While the X-Men comics have emphasized the team aspect of the superhero group, the X-Men movies more or less eschewed that in favor of making Wolverine the main character. Nerdlingers the world over have been upset by that, but, honestly, it makes the movies better. Wolverine is a top-tier superhero, the general public knows who he is, and he’s fucking cool. If you were going to focus your film on any of the X-Men, Wolverine would be the most logical choice.
It only makes sense that after three team-based movies, Wolverine would get a few solo efforts. The first one, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was a giant smelly turd. Everybody hated it. Hugh Jackman remained a complete badass in the role, but everything else was total shit. After the movie failed, it seemed like everyone involved decided to take a few years off from the whole X-Men franchise. Finally, 13 years after the first X-Men movie, Wolverine is back, and once again starring in a solo effort. So, how was it?
I’ve never been into comics. Most of my exposure to superheroes comes via movies or TV shows. I was a big fan of the X-Men animated series when that was airing. Therefore, I can’t comment on how closely the plot of The Wolverine compares to the source material. I’ve read a few other blogs, some of which state the movie follows it fairly closely (at least as closely as a movie can), and some of which claim it’s an unholy abomination that destroyed everything good and decent about the comic. Basically, I went in fresh, liking the character, knowing a few things from the classic cartoon, but that was about it.
For me, the story was good. Clearly, the filmmakers emphasized story over action. They focused a lot of time on Wolverine and his struggle with humanity. He’s a killer and he doesn’t like it, but he can’t seem to escape it no matter how hard he tries. The first two acts of the movie demonstrate this quite well. Out of all the X-Men movies, this one spends the most time on trying to more fully develop its characters. Wolverine remains a fascinating character, and the other characters are good, as well. His relationship with Mariko developed naturally, and although it was a tad cheesy, it mostly worked. Secondary characters like Yukio could have had more screen time, but were utilized fairly well. The bad guys were underdeveloped, but I’ll give them a pass. Bad guys only exist for Wolverine to carve up anyway, right?
The action sequences were surprisingly great. The action was there to service the story when needed, but it didn’t have that feeling of Wolverine going from Point A to Point B just to fight tons of bad guys. Most superhero stories fail in this aspect, because LOL WE NEED TO HAVE TONS OF EXPLOSIONS AND ACTION SCENES EVERY 10 MINUTES AND THE HERO HAS TO SAY SHITTY ONE-LINERS EVERY TIME HE KILLS A BAD GUY LOL! The Wolverine doesn’t fall into this trap. In fact, he only fights humans right up until the end, making the action more grounded in reality. Although the bullet train fight wasn’t exactly realistic, it was well directed, and pretty fucking tense. That was the film’s best action sequence.
Things teeter in the third act, and the film could have fallen apart, but thankfully didn’t. Wolverine fights a giant CGI samurai, which, fