Judge Clark Douglas has razor-sharp claws, too. Unfortunately, they're made of peanut brittle.
When he's most vulnerable, he's most dangerous.
"What they did to me, what I am, can't be undone."
Facts of the Case
Our story begins after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. Logan, aka "Wolverine" (Hugh Jackman, Australia) is still haunted by his involvement in the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, GoldenEye), and has taken up a life of solitude in Canada.
A long time ago, Logan saved the life of a Japanese soldier named Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). Now Yashida is an sickly old man who is determined to find a way to keep living. He tracks down Logan, flies him to Japan and tells him that he has found a way to remove that pesky immortality. Logan declines the offer and Yashida passes away, but not before a sinister physician (Svetlana Khodchenkova, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) manages to rob Logan of his invaluable healing abilities.
Unfortunately, it's at this very moment that Logan finds himself tasked with protecting Yashida's innocent granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who has just inherited her grandfather's company and is being targeted by assassins as a result. Meanwhile, the increasingly bedraggled mutant and the young heiress begin to develop romantic feelings for each other. Will the mutual attraction blossom into something more? Will Logan unravel the mystery of who is behind the assassination attempts? Will he ever recover his healing abilities? The answer to these questions and more await in The Wolverine!
Given how frequently the X-Men franchise has dropped the ball, it's amazing the series is still alive and well. The clunky first film was nonetheless successful enough to inspire a very good sequel, but that ultimately led to Brett Ratner's disastrous X-Men: The Last Stand. Fox attempted to go in a different direction by spotlighting the series' most popular character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that overstuffed film received a chilly reaction from critics and fans. The great Darren Aronofsky was tapped to direct a new Wolverine movie, one that would set aside the existing mythology and do its own thing. Alas, Aranofsky changed his mind late in the pre-production process, leading to delays. Meanwhile, the whole franchise received a prequel/reboot in the form of X-Men: First Class, and…well, it's all a bit messy. Anyway, The Wolverine finally made it to the finish line with James Mangold in the director's chair. While it definitely has some serious problems and doesn't stick the landing in a number of areas, I was pleasantly surprised by just how good the better aspects of The Wolverine proved to be.
Above all else, The Wolverine delivers the single best portrait of its title character the series has offered to date. Jackman has fine-tuned his performance over the years, and this time around there's a wounded depth and a feral ferocity that was missing from some of his earlier turns. You actually believe this guy is hundreds of years old, you understand why people fear him and you feel the intensity of his heartache. For much of its running time, the film feels an awful lot like a proper Wolverine movie, and that's nothing to sneeze at.
Mangold's other primary achievement is a compelling east-meets-west vibe that never seems obvious or cheap. He's clearly aiming for a film that feels like Leone by way of Kurosawa, and though it isn't up to the standards of those two masters, he does a decent imitation. The music by Marco Beltrami perfectly illustrates Mangold's relative subtlety, weaving taiko drums and harmonicas into his thick, dense orchestration in a manner so understated you might not even notice. The action scenes are as lean and tight as anything the franchise has served up thus far (check out that bullet train battle!), the cinematography is unusually elegant at times (especially a magnificent shot that concludes one of Logan's more unfortunate moments), the romance is especially heartfelt and there's a terrific, Raimi-esque slice of body horror late in the proceedings. In other words, there's a lot to like.
Unfortunately, the film's virtues are occasionally undercut by its failings. The villains range from mediocre to terrible. Khodchenkova was wonderful in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but she's painfully awkward here and never quite manages to sell her, uh, slithery character. The film's ultimate Big Bad (whose identity I won't spoil) is similarly clunky; the reveal of this character's motivations are never particularly convincing. Worst of all, the final act of the film too often turns into a lame CGI explosion-fest, abandoning the lean, character-driven material that dominates the bulk of the movie. The final act has its moments, too, and the low-key denouement actually works rather well, but if it had been as strong as the film's first hour, The Wolverine might have been the best film the franchise has offered to date.
The Wolverine (Blu-ray) offers a terrific 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that highlights the film's moody cinematography and intoxicating Japanese setting. It's more attractive and visually distinctive than many summer blockbusters, and the tremendous detail and depth offered by the disc does a nice job of accentuation that fact. The action scenes are consistently fluid, bright colors have a lot of pop and flesh tones always look natural. A couple of very dark scenes seem just a bit too murky, but that's my only complaint. The DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio track is nothing short of perfect, fully immersing the viewer in the film's enjoyably complex sound design and really delivering a knockout punch during the louder scenes. There's a strong sense of balance between sound design, dialogue and Beltrami's score, and the movie doesn't feel as cluttered in the audio department as many superhero flicks.
Supplements included in this basic version of The Wolverine aren't as extensive as those include in the 3D set (which offers an extended version of the film with an accompanying James Mangold commentary), but what's here is still worth checking out. "The Path of a Ronin" (54 minutes) is a stellar making-of documentary that examines several angles of the filmmaking process, and…well, that's really the only major supplement, but it's a good one. You also get an alternate ending, a quick sneak peek at the forthcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, a trailer, a DVD copy and a digital copy.
Despite its shortcomings, The Wolverine comes a lot closer to capturing the true nature of its iconic central character than the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine, while the Japanese setting and quieter tone allow it to stand in an increasingly crowded genre. Check it out.
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