Monday, July 29, 2013


The Wolverine demonstrates just how correctly it understands its titular character in its opening moments.  We don’t get a title, just a date and a location: Japan, August 9, 1945.  We don’t even need a title, we know what film we sat down for and what we are getting into.  That’s the power of the name The Wolverine and what it means to the characters and creators of this film that they earn it.

Wolverine was the original cinematic, existential, comic book hero, a man lost in memories, time, and his worst natures.  When we first met him in X-Men he was trapped like an animal in a cage and the same is true here.  It’s a wise callback to a time before Wolverine (aka Logan) felt like he had a family and embraced his role as a leader of his peers.  This film places the character squarely back in the middle of an existential crisis, as he weighs the merits of his immortality and faces the actions he’s had to take.

This intense psychological approach to a comic book hero is a true first for the X-Men franchise, but isn’t new to summer blockbusters, we even got an existential examination of Superman.  This territory feels immediately comfortable for a character like Logan and it seems amazing that this wasn’t the approach taken for the miserable X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman has never been more powerful as the rugged, and often bearded, Logan.  At 44 years of age he has fully grown into the character and delivers a physically frightening and multidimensional performance.  This is a smaller scale superhero movie that chooses to focus on who Wolverine is and what he does.  The film spends time analyzing the two parts of Logan that are constantly at war with each other.  One is a man who claims to not care about anything; he’s an animal.  The other half is cool, calculated, and precise: a modern samurai or ronin.

The film makes an incredibly well calculated gamble by sending Logan to Japan (based on the Frank Miller and Chris Claremont comics) and by removing his trademark healing powers.  Both of these choices add a freshness and danger to the proceedings and the character that we have never seen before.  Couple this with some truly breathtaking action sequences, first-rate production, and costume design and it creates a truly intoxicating mix.

Wolverine rockets through the streets on the back of a bullet train and every blow that he takes counts.  Jackman winces and limps through scenes, fully carrying the weight of his character’s actions.  His colorful costars, Rila Fukushima (as Yukio) and Tao Okamoto (as Mariko), more than hold their own against Jackman in both dramatics and action chops.  As a film outside of the X-Men franchise, The Wolverine is wholly unique and not just a puzzle piece.

The plot moves quickly and is helped by a fierce visual style that takes full advantage of the Japanese backdrop.  It is a quieter, more calculated film that uses quick cuts and shallow focus to punctuate the scene, often as a way to highlight the incredible duress and pain that Logan is experiencing.  It is hypnotic and dreamlike in portions, as we weave in and out of his fractured memories and nightmares.

Only in the end does The Wolverine falter.   After presenting such a grounded film and universe, The Wolverine’s tone drastically slides back towards the comic book goofiness of the previous film.  This could have worked better but it feels just like every single tired superhero trope appears out of nowhere.  The action in The Wolverine is fun, but its not the draw to the character or this film.  Logan is never forced to make a decisive emotional decision involving Mariko or Yukio that would have helped to redefine his newfound feelings about his life.  Instead the film focuses on questions about mutants and extracting metal from Wolverine’s bones, two fundamentally less interesting concepts than love and loss.

Despite a lacking third act, the final moment of the film is one full of wonder and potential.  It’s a small moment but one that is wholly in keeping with the character of Wolverine and I couldn’t help but wonder what was next for this newly resurrected character.

3 / 4 Reels

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