I have to say. I dug Wolverine and this is considering I thought X-Men: The Last Stand & Wolverine Origins were shite.
The movie has everything it needs for a good Marvel AND Wolverine movie: a simple and mostly straightforward plot with maybe a twist or two you see coming a mile away, interesting characters whose actions are directed by “the rule of cool”, meaning they’ll do needless stuff if it looks cool, the last Katana fight (the one not involving Wolverine) is a perfect example of this; and of course, good momentum and pace.
The film opens up with the first of the many, many, sometimes excessive dreams Logan has with Jean Grey and the only part of the film that I felt they abused a little too much, but maybe it’s because having read the comics I just felt that just like there, Jean Grey just won’t fucking stay dead and still. Sure, here she’s a hallucination, but the point still applies.
Having said that, the deeply remorseful and scarred Wolverine, for his actions in “Last Stand”, is a very interesting character, and allows them to tell a more personal story without the jumbled mess Origins was. Instead of working with his backstory, they work with him, with a more emotional, yet still very gruff Logan. You won’t see him weep or cry his regrets, but you’ll feel the hurt, and that’s something both the filmmakers and Hugh Jackman himself need to be recognized for and I give them amazing props for that. Jackman delivers his most convincing Logan to this day, showing equal measures of badass, loyal and stoic hero and flawed human being.
The rest of the talent is pretty good too, and in general, none of the actors fail to hit the mark. My only gripe is with Tao Okamoto’s Mariko Yashida and her transition from serious “I can take care of myself” to being into Logan being way too quick, as if someone flipped the switch. On the other hand, Rila Fukushima’s Yukio is fantastic from start to finish and while Mariko goes from not being interested to the main female lead, Yukio’s attraction to Wolverine is almost palpable, creating a very interesting contrast between the two female leads, in measure of how their power and standing and adherence to tradition impacts how they show those feelings, as even when she’s clearly attracted, Mariko is still very delicate and shy in her approach, while Yukio gives Logan constant “come hither” looks. Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into it, but like Mariko says during a particular scene, “everything has meaning”.
The supporting cast is pretty good, from Shingen, played by Hiroyuki Sanada, probably more known for playing Ujio in The Last Samurai and who at the time was often referred to as the Tom Cruise of Japan (in acting and not insanity…I hope). Shingen is never really given any other dimension than “evil bastard”, but a few key points mentioned during a particular scene make you understand where the “bastardness” comes from, born form despair, disappointment and a deep sense of betrayal from someone he’s been loyal to for decades. Haruhiko Yamanouchi plays Master Yashida, whom Wolverine saves from the nuclear bomb in Nagasaki during World War II (a sequence often replayed in flashbacks to explain the bond, if tenuous, between them), Mariko’s grandfather and the person responsible for starting the chain of events that make up the plot. Brian Tee plays Noburo Mori, Mariko’s fiancée and pathetic comic relief mostly. He’s minor when it comes to plot, but Tee’s performance is so convincing the two times you see him are enough for you to feel he deserves what he gets. Finally, we have Will Yun Lee, playing Harada, the family ninja, something very similar to the house guard dog from the way he’s portrayed, and while the performance is actually quite good, the character is secondary, a tool for pretty much everyone, even if he’s in most of the movie, making him one of the characters you really won’t care for.
Action scenes are all well done and focus, for the most part on Logan fighting increasing odds without his healing factor. While he’s fighting, the adrenaline keeps him going, but after every fight, it gets harder for him to walk or even stand at one point, and I think that’s a brilliant approach to the fights, since with Wolverine’s usual healing, the audience won’t fear for his life, making all plot-related threats rather moot. But here, for the first time since Logan’s been on film, there’s actual tension when it comes to the action, which again, is something the filmmakers should be complimented for. During the last fight, you’ll cringe and grab your seat because the Final Boss is actually a big threat and one whose purpose and strategy can actually bypass Wolverine’s healing factor. I’m actually pleasantly surprised at the last boss, since the comic book version of that villain is beyond pathetic.
On the language side, it was refreshing to see Japanese characters talk to each other in Japanese, something that bothers me a lot in films involving people of non-English speaking countries, where they make them speak English when they should be talking to each other in their native tongue. There are a couple of instances when they do switch to English when it’d be more natural for them to speak in Japanese, but I can forgive those.
On the villain side, aside from the main villain, there’s Lady Viper, a character with which I had a “what are you doing here?” moment, since she’s more Avenger level villain, being a part of Hydra. Here she’s portrayed as a mutant, immune to every poison and capable of creating them, and as a doctor and chemist. While the geek in me screams at the improper use of an established character, there are 2 things that make forget the “transgression”. A) The x-men movie universe has never paid too much attention to such details and even their continuity is sketchy; and B) The portrayal is extremely good and she’s not only a strong villain and a fantastic performance, carrying the villain torch for 90% of the film, but she also brings in a lot of creepiness with the sex-appeal, 2 of the many ingredients that make her a believable “supporting” villain.
Following Marvel tradition, there’s an after-credits scene, which ties amazingly into Days of Future Past. So don’t miss it, you have geek-gasms, I promise it.
On the whole, Wolverine is, like Iron Man 3 before it, a story more about the man than the superhero, about the fragile, flawed and deeply hurt men behind the masks or in Logan’s case, the name. This is a character that insists for 75% of the movie he’s not “the Wolverine” anymore, that that side of him died at the end of The Last Stand. I firmly believe more superhero movies should spend time focusing on the person rather than the “superheroing”. By doing this they make the characters believable, relatable and in the end, unforgettable.