Movie Review: The Wolverine

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A despondent Wolverine is summoned to Japan by an old friend, where he is drawn into a new romance and a family feud and his limits are tested.

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James Mangold, 2013

This movie follows Logan around Japan as he picks up a new sidekick and a new love interest and has, you know, actual stakes for about five minute as he’s mysteriously weakened (he bleeds for whole minutes!). It starts in Canada where his friend the bear is killed by some mean hunters, and then we’re taken straight to Tokyo by the kick-ass funky Yukio, a red-haired Japanese girl with the power to see how people die. Her boss Yashida is super old and wants to “say goodbye” to Logan, aka harness his powers of healing and not aging for himself. Logan says no, and then Yashida’s funeral is attacked and his hot granddaughter is kidnapped, so Logan goes on a quest to save her despite feeling somewhat under the weather. Meanwhile, visions of Jean Grey haunt his sleep, ratcheting up the guilt factor and keeping Wolverine out of the game.

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This movie has improved upon X-Men Origins: Wolverine in a number of ways. Firstly, it’s a self-contained story, with its own narrative that doesn’t jump all over the place in time and logic (there are only a few flashbacks to World War II, and they’re relevant and straightforward). It’s coherent, it covers a lot of Wolverine’s issues without being bogged down by them, and it doesn’t screw around too much with the world in which X-Men takes place. Wolverine gets plenty of chances to get the claws out, and with him actually getting hurt some of the fight scenes feel more urgent; there’s also a terrific fight sequence on top of a bullet train that’s worth the effort. The problem is that it feels like a side story, and not one that gives Logan the full opportunity to shine. Both movies are much too po-faced and serious about their subject matter; Logan doesn’t ever really get a chance to let loose. He gets a few lines in, shows a bit of the old Wolverine gruff charm, but without Cyclops to grump at he’s much too mopey to be much fun. Love interest Mariko (Tao Okamoto) suffers terribly from heiress syndrome; she flits around without much substance, and certainly can’t hold a candle to Jean Grey (and I spent more time watching her incredibly pronounced collarbones than her face in her scenes). Famke Janssen is still great in that role, but she feels shoehorned in here, with the dream sequences pulling you out of the story more than propelling it (although the one where he lets her go is pretty good). It’s nice to see a movie full of mostly Japanese actors playing Japanese characters; of particular note are Rila Fukushima as Yukio, who brings life, fun, and awesome parkour/kung-fu flippy skills to the plate, and the gorgeous Hiroyuki Sanada as Mariko’s villainous father Shingen. Lady villain Viper brings almost nothing but exposition to the mix; the reason she’s even there is completely unclear, apart from maybe to look cool and distract from the real villain, who I figured out pretty much immediately anyway. I didn’t recognise the wasted Will Yun Lee as Harada. I’ve always liked Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, but this just lacked character – we know he has muscles and angst, give us something to sink our teeth into.

The Wolverine

Traditional garb in a Pachinko parlour.

As a former resident, it was a lot of fun for me to watch the scenes in Japan, which are shot really nicely and utilise parts of the country that you don’t usually get to see in Western movies (there’s no establishing shot of Mt. Fuji or Shibuya Square to say LOOK YOU’RE IN JAPAN NOW!!!). The very traditional funeral taking place at a temple surrounded by city is fantastic and a great representation of the country. They do, however, cloak sexism in cultural differences (“You wouldn’t understand. You’re not Japanese”) which I really, really dislike – there are plenty of feminist Japanese ladies, thank you very much. A lot of the action sequences are pretty generic, with ideas that seem cool coming off as kind of silly in practice. It was just very pedestrian – the most exciting part of the whole movie was the post-credits sequence, so STAY FOR IT. YOU WON’T BE DISAPPOINTED.

The Wolverine on IMDb

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