Movie Review – The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine, 2013.

Directed by James Mangold.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Rila Rukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Brian Tee, Hal Yamanouchi, and Famke Janssen.

The Wolverine movie poster

SYNOPSIS:

Summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, Wolverine becomes embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.

Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine

The Wolverine follows Logan as he struggles to deal with his feelings of guilt following the death of his beloved Jean Grey. Summoned to Japan, he finds himself embroiled in a conflict that makes him confront his own demons and realise what his powers truly mean.

In his sixth outing as Wolverine, we think we know what to expect from Hugh Jackman as the superhealing mutant with adamantium claws, but it comes as a pleasant surprise that there is more to the character than we have previously seen.

We pick up with our titular hero as he is living feral in the Canadian mountains following on from events in X-Men: The Last Stand and it’s obvious that he’s struggling to deal with what transpired, which effectively sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Unlike other films in the X-Men universe, this isn’t about destroying landscapes or mutant vs. mutant battles. This is much more of a character piece charting a man’s struggles to deal with what he is. Director James Mangold has crafted a story based on the famed Chris Claremont and Frank Miller miniseries that gets to the very core of the Wolverine character and lets you truly understand the emotional burdens he carries – something which has only been hinted at in other outings.

An interesting aspect of this film is that, although still an X-Men movie, this piece feels very much like a classic Gaijin in Japan story, which helps us to further understand Logan’s feelings of isolation. You could also view The Wolverine as a tale of an out-of-place samurai, something which is hinted at in the film and is furthered by the marketing in Japan referring to this as The Wolverine: A Ronin Story.

The setting also gives us glimpses of the rich history and culture that Japan has to offer and allows us to see a myriad of landscapes, ranging from snowy mountaintops to the bustling streets of Tokyo. The setting is expertly captured for the most part by some excellent camera work, with scenes being shot to give us the full effect of the setting; such as using handheld cameras for the street fighting scenes and wide landscape shots when we get to the mountains. The most notable usage of frenetic camerawork is an enjoyably over-the-top fight scene on Japan’s famous bullet train.

The story also manages to include other famous Eastern staples such as ninjas, the Yakuza and the samurai so if you’re a fan of Japanese cinema and culture, you really are in for a treat.

Of course it’s not The Wolverine without Hugh Jackman and even though the role is now very familiar to us, credit should be given his portrayal of our favourite mutant. Utilising a surprisingly pained expression and an impressive physique, he manages to show us a brilliantly balanced mix of despair and rage which was sometimes lacking in other films in the franchise.

It has to be said though; he couldn’t have done it all by himself and we’re treated to an array of excellent supporting characters including veteran actor Hiroyuki Sanada and newcomers such as Tao Okamoto. Tao plays the character Mariko, the love interest to Logan and the daughter of Master Yashida, the man who has summoned Logan to Japan. Mariko, like Logan, feels isolated and apart from the world around her and it’s this that connects them as the tale unfolds. In her first ever film role, Tao plays the part with a vulnerability and sensitivity that will surprise you and is thoroughly believable as the woman who can help Logan move on from past events.

Rila Fukushima and Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine

The standout for me though was fellow newcomer Rila Fukushima who plays Yukio. We meet her early on in the film as she brings Logan to Japan and discover very quickly that although slight, she is more than capable of handling herself. And it’s not just her physical skills on show as we find out that she is more than simply an employee of the Yashida Corporation; that she serves as sister and protector to Mariko in a part that, if handled poorly, would have been incredibly tedious to witness. Thankfully though, Rila plays the part perfectly with balance of traditional Japanese values and a sense of mischief that makes her very endearing.

Another actor who should be mentioned is Famke Janssen, reprising her role of Jean Grey. It’s hard to explain her role in the film without spoiling the plot but I can happily say that her addition only deepens your love and understanding of the Logan character.

Unfortunately though, the film is not without its flaws – most of which start to surface in the final third. While the script is fairly simple yet tidy initially, it starts to get quite clunky in the final half hour or so and feels as though more time could have been spent constructing a more suitable finale.

This is furthered by some downright silly action in the last act that makes you wish you could go back and rewatch the earlier, more impressive street fight scenes. Without ruining the story for you now, an obvious plot twist which joins in with the later action leaves you feeling like you’ve seen it before and more than a little short-changed.

Something which really did bother me was the language in the film. It utilises both Japanese and English to suit the scene but somehow all I found myself asking was why two Japanese people would speak English to each other when they were by themselves. It made no sense to me and only made me question the film’s scriptwriting team.

The single worst thing about the film was the 3D. It looked like it had been retrofitted for purely monetary gains, never felt like it was needed and didn’t do anything to enhance my viewing pleasure. All I can say on this point is that if you can, try to see it in 2D.

Of course these are just small niggles in what was a thoroughly entertaining and more surprising heartfelt instalment in the X-Men universe. The unique story coupled with beautiful scenery, an excellent supporting cast and berserker rage suited only to our favourite hero make this a film that anyone can enjoy – though I suspect that die-hard Wolverine fans may enjoy it a little more.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Ozzy Armstrong is a Stargate and Rocky superfan. Follow him on Twitter.