The Wolverine review: prickly on the outside, cuddly on the inside

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The Wolverine green light Hugh Jackman

There’s plenty of good summer popcorn fun, with fresh and exciting action setpieces, but this is mostly an intimate story about Logan, as a mutant and as a man.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, could probably watch him in anything

I’m “biast” (con): getting a little superhero’d out

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I’m not a comic book devotee. I only know X-Men from the movies. So I could be wrong about this, but I wonder if The Wolverine will be a comic book movie that appeals more to X-Men readers than to blockbuster audiences who aren’t already deeply invested in the mythology but just want a pile-on of mutant action. Because that’s not what we have here. There isn’t a global conspiracy or anything potentially Earth-shattering at stake in Wolverine. This is a smaller kind of movie than summer tentpoles have tended to be of late. Oh, it’s big in terms of action — I love the freshness and the vitality of the setpieces — but at its heart, this is all about Logan, as a mutant and as a man.

It’s almost a bit of soap opera, in fact — science fiction soap opera, but still — that Logan is drawn into here, a multigenerational family drama revolving around dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), the richest industrialist in Japan. Logan knew him years earlier, when young Yashida (Ken Yamamura) was a soldier during World War II and Logan was — for reasons we never learn — a prisoner of war in Nagasaki on the day the Americans dropped the A-bomb. (Hmm. I have no idea how much of Logan’s personal story here jibes with the comics history. Could be those readers will have reason to howl after all…) Now, today, Yashida’s dying wish is to see Logan again, for reasons I won’t spoil, and he sends his granddaughter Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to fetch him. (Well, she’s not actually his granddaughter. It’s complicated. Like I said: soap opera.)

Logan (Hugh Jackman: Movie 43, Les Misérables) is reluctant to be drawn, however. Hell, he’s reluctant to have much human contact at all. He’s living like a hermit in the snowy mountains of (I presume) his native Canada. Not even in an actual cave — he’s just sort of clinging to a snowy ledge. (I’m not kidding. It’s way more sad than funny. As in not funny at all. His best friend is a bear. And then that gets sad too.) But he gives in, in that gloriously cranky way Hugh Jackman has of making Logan simultaneously a mountain of muscle tied up in misanthropy and kinda soft and mushy at the same time. Yukio sees it. But she’s a mutant, too, and sees more than we normals do — and she’s a woman, of course, and doesn’t need mutant powers to see right through Logan.

Then we’re in Japan. I think no movie has ever made me more want to go to Tokyo than this one. Director James Mangold (Knight and Day, 3:10 to Yuma) stages a footchase through the city streets that is thrilling, like if The Bourne Identity was about mutants. And then comes the battle atop the bullet train! I could almost see the motion lines that this bit would have had on the page, it’s got that same kind of whooshy energy, and not just because the train is moving at bullet speeds. (I think I will stay inside the bullet train when I go to Tokyo.) Later there is a secret society of medieval ninjas with poisoned arrows. It’s all extremely cool.

And all very soap opera, too, honestly. Even kinda fan-fiction-y. Logan is a roiling bundle of angst and emotional torment and aching vulnerability. It makes him even more attractive when he takes his shirt off all those times. He is haunted by the ghost of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Taken 2), who keeps begging him to just figure out how to die already and join her in the afterlife. And this is a genuine possibility here. Because Yashida had discovered a way that Logan could transfer his healing ability to someone else — say, Yashida, maybe — and give an old man new life, and finally Logan could become a real boy. No way, Logan says… but then after the bullet train and the footchase and the ninjas, he’s got wounds that aren’t healing. What the hell? Wolverine has found his kryptonite… but where? how?

I don’t want to make this sound gloomy. It’s good summer popcorn fun. Hugh Jackman continues to clearly enjoy the hell out of playing the character, even after, what, six outings now? In fact, a low-key turn for Logan is precisely what was called for. Well, he might not see it as low-key, but as bombastic action movies go, this is downright relaxing.

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RogerBW
RogerBW
Mon, Jul 22, 2013 2:32pm

Pity we can’t put Jackman and Downey together and leave out the actors who aren’t blatantly enjoying every moment of it. X-Men was always too angsty for me, but it sounds as though the filmmakers have managed to make that work for them.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Mon, Jul 22, 2013 5:53pm

put Jackman and Downey together

Sah-woooooooon!

