After the failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, my expectations for a follow up were fairly low. I consider that movie the worst in the X-Men franchise (yes, I like The Last Stand more) so I was worried we would get a similarly rushed film with too many characters and a terrible story. Then Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct and my interest sky-rocketed. Aronofsky had directed Jackman before in The Fountain and brought about the best performance of Jackman’s I’d seen until Les Misérables. Not to mention every Aronofsky film has a well thought out and meticulous story-line. I was stoked. Then word came around that Aronofsky had left the project. Who would replace him? James Mangold. He, too, had directed Jackman before on a picture called Kate & Leopold.
Not exactly the film I’d expect to see advertised on a Wolverine poster: “From the director of Kate & Leopold… THE WOLVERINE!”
To Mangold’s credit, he also directed some awesome films like Cop Land and 3:10 to Yuma. He actually has a pretty diverse resume. Walk the Line, Identity, and Girl, Interrupted are a few more of his films. His latest effort was Knight and Day, which I enjoyed but had some noticeably bad green screen work and was a bit more on the comedy/action side. If the 3:10 to Yuma Mangold showed up to direct The Wolverine, I’d be happy. If the Knight & Day Mangold showed up to direct it… I’d be worried.
Fortunately, for us, we got the 3:10 to Yuma Mangold. The Wolverine feels more like a western than a comic book movie, with Logan as a lone, rogue figure who doesn’t want to be a hero, but won’t run away when he knows there’s something he alone can do. The film could be considered X-Men 4, as it takes place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. Hugh Jackman’s Logan is in a self-imposed exile, living in the woods and minding his own business. He’s still mourning the death of Jean Grey, envisioning her in his dreams almost every night. He’s a bit angry at the world and every now and again that anger surfaces. He’s tracked down by a woman named Yukio who tells Logan that her employer, a man whose life Logan once saved, is on his deathbed in Japan and wishes to say goodbye. Reluctantly, Logan agrees. The old man, named Yashida, tells Logan he can cure him of his immortality. He tells him that he, in fact, wants to take it from him. Logan brushes the old man off and tells him there isn’t a cure for what he’s got. The old man passes away soon after that and Logan then gets caught up in a conflict involving Yashida’s daughter Mariko.
The movie has a slow-pace to it. It’s more of a character-driven story than any previous X-Men film and that’s actually a nice breath of fresh air. This really is Wolverine’s story, as he’s only one of two mutants in the whole film. The other is a woman named Viper, who has a reptilian mutation; she’s able to spit venom and peel her old skin off her body, among other things. Which begs the question, how old is Viper? If she can peel away one skin layer for another, does that mean she’s somewhat ageless as well? Unfortunately, Viper is my least favorite aspect of this film. She is a little over the top and not all that menacing. Also, it really seemed like her lines were all dubbed over with another actress. I might have been imagining that, but that’s what it seemed like.
The other characters in the film are played well and fun to watch. Wolverine spends most of the movie with Mariko, played by Tao Okamoto, and their chemistry is good. I’ve heard some people say the love story between them feels forced but I disagree. Rila Fukushima plays Yukio and seems to have a lot of fun doing so. We also get some good performances from Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays Yashida’s son Shingen and Will Yun Lee as Harada, an old friend of Mariko and her family.
Mangold directs the action scenes well with the most exciting being the bullet train fight. Even though there’s obvious green screen usage, it’s still pretty darn entertaining. Mangold also knows how to direct the more intimate moments between Logan and Mariko, where we learn about each others’ past and watch them grow closer. The screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank must be given credit as well. Bomback has a resume consisting mostly of action films. Unstoppable being my favorite. Frank has an impressive resume. Get Shorty, Out of Sight, The Lookout and Minority Report, just to name a few. If I had to guess, I’d say Bomback is responsible for the action beats while Frank added a lot to the characters and their development. That’s purely a guess, though. I’m fairly sure Christopher McQuarrie was brought in for uncredited re-writes as well. The use of Marco Beltrami’s score is also good. I’m thinking of buying the soundtrack.
I’m curious to see what fans of the Silver Samurai think of this film, as I’m pretty sure they’ve changed around his storyline a little. I thought it worked pretty well in the context of this film, even if it gets a tiny bit ridiculous at the end.
While this might not be the most action-packed X-Men movie, I think it worked really well and gave us a solid Wolverine story. There’s also a scene after the initial set of credits that will leave audiences hungry for the next X-Men film: Days of Future Past.
I give it a B+.