Should I Watch..? 'The Wolverine' (2013)
What's the big deal, bub?
The Wolverine is an action superhero drama film released in 2013 and is based on the Marvel character of the same name - however, as it was released by 20th Century Fox instead of Marvel Studios, the film is independent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is the sixth instalment of the X-Men franchise that began in 2000 and sees Hugh Jackman reprise once again as the enigmatic Logan, also known as Wolverine. The film's script is derived from a limited series of comics in 1982 which sees Wolverine journey to Japan and into serious danger. The film would go on to take more than $414 million worldwide (making it one of the most successful in the series so far) and it received a better reception from critics than the character's previous solo outing, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
What's it about, bub?
The film opens in 1945 where Logan is held captive in a POW camp outside Nagasaki. As an atomic bomb begins to drop on the city, Logan rescues a Japanese prison guard named Ichirō Yashida and shields him from the blast. In the present day, Logan now lives as a hermit in Yukon and still dealing with the death of his beloved Jean Grey. He is found by fellow mutant Yukio who accompanies Logan back to Japan where the elderly Yashida is now the dying CEO of a technology corporation.
After meeting Yashida's son Shingen and grand-daughter Mariko, Logan is offered the chance by Yashida to relinquish his healing abilities (and ultimately, his immortality) but Logan declines. The very next day, Ichirō Yashida passes away and his company falls into the hands of Mariko - much to Shingen's anger. Knowing that he must protect Mariko at all costs, Logan quickly finds that not only are the Yakuza trailing them but his healing powers are slowly leaving him...
What's to enjoy, bub?
Wolverine's continued popularity means that Jackman is constantly in demand to play the grumpy Canadian but at least he has the role perfected. Of course, he's as brutal as he ever has been in the action scenes but in The Wolverine, he finally gets to do something other than slice and dice the bad guys. The story allows plenty of naval-gazing introspection as he's torn by guilt and the loneliness of immortality. For viewers used to seeing non-stop action from these characters, it's a bold change of direction and one I approve of.
The film makes good use of atmosphere and tension with Japan being the ideal backdrop for this sprawling tale of redemption, revenge and honour. The supporting cast do a great job of fleshing out the story with Fukushima, Okamoto and Janssen providing plenty of female support to this most macho of characters. CG use is also impressive with the hulking form of the Silver Samurai lumbering into view for the finale. But I really enjoyed the story which is a departure from the usual world-threatening stuff and feels more personal. The film has a real depth to it I wasn't expecting - probably because this feels much better than the shallow X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
- Jackman sought advice from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson about getting into shape. He consumed 6000 calories a day for six months by eating a lot of chicken, steak and brown rice. To prepare for his shirtless scenes, Jackman refused any liquids for 36 hours before shooting so the muscles appeared tighter, even if he felt faint afterwards.
- It was originally conceived as another prequel to the X-Men movies but the film was changed to become a sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand as well as a bridge to the time-travelling X-Men: Days Of Future Past. A scene mid-credits was actually shot on the set of that film.
- In the comics, Yukio's appearance is very different - she had short hair and black leather outfits instead of bright red hair and wardrobe inspired by anime.
What's not so good, bub?
The film does have a couple of flies in the ointment, the biggest being Khodchenkova's ridiculously camp and clichéd Viper. Opposite Jackman's snarling hero, her impossibly suave baddie feels much more comic-book compared to the film's graphic-novel feel. I never once bought her performance or understood why she was in the film at all. Simply put, she didn't belong there - why couldn't an established foe of the X-Men be used instead of a HYDRA puppet, especially since their re-introduction in the MCU during Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Oh God, I'm slowly turning into Comic Book Guy...
For all the good work done in the rest of the film, the finale does feel somewhat of a cop-out with a large CG baddie tearing the place up and the film's twist didn't really surprise that much either. It does feel a let down, to say the least, as I wanted something that fitted in with the movie - I was enjoying the film because it wasn't a CG-laden pyrotechnic exercise but a character-driven piece instead. The story also, on occasion, loses track of who is doing what to whom - come the end, I still had no idea whether Mariko's former lover and ninja leader Kenuichio Harada (played by Will Yun Lee) was a goodie or baddie.
Should I watch it then, bub?
It's a much better solo outing for Wolverine than their first attempt but it's a much more introspective look at the most popular member of the X-Men. Darker and more violent than anything seen previously, this is probably the closest the movies can get to properly portraying a character who makes no secret of his brutal and questionable morals. Even with a seriously weak villain and typically bombastic climax, the film remains different enough to warrant a watch for fans of comic book characters everywhere.
Great For: Wolverine fans, Japanese viewers, anyone who hated X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Not So Great For: the MCU (who would surely kill to have the X-Men back in their hands), subtitle haters
What else do you suggest?
It struck me that this film is a deliberate attempt to imitate the success of the best non-Marvel superhero films out there. The Wolverine seems to be tapping into the same levels of characterisation that typified the sublime Dark Knight trilogy which also married a superstar performance (from Christian Bale) with quality stories, a fabulous supporting cast and effective action scenes. Like I've said, one criticism of nearly all the films in the MCU are that there are comic-book in nature while Nolan's movies are more graphic-novel, more serious in tone. The MCU would really benefit from having a film take this more adult approach. As for Wolverine himself, Jackman's final appearance in the role would be in Logan which was released in 2017.
As for the X-Men themselves, this is a welcome return to form after what has felt like a long time. Both X-Men and X-Men 2 looked to have launched a genuinely brilliant franchise (indeed, I struggle to picture Marvel's ambitious plans coming to fruition if these films had flopped) until X-Men: The Last Stand soured the memory somewhat. It isn't a bad film but it is a step back from the first two films. But as superhero films get ever more successful, the X-Men blasted right back with X-Men: First Class which rebooted the series up the backside with an all-new cast and a remarkably funky Sixties vibe. And then, there's X-Men: Days Of Future Past for rabid fans eager to compare the old cast with the new...
Logan / Wolverine
Dr Green / Viper
Ichirō Yashida, elderly
Mark Bomback & Scott Frank
Release Date (UK)
25th July, 2013
Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero
© 2016 Benjamin Cox