The Wolverine is a movie of two voices. One is a more restrained, personal, character driven side where we explore our most popular mutant’s past actions and his attempts to do right by protecting a young woman. The other is the outlandish superhero shenanigans we’ve seen in other X-Men movies, where giant samurai robots swing flaming swords and snake-women literally spit venom.
In most cases these separate ideals would clash with each other to the point of failure and while there are a few things that suffer, Christopher McQuarrie’s sure script and James Mangold’s experienced directing make The Wolverine into the comprehensive standalone movie the character needs and a good bit of fun too.
Instead of saving entire cities, countries, or planets, The Wolverine deals with the saving of our main character. Such personal stakes are a refreshing change of pace from the usual wham-bang epicness that’s become commonplace these days and plays off the strengths of other recent character-based blockbuster successes like Skyfall. Stripping away the parade of mutants we normally see and putting Logan mostly on his own helps to generate some focus and avoid the clutter of oh, say, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
If nothing else, it gives us another superb outing from Hugh Jackman as Logan — perhaps his best yet. This character was ripe for a thoughtful study and dare I say that this is the movie that delivers it.
Some may not care for the thematic through-line with Logan’s former romantic interest, Jean Grey, but it succeeds here as a strong representation of Logan’s inner conflict and as a necessary look at the consequences on him as a character after The Last Stand.
This more character-driven side of the movie only really falters in the pacing of the movie — there’s simply too much mid-way time spent in Nagasaki that air out of the picture. With that exception, this is what makes the movie such an interesting watch that we haven’t seen before.
The cheesy aspects of the movie, conversely, can be a double edged sword. Sometimes we get a thrilling battle with the Yakuza on top a speeding bullet-train or manual heart surgery; sometimes we get a poorly written fight between Wolverine and Shingen (the only instance in the movie where the direction trumps the writing).
We are given a taste of what’s to come early on in the movie with a CGI grizzly bear and a cringe-worthy bathtub scene but once the “pincushion” scene happens, it’s apparent that two different forces are at work and one of them may be making you laugh unintentionally. Ineffectual snake-ladies, massive robots leaping about, knife throwing, an oddly filmed running sequence — all these things snowball into a last act that is fun but one trippy ride.
Despite the pastiche of weirdness that becomes the final act, The Wolverine did what it needed to and more — scale things back and focus not just on what a badass Logan is but show his weaknesses to see just how resilient a character he can be. The fact that the movie is one of the more fun and resonant blockbusters to hit screens this summer puts it high up in the ranks of movies this season and X-Men movies in general.
If the post-credits stinger is any indication, The Wolverine could be the wind up for something truly amazing in the X-Men universe. But for now, we can breathe a sigh of relief that we got something that was really freaking good.