The Wolverine is unlike any other superhero film ever made. It is, for the first three-quarters of its run time, just a “regular movie” that happens to star a guy with retractable metal blades that come out of his fists. There have been films that tried to realistically portray what reality would be like if ordinary people put on a cape and mask (Super and Kick-Ass namely) but this reverses it. The Wolverine doesn’t who our world with a comic book injection, it shows a comic book world with an injection from our world. And by our world I mean conventional Hollywood thriller/noir/drams.
It’s a neat trick. But don’t get too excited. There are two big issues here. One, the “regular movie” at the heart of The Wolverine is not that captivating – it’s a fairly by-the-book tale of corporate corruption, family drama and the mob. Two, there’s that final quarter of the film where, The Wolverine craps the bed and slouches toward every comic book movie cliché, most of them done poorly.
*Spoilers to follow
You don’t need to know much about Hugh Jackman’s mutant Logan going into this film, which is set after 2006′s X-Men: The Last Stand. His powers and central drive are shown, not told, in a remarkable first scene set at the Nagasaki detonation during World War II. Logan’s a good guy, and saves the life of a Japanese soldier. Which he does in such a way that his skin peels off but grows back because of his healing abilities and it is just gross enough for 13 year olds (or myself) to go “AWESOME!” but not too gross that it is going to freak them out for the rest of their lives.
That soldier then grows up to become the head of a powerful tech giant and now that he’s on his death-bed he requests an audience with the man who was able to provide him with the time to lead a long, natural life. Logan, however, is hiding out in the woods, growing his hair and beard, and being miserable because he is immortal and he killed the love of his life, Jean Grey. If you have forgotten how he actually did that, it isn’t important. You just need to know that he is guilty and sad.
A feisty Japanese girl named Yukio tracks Logan down, impresses her with her martial arts skills, and convinces him to go to Japan. Here is where The Wolverine beings to resemble one of Sean Connery’s 007 films. Our hero – a handsome movie star in the classic mold – starts poking around a big, complex conspiracy involving money, power, weapons, beautiful women and tempting murderesses.
You’ve seen it before, but you’ve never seen it with a guy with adamantium bonded to his skeleton or with the ability to survive a katana direct through the stomach. A superpowered fight atop a bullet train makes for an unusual addition to watching a couple flee Yakuza baddies to hide in a “love hotel.” This agreeable uniqueness is, however, undercut by a rather choppy story. There’s a hundred different bad guys in ‘The Wolverine’ and none of them are interesting. There’s a corrupt politician, a meanie son/father, some dude who always shows up out of nowhere with a bow and arrow, and then there’s Viper.
Viper, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, is dropped-in from a different movie. With luscious hair, voluptuous curves and the tendency to always find time for a costume change, she’s basically a Schumacher-era Batman villain. And I do mean that in the worst way. She didn’t fit. She didn’t belong.
The big battle at the end, alas, decides to go all-in on Viper and what that type of movie represents. It’s not original, or even dazzling and – frankly – there’s a third act reveal that was laughable. Nice try.
Do I think ‘The Wolverine’ is good? I must confess, I do not. But, I’m really impressed with what Mangold and company tried to do here, and I like that this is very much a “self-contained” movie. The superhero genre needs its cage rattled, and this tried to do that. Unfortunately, the mere act of rattling without an engaging story and then running to the tried-and-true for the conclusion isn’t enough.