The biggest issue with X-Men: Origins Wolverine, despite splashes of entertainment value, is that it lacked character depth. The movie reached more for the spectacle rather than delving into something more intimate. It was also a relatively safe comic book film that tried a bit too hard to please fans of the source material by throwing in cameos and characters that didn’t necessarily add much to the story.
The Wolverine corrects that problem in a big way by defying expectations. It’s not concerned with mainstream intentions and it’s a lot more intimate than other comic movies released around the time it screens in 2013. Beyond the title character, there isn’t anyone too familiar for the general audience to immediately identify but that’s honestly one of the best things about the film. There is a sameness about some of these comic book adaptations that make them a bit boring but since The Wolverine is so different, it makes it stand out in a truly positive way.
The majority of The Wolverine transpires in Japan, which gives the movie a bit of an exotic flair. He’s there to bid farewell to an old compatriot, billionaire industrialist Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who lies on his dying bed. When the old man dies, Logan becomes the unwitting protector of his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who has been targeted for kidnapping by the Yakuza. Mariko’s closest childhood friend, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), becomes Logan’s sidekick, and he is aided in his quest by another of Mariko’s protectors, Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee). There’s also a mutant involved: the mysterious Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), whose ultimate goals are unclear but whose methods, such as robbing Wolverine of his self-healing powers, are deadly.
The choice of James Mangold to direct proves to be a huge asset. Mangold is known more for drama rather than action which is why the thriller aspects of the film and character interaction are far stronger when compared to the first solo Wolverine outing. That doesn’t mean that Mangold can’t handle the action. There is a very thrilling train-top chase/fight that is a true action highlight and Mangold’s more film noir style actually aids many of the sequences because the film is visually arresting before a lot of action even transpires.
The Wolverine is more of a crime story and proves that not all comic book films need to be an orgy of CGI and end of the world destruction to entice the audience. Wolverine isn’t my favorite character in the X-Men canon but this film makes a strong case for him as someone worth learning more about. This is a film that respects the character and the depths he can possibly go when put into an interesting story.
More so than in any previous outing, Hugh Jackman owns the role completely. The reason it stands out a bit more in this film is because he really is the mot identifiable performer on display. He’s surrounded by other actors who may be unknown to the most U.S. audiences so he’s the link that will ultimately command the most attention. Jackman is charismatic enough to carry the weight of the film and he does so admirably.
The only detriment to the film is that there isn’t a strong central villain. Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper and Will Yun Lee’s Harada are underused and should’ve been used more but they are sidelined by a giant silver samurai robot which actually makes the climax a bit generic when compared to how fresh the first 90 minutes were. It’s the only time The Wolverine succumbs to typical comic book movie tropes.
The change-of-pace evident in The Wolverine saves it from the “just another superhero” movie stereotype and offers an antidote to the fatigue that tends to set in with comic book movies that don’t break new ground. Sometimes smaller is the way to go and thankfully they have a solid actor like Jackman to make the more intimate approach work alongside the action that fans come to expect. In a sea of comic book films that feel familiar, The Wolverine feels like a fresh catch.