the villainess Viper, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova.
For those not in the know, The Wolverine is very loosely based off the famous “Japan Storyline” by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Those looking for a faithful adaptation of the storyline will be disappointed as the film makers take many liberties with the source material. Changes to characters like Silver Samurai and the absence of The Hand in particular may frustrate diehard comic book fans. However, the one thing the film does get right is Wolverine’s character, which is the film’s overall strong point.
Comic fans may not like the changes made to Silver Samurai
What separates The Wolverine from the summer’s other superhero flicks, and comic book adaptations in general, is its smaller scope, slower pacing and straight forward character development. In a genre dominated by huge set pieces, gigantic explosions, and fantastical other worldly storytelling, Wolverine is a fresh experience with its smaller and simpler approach.
The focus of the film is rightfully placed on Logan’s character. The struggles he faces being an immortal being and the guilt he feels for killing Jean are front and center. The film even touches on the animalistic traits of Wolverine’s character, something the other films in the franchise barely even acknowledge. Unsurprisingly, Hugh Jackman does an excellent job playing the role and his performance alone is entertaining to watch.
Of course, Logan is not the only character in this story, though the rest of the cast is comparably less developed. This is understandable as Logan clearly is, and should be, the star of the show. However, some the larger roles like those of Yashida, Harada and Viper feel underdeveloped. Thankfully Mariko and Yukio are given a lot of screen time and play important roles from beginning to end.
Hugh Jackman steels the show as Logan/Wolverine
The relationship that develops between Logan and Mariko, much like other movie romances, develops very quickly but it somehow seems more believable. This in part is due to how well the film makers handle their characters and interactions. The stakes feel higher as a result of this relationship because you get the feeling that Logan truly cares for Mariko.
The smaller and character centric story makes for a more straight forward and tightly controlled viewing experience. However, that is not to say that the story is without flaws. For how simple the story is, the numerous attempts made to kidnap and or kill Mariko can get a little carried away. It was difficult at times to determine who exactly is working for who and why they are after Mariko. The final act of the film is also much faster paced compared the more deliberate pace of the rest of the film. The method used to try and harvest Wolverine’s healing factor during this said act is also quite unbelievable and just plain ridiculous.
Action and Cinematography
While the pace of the film is slower, this does not mean The Wolverine is devoid of action. There are plenty of fight scenes between Wolverine and Yakuza thugs and ninjas. Surprisingly, considering its PG-13 rating, Wolverine comes off as the vicious fighting machine he is known to be in the comics, which he doesn’t always in other X-men films. His attacks are brutal, ferocious and quite often merciless.
One particular scene that stands out in the film is the bullet train sequence where Logan fights Yakuza assassins at the top of a speeding Japanese bullet train. The cinematography at work here is very impressive and the scene is overall creative. This scene in my opinion feels every bit as thrilling and exciting as the large action set pieces found in other summer blockbusters.
The duel between Wolverine and Mariko’s father Shingen, played by Hiroyuki Sanada, towards the end of the film is also worth noting. The choreography is well done and the scenery and lighting are reminiscent of those found in the battles from Japanese samurai films. The scenery alone really makes this sequence stand out and sets the tone perfectly. The intensity of the scene is diminished however as Wolverine clearly dominates the fight.
Wolverine during the battle with Shingen
While the action scenes are well filmed for the most part, the use of shaky camera is a little overdone for my tastes. This heavy use of shaky cam is also at odds with the slower and relatively non-chaotic feel of the film. Thankfully, the shaking camera is only present during action scenes, which I cannot always say the same for other summer blockbusters.
The sets, lighting, special effects and camera work overall is mostly well done. In particular, the film definitely feels like it takes place in Japan and has a good combination of modern and traditional Japanese environments. The Wolverine is not as visually spectacular as other comic book films but it works for what this film is and it feels mostly authentic.
Mariko in one of the more traditional looking Japanese settings
The Wolverine is a refreshing summer blockbuster that focuses on character rather than action and fantastical settings. It offers a different experience from other comic book films thanks to its smaller scale, slower pace and character centric story. Action is still present with smaller but mostly well filmed sequences. Hugh Jackman owns the role of Wolverine and the character feels deeper and more complex than he has in past films. The same can’t be said for other characters as some feel underdeveloped, and diehard comic fans may not enjoy the liberties taken with the Silver Samurai character. The final act unfortunately suffers from an inconsistent pace and a less than believable plot mechanic. It is, however, the best standalone film for Wolverine and one of the better films in the X-men cinematic franchise. If you are a fan of the Wolverine character at all, you should definitely give this film a watch.