Sunday, August 4, 2013

REVIEW: The Wolverine

The Wolverine stands apart from X-Men Origins: Wolverine and, while not the greatest comic book movie, or even X-Men movie, provides an entertaining and action-packed summer movie.

I went to see The Wolverine already knowing how the movie would end and already having read about the mid-credit scene a few weeks back. I have no problem with seeing a movie after having read spoilers. It's no different than reading a book and seeing the movie years later, which I did with the Harry Potter series. In most cases of comic book movies, I'm not going in expecting to be wowed by story telling and plot devices anyway. I am going in expecting to see some intense action and, hopefully, solid characterization of my favorite comic book heroes. With that in mind, I was pretty entertained by The Wolverine because it gave me a little more of the character as I enjoy seeing him. In the film he is referred to as a Ronin and that's the Wolverine that I wanted to see.

The film opens with a flashback to Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945.  Logan, a POW kept in a hotbox, is freed by a noble but frightened Japanese officer named Yashida.  After freeing Logan, Yashida watches his fellow officers commit harakiri/seppuku and is trying to convince himself to do the same thing when we see Little Boy drop and begin to obliterate the small, coastal town.  Yashida watches in horror as the blast approaches, only to be grabbed by Logan and directed by him into the same hotbox from which he was just freed.  Logan shields the young officer with the steel door that kept him prisoner, taking massive damage to himself from the heat.  Logan lifts the door revealing to Yashida all the damage that was done, but then begins to rapidly heal, seriously concerning Yashida who definitely is NOT used to mutants.

We are ripped from the dream and cut to an Logan being comforted by Jean Grey, who Logan killed the last time we saw her on screen.  This brief dream sequence ends and we then see Logan alone, troubled and looking drastically different, deep in the woods of Canada. 

Clearly changed and damaged from having to murder Jean to save everyone, Logan has gone as far from people as he can and has become the ultimate loner.  Logan leaves his isolated post to head to town for a battery and runs into some yahoos in town who plan to go bear hunting.  It's clear right away that these guys aren't as much into hunting as drinking and things go wrong.  The poison the bear, a bear we have seen being all buddy-buddy with Logan, and fail to kill it causing it rampage and kill a few of them.  Logan finds and puts the bear out of his misery but the suffering the bear is going through doesn't sit well with him so he busts out the claws to put it down...clearly the right thing to do: end the suffering of this beast. 

Logan heads to town and locates the survivor of the bear attack and one of the men responsible for the suffering the bear endured.  Needless to say things do not go well and we are about to see a pretty messy bar fight when we are interrupted by a tiny Japanese woman named Yukio with a sword.  She clears up any misunderstanding there might have been and convinces Logan to hop in.  It is here we learn that Yashida, the man Logan saved all those years ago, is dying and wishes to see Logan to thank him for what he did and give him a parting gift.

Once in Japan, Logan gets cleaned up and assumes a look more familiar to what we have seen but with toned down hair.  Logan meets with Yashida and we discover that Yashida does want to thank him for allowing him to live a long life, one we see has given him great wealth and a family, including his beautiful grand-daughter Mariko.  Yashida, however, also has something he wants to do for Logan; much as Logan but down the suffering bear, Yashida says he wishes to free Logan of his suffering by taking away his healing powers, allowing him to grow old and die, free of the burdens that go along with immortality.  This is NOT a one-way street, however, as Yashida believes he can take Logan's healing powers into himself to cure his illness and allow him to remain on top of his empire.  Logan is not interested at all but, as we have seen in the trailers, something happens to Logan while there that begins to take away his power.  For the first time since we have seen the Wolverine on screen, Logan is in serious jeopardy as he fights to protect himself and those around him.

I won't go any further into the plot here as not to spoil anything at all but there were some interesting turns along the way, though nothing shocking or mind-blowing.  This movie, to me, was not about the plot devices, it was not about any of the other characters, some of which were well-written and performed.  This movie is about the Wolverine taking center-stage, redeeming himself in his own mind and continuing to accept that he is a warrior and that he will always fight for those to whom he feels loyal no matter the risk to himself.  It is here that Logan learns to love again and that, unlike the bear, he still has too much to live for to stop fighting.

Hugh Jackman has this role down pat.  It is clear he is totally comfortable as Logan and it is increasingly hard to imagine anyone else ever taking over the role.  Personally I think that Jackman has darn near perfected channeling a young Clint Eastwood to play Wolverine and this was easily his best job of it.  He easily portrays the internal conflict that Logan is feeling and is wonderful in each of the physically demanding fight scenes.  I know many fans are upset that Wolverine has been the focus of the X-Men movies and that Cyclops has been pushed to the background and I understand that notion.  However, as long as Jackman is Wolverine, the character will be the focus, including in next year's release of X-Men: Days of Future Past

This is a film I imagine I could sit through and enjoy one or two more times on Blu-Ray but, as of now, not one I will likely revisit dozens of times as I do with many of my favorites.  To me, among the X-Men films, this ranks as the 3rd most enjoyable film behind First Class and X2.  I enjoy the story of Logan and all that he has been through and though I said above I expect him to continue to be the focus of the franchise, I am ready to see some of the other characters step to the front as they did in First Class.

The Wolverine does its job in furthering the story of Logan and, as I discussed here, neatly acts as a bridge to from the original X-trilogy to the events begun in First Class and soon to unfold in Days of Future Past, despite mostly being a stand-alone film that requires little prior knowledge of the X-men films.  By all means if you're a fan of the X-films you'll want to see this one and you're likely to know heading in whether you'll enjoy it or not.