Paul Wartenberg
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Jul 23, 2013 3:00am

team-up crossover with the 12th Doctor while we’re at it?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Paul Wartenberg
Wed, Jul 24, 2013 11:53am

Depends on who the new Doctor is, maybe.

Harold Hill
Harold Hill
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Jul 29, 2013 1:56am

MaryAnn, are you hinting you might be in the running?

MisterAntrobus
MisterAntrobus
reply to  RogerBW
Mon, Jul 22, 2013 7:45pm

I don’t know . . . it might be a good thing that X-Men and Avengers are managed by different companies. Jackman keeps getting bigger and more ripped every time he plays Wolvie. If they put him together with the Avengers, he might have to tone down his workout so as not to upstage the Hulk.

imran
imran
reply to  MisterAntrobus
Mon, Jul 29, 2013 11:45pm

well if wovlerine could be in an avengers movie he would still be smaller than the hulk. thor was pretty big and buff but still looked half the size of hulk. the wolverine should be in the “budapest” movie about hawkeye and black widow.

***spoiler alert***

the professor X part at the end of the movie was really cool. maybe magneto can manipulate some adamantium to give logan his metal claws back. the bone claws look disgusting.

Matt Clayton
Matt Clayton
Mon, Jul 22, 2013 3:36pm

I don’t know, MAJ, I was really burnt on the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine. First movie I saw at a midnight screening where disappointment warred with outright anger.

I know James Mangold is a good director, and it takes place after X-Men 3, but I still don’t know if I should see it. It’d have to get Star Trek ’09 word-of-mouth buzz in order to persuade me otherwise.

Paul Wartenberg
reply to  Matt Clayton
Tue, Jul 23, 2013 3:00am

Wolverine vs. ninjas is a good sell. It was part of a popular Frank Miller miniseries back in the 80s.

PJK
PJK
reply to  Matt Clayton
Sun, Jul 28, 2013 8:40am

This movie is so much better than the first Wolverine movie, it’s frightening. I wished Fox had had the balls to do this the first time round. This is like “X-Men: First Class” in that it takes this character serious and makes choices that impact the character.

Do yourself a favor and go see it. It’s really worth it.

bronxbee
Tue, Jul 23, 2013 6:57pm

shallow, and sexist as this may sound, the view of HJ’s back in the posters has my head spinning… and i will be seeing this, no matter what. (although i’ve said that about 5 movies this summer and haven’t gotten to *any* of them).

Jay Dee Bee
Jay Dee Bee
Sat, Jul 27, 2013 7:07pm

I’m not a huge comic book guy (maybe they’re apoplectic), but I hated what they did to wolverine in this movie. He was basically **spolier alert maybe I guess** an ineffectual punching bag who, I think, lost every single fight he had. Had a few moments that reminded me of Cat Woman too. I was disgusted enough not to wait during the credits so I missed what some are calling “the best part”. I forget what studio has the xmen rights, but please give them back to marvel…ugh.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
Tue, Jul 30, 2013 8:40am

I enjoyed this a lot. Hugh Jackman is great. Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine is great. Logan dealing with his new vulnerabilities, both physical and emotional, was very well done. The movie looked spectacular. The action sequences were very well choreographed.

I only wish that the story elements had locked together better. The romance elements didn’t ring true: a) I thought he went for the wrong girl; b) he seemed too invested in his emotional self flagellation to drop his guard like that. The reveal on the villain came way too late in the movie. I’m not sure what the point of the characters of the son, the fiance, or the ex-boyfriend was.

Still and all, though Jackman is starting to show a bit of age, anytime he wants to grow out the side burns, I’ll be there to pay my $10.

I would like to thank Famke Jannsen not just for reprising her role as Jean Grey, but also for playing her entire part in a negligee. A+. Evidently Jessica Biel was at one point attached to play Viper. It’s a good thing she dropped out, I don’t think my heart could have taken it. Don’t look at me like that. What, do you think the bath scene was anything besides a bit of fan service provided by Hugh Jackman?