It would be an understatement to say that it’s been a phenomenal year for Marvel. With Iron Man 3 earning over 1.2 billion dollars, and Thor: The Dark World slated for an early November release, the folks over at Marvel are riding high. Perhaps it’s this financial security that’s allowed Marvel to take a slightly more edgy approach to their new X-Men film, titled simply The Wolverine. As the name would suggest, the film centers on a specific arc of one of the most popular X-Men, and adds a definitively strong title to the historically shaky film series.
Director James Mangold takes the helm of The Wolverine– his first Marvel production. With an incredibly mixed resume including hits like Walk the Line and Girl, Interrupted as well as some real misses like Identity and Knight and Day, Mangold is admittedly an interesting choice to take on a summer blockbuster like this. Not only does he rise to the occasion, but he manages to take a franchise that has disappointed fans in the past with entries like X-Men Origins: Wolverine into new and interesting territory, choosing to keep the focus tight and centralized on one specific character. Based on a popular run in the comic book series, The Wolverine was written primarily by Christopher McQuarrie with the uncredited assistance of Mark Bomback and Scott Frank. This, to me, is interesting, because parts of the film seem to be very self-contained and stand effectively on their own, but other parts, specifically the ending, seem have the stench of committee design and compromise about them.
Hugh Jackman reprises his role from previous X-Men films as the beloved Wolverine. More than being the straight-talking, cynical badass du jour, however, the more narrow focus of the story allows for some interesting themes to be explored, such as mortality, family, and redemption. As the story mainly takes place in Japan, Jackman is virtually the film’s only caucasian actor. Most Japanese actors present in film, such as Tao Okamoto (Markio) and Rila Fukushima (Yukio), may be unknown to American audiences, though more illustrious actors such as Hiroyuki Sanada (Mr. Yoshida) also make an appearance.
Happily, Mangold knows how to handle his action sequences and is able to pull of some sensationally fun and impressive choreographed fight scenes incorporating both a pleasing, fluid, Eastern style of fighting which is contrasted interestingly with Wolverine’s more Western brawler style. Likewise, the asian aesthetic in a general sense is used to great effect, as it proves to be not only visually engaging, but adds an element of freshness and charisma that the film would have sorely missed otherwise.
In terms of character development and story, The Wolverine mixes things up in comparison to other summer blockbusters. Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the character definitely lends itself well to one of the more human and flawed superheroes that we’ve seen in a long time, to say nothing of this summer. My reaction to the narrative, however, came in three distinct parts. First, I was completely onboard with the story, characters, action, and aesthetic as Wolverine was revealed to be hiding out in the Yukon and troubled by his past. Second, about halfway into the film, I was confused by an overly complicated plot as issues regarding ninja clans, inheritance, and auxiliary characters were all introduced in rapid succession. Finally, I was troubled towards the end as events and motivations proved to be downright incomprehensible. What I’m sure was intended to be a shocking final climax was, in realty, kind of nonsensical. It’s always dangerous to wait until the end of a movie to do something drastic with the story because people tend to remember the end of a film more clearly than they remember other parts. If the big reveal doesn’t work quite as well as the director intends it to, it’s very likely that the audience will walk away with a bad taste in their mouths, even if the rest of the film was essentially decent.
Be that as it may, The Wolverine is still a very well executed blockbuster that manages to keep the X-Men franchise fresh and interesting. With impressive action and an engaging aesthetic, there is certainly a lot to like. Although the story starts to bob and weave senselessly towards the end, there’s still plenty of good to take away from the film for an enjoyable experience.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5