I've always had a problem with the Wolverine character in comics and in the movies, particularly in the movies. My problem was that the nature of Wolverine's fighting ability, using six foot-long claws, meant that in order to defeat a foe, it would mean killing them. What else can you do with claws against an enemy? And that would always mean that in a Wolverine fight scene, he would have to get his ass kicked for a good five minutes before delivering a death blow, so as not to make the fight scenes ridiculously short. Witness the fight scene in the original X-Men with Mystique. Witness the fight scene in X2 with Lady Deathstrike. Witness the fight scene in Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine where...oh, hell, I don't remember much about either of those films.
Well, all that's out the window with The Wolverine. This movie, whose story is loosely based on the defining Wolverine comic mini-series of the early 80s, is easily the best portrayal of Wolverine in any of the X-Men films. This is Wolverine doing what he's supposed to do, mainly slash, gut and eviscerate anyone who steps to him. Granted, most of the people he goes up against are secondary characters, but as there are technically no true supervillains in this film, we finally finally finally get to see Logan square off against his adversaries in true "let's get it poppin'" badass form. The fight scenes are excitingly choreographed, although they suffer from the PG-13 rating, which means when Wolverine uses his unique weaponry against a bad guy, we see the bad guy crumple over and we hear a sound effect akin to a heavy boot stepping into a pile of thick mud. If only this were an R-rated movie, so we the audience could see Logan engage in his bloody handiwork unfettered. The fact that you don't see the blood doesn't make it any less violent, in my opinion. So why not go all out? If I'm allowed to see zombie heads being severed on AMC, why not a little blood splatter in a movie about, um, the Wolverine, hello? But no matter, this is Wolverine at his fighting best. In full disclosure, I'll also say that I never really took to Jackman in the role, not because he was too tall (the comic character reportedly stands at 5' 3") but because he was too much of a pretty boy. I always pictured Gary Sinise in the role, an excellent actor with the right stature and a natural scowl. But after reading about 44 year old Jackman's training regimen and insanely rigid diet of seven chicken breasts a day around the clock, and seeing him acting every bit the part (for the first time, in my opinion), Jackman definitely earns his stripes in this one. Or his claws, if you prefer.
The underlying story is simple. Dying Japanese billionaire industrialist Yashida summons Logan to thank him for saving his life during the bombing of Nagasaki (Logan's healing factor renders him veritably ageless) and offers him a proposition: the chance for Logan to transfer his mutant healing ability into Yashida's body, thus saving Yashida's life and ending Wolverine's curse of virtual immortality. Things get hectic when it becomes known that Yashida has willed all his holdings to his daughter Mariko; everyone from the Japanese mob to the mutant Viper set their sights on Mariko to gain control of the industrial empire, or so it seems. Wolverine, for reasons not completely clear, becomes Mariko's protector and these initial scenes grab a tight hold and don't let up. The first act of the film culminates in a stunning fight scene aboard (literally) a 300 mph bullet train. This is a scene to rival the Air Force One midair rescue acrobatics in Iron Man 3. As the film convenes its second act, it become a little muddled and slows significantly. While there are still some really kick-ass fight scenes, characters and motivations become hard to follow. However, by this time, I was completely enthralled by the noirish aspects of the film (who doesn't like being a little confused by a good whodunit?) and the Japanese mise en scene.
I'm hearing that the third act is where the film falls apart for most people. Whereas the beginning and middle of the movie takes itself seriously, and justifiably so, the third act devolves into a trite comic book film. It becomes rather silly. I completely understand why these criticisms are leveled at the last half hour of the film, but I say that if we were able to accept that in the first X-Men movie, Magneto was able to build a machine that would turn regular humans into mutants by hooking Anna Paquin up to it, there's really no ground to criticize the third act of this film whatsoever. It requires about the same amount of suspension of disbelief. That is to say, it does become a bit of a head-scratcher, but I would say the same for some of the previous X-Men installments as well. I will say that once you exit the theater, if you stop to analyze it a bit, you will pause and ask yourself, "Well, why did this/these character(s) go through all THAT when they could've just done THIS?" I engaged in that for about three hours afterwards. I will say that I was less bothered by this last act than by the numerous dream sequences that hit us over the head with the fact that this movie picks up where X3: The Last Stand ended.
However, my bottom line is that this is the Wolverine that I've been wanting to see since the year 2000, when the X-Men debuted onscreen. The supporting characters; Yukio, Mariko Yashida, Shingen, Harada and Viper are all on point. I loved the noir mystery tone the film sets once Logan arrives in Japan. I loved the fact that the movie is set in Japan and that Japanese dialogue is subtitled, adding realism and an international dynamism to the film (as well as increasing its chances to make a mint overseas). I loved the Silver Samurai. But most of all, I love being able to say finally that Hugh Jackman killed (again, literally) as The Wolverine. 4/5 reels
P.S. I'd heard that the bonus scene, which appears soon after the credits begin to roll, was as good as the entire movie. I guess I'm in the minority there. If you've read the X-Men story arc entitled "Days Of Future Past," which by now, should be no spoiler to say is the basis of the next X-Men film, then I'm not sure why you'd be more than just mildly entertained by this scene. What it did for me was show how the great Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan have aged since X3.
More reviews at Lightning Strikes!