Ever thought about how terrible it would be to have self-healing powers so powerful you could be invincible and ageless? Wolverine thinks it is. At least he can always vent his frustration out with his six giant retractable claws, but honestly, when you start outliving everybody and picking up more and more baggage, would you look for a way out? The Wolverine explores this curse/blessing of immortality, obsession and regret, and cultural differences all at the same time (but not in that order), which is weightier material than his previous few outings. Could an X-Men movie be getting philosophical on us? Throw in ninjas and gangs, and you’ve got a few reasons to check this out. Did I mention almost everything happens in Japan? Because it totally does, and it’s epic.
Regardless if you enjoyed Wolverine: X-men Origins, there is no questioning The Wolverine tells a better story than its predecessor. Part of the reason (besides the above premise) is the dramatically reduced number of mutants in this film, so that they feel more fleshed out, instead of side shows (with one exception). Rila Fukushima in particular makes a great impression as Yukio (and not just because of the red hair). Her mutant powers (foresight, combat skills?) are more toned down than previous shape-shifting, flying mutants, but she and non-mutant Mariko (Tao Okamoto) perfectly complement the rash, lone-wolf nature of Logan (Hugh Jackman. Duh).
Not so great for me are the villains- Silver Samurai was a cool-looking CGI monstrosity, but the twist with who’s pulling the strings was fairly predictable after several giant hints. For me, the final CGI giant form almost felt out of place compared to the rest of the movie’s action scenes. By the way, isn’t adamantium supposed to be super rare? How could they find all that for a gargantuan robot suit? This pales next to the villainess Viper. Her snake-like powers were actually a departure from comic books, as she wasn’t even a mutant in the comics (thanks, Wikipedia!). I really don’t care about comic continuity, but everything about the character felt like it should have been in either the first Wolverine movie or the cartoony brawls of The Last Stand. Her dialogue was flat and a little cheesy, and did every outfit really have to look over-the-top reptilian? We get it, she’s like a snake! Did we run out of subtlety? In my mind, she was the weakest character.
The third act felt different in tone from the first two. While the first two focused on more setting and characters, the final part went full comic book action. I’m not complaining, it’s just an observation (heck, ninjas vs. Wolverine was the reason I came anyway). For me, whether fanboys hated it or not, my favorite X-Men fight was in Wolverine: X-Men Origins with Sabretooth and Deadpool, because watching Wolverine fight a teleporting, dual sword-wielding, self-healing martial arts master with laser-shooting eyeballs is thoroughly awesome. As it should be. This ending was still satisfying, just not the highlight.
To sum up, this movie was no Dark Knight for me (but will anything be?), but it successfully shows us why Hugh Jackman’s character deserves to keep making movies. We finally get a deep look into his psyche and what drives him, and setting him in a dramatically different setting was a great choice. Everything about him stands in contrast to the traditions and style of the Japanese world, and this creates interesting situations and themes. Maybe most noteworthy is how different this feels from the other movies in the franchise, almost feeling like a standalone while still being a pseudo-sequel. Even with a few muddy spots, sometimes it’s good to try new things and get some fresh air.