Review: The Wolverine

The Wolverine - Hugh Jackman fights some guys

The Wolverine’s second solo adventure tips its hat to the comics, and focuses on character for mature action epic.

The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine poster (2012 - 2013)

Director: James Mangold

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, Scott Frank

Runtime: 143 minutes

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Hal Yamanouchi, Famke Janssen

Distributor: Fox


Rating:  ★★★★

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He’s the best there is at what he does, which is probably why Wolverine remains one of Marvel’s most popular characters almost forty years after his introduction in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. One of the few characters that has been in virtually every adaptation of the X-Men comics in any medium, actor Hugh Jackman also breaks some kind of record by playing him in every theatrical outing since 2000′s X-Men. Yet with the dual punch of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine leaving a sour taste in the mouths and memories of punters, The Wolverine wisely chooses to turn back to those comic book roots and is all the better for it.

Drawing inspiration from writer Chris Claremont and artist Frank Miller‘s 1982Wolverine mini-series, The Wolverine fits broadly into the “Japan Saga” that also graced the pages of The Uncanny X-Men. During the bombing of Nagasaki in the Second World War, prisoner of war Wolverine saves the life of a young Japanese soldier named Yashida. Years later, Logan wanders the woods, haunted by visions of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who died at his hands. When the sassy fighter Yukio (Rila Fukushima) summons him to Tokyo to say goodbye to the dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), Logan is surprised to learn that it is his mutant healing powers that are in demand. Logan soon finds himself on the run and protecting Yashida’s granddaughter and heiress Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from would-be assassins, unable to shake the mantle of hero that he is so desperately running from.

Where the previous Wolverine film made the mistake of overcomplicating the comic book mythology for filmgoers, James Mangold’s The Wolverine sticks to a much simpler character-based story, one in which the dual nature of Logan and “the Wolverine” form the backbone of this new film. This is not to say that the action sequences aren’t thrilling, for the change of locale to Japan and a more Eastern-influenced set of fight sequences give The Wolverine an edge the last few outings were missing. A battle atop a speeding shinkansen is an amazing twist on a familiar concept, and the removal of Wolverine’s “immortality” gives the battles an added edge. When the fighting stops, however, we are rewarded with some wonderful and reflective moments between Mariko and Logan in particular, which will be pleasing to fans of that romance from Claremont’s original comic book run.

In fact, there are several nice nods to comics that dot the film’s narrative. From the opening scenes, Logan deals with a wounded bear in the Canadian Rockies, much as he did in the opening pages to Claremont/Miller’s classic series. Villains such as The Silver Samurai and Viper (a delightfully scene stealing Svetlana Khodchenkova) are extreme versions of their comic counterparts, but fit effortlessly into this cinematic world. Even the over-the-top and snake-like traits to Viper are fine as long as you are willing to accept that it is part of a world where mutants are increasingly commonplace.

The folks at Fox have learned a great deal from observing the cohesive cinematic universe Marvel Studios have been pulling together, and have grounded The Wolverine to serve as a adamantium rod that stands proud as the start of a new run of X-Men films. The always excellent Jackman has believed and invested in this character over the course of five previous films, and is soon to do so again in X-Men: Days of Future Past. You should know by now that staying through the credits is always a wise idea, and this time we are teased with a wonderful preview for that next film. The Wolverine should not only win back comic fans that became disillusioned after the last few films, but please those who enjoy their action films with character depth and elegant choreography.

The Wolverine is released in Australian cinemas on 25 July 2013.