While the original idea was to give individual X-men their own story between ensemble films, the stories have been too convoluted to really work (and that’s just from two Wolverine flicks).
Hidden in the Great White North, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is taking a break from humanity following the events at the end of X-men 3. Haunted by the memory of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and everything else he’s done in his too-long life, Logan can’t seem to stay out of trouble, especially when idiots provoke his wrath. Enter Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young swordswoman from Japan who has been seeking “the Wolverine” on behalf of a soldier named Yashida (Ken Yamamura) he once saved at Nagasaki. Now a tech industry giant on his death bed, the old soldier offers Logan an unthinkable option – to become mortal and die like an ordinary human – but Yashida’s premature death triggers a power struggle threatening to not only destroy the soldier’s legacy but the life of his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). What’s a good man to do?
As a near immortal due to his mutant healing factor, it seems to be fun for screenwriters to have Wolverine present for all sorts of historical events – hey, it worked for Forrest Gump – so why not the dropping of an atomic bomb? Like the ill-fated X-Men Origins: Wolverine, everyone wants something from Logan because he’s got all the good stuff (even if he doesn’t think so). While the idea drives plot, our hero also spends more time reacting than acting even when his every instinct tells him to avoid the situation altogether. Does he listen? Of course not; otherwise we wouldn’t have a story, pretty girl in danger be damned. To quote Loki’s critique on Marvel’s Thor, “Are you ever NOT going to fall for that?” Thankfully it’s still better than the last Wolverine sorta-solo outing, so there’s that.
It’s a neat idea: a man with a death wish who can’t die. The real problem is constantly reinventing ways to get our favorite Marvel anti-hero to play along so we can see him kick butt. Fortunately, kicking butt is what The Wolverine gets right. Hugh Jackman owns the screen version of Wolverine completely, whether fighting Yakuza and ninjas or just putting his life on the line for an innocent. The bullet train sequence is the real treat here – endorsed by Jackman himself – but it’s just fun watching Hugh do his thing. While I’m not versed in everything Wolverine from the comics, there are reportedly some cringe-worthy deviations from canon; of course, if we held every book-to-film responsible for that, no movie based on a previous property would ever get made.
Rila Fukushima’s Yukio is fun, and it would be nice to see a film with just her and Wolvie dicing up bad guys. Famke Janssen is haunting in her scenes as Jean Grey, calling unfortunate attention to how much her talents have been underused to this point in the series. The real crime, however, is that the story driver isn’t all that compelling other than knowing we’ll get to see Wolvie in action, a point highlighted by a geek-worthy mid-credits extra scene that hints at the set-up for Bryan Singer’s X-men: Days of Future Past. The anticipation of what that film could be – combining the casts of both the original series and the First Class film while hopefully straightening out a multitude of continuity errors already present – is building steadily. In comparison, The Wolverine can’t help but feel like a holdover to distract us from what we’ve been craving all along: getting to see the mutant-policing Sentinels in action.
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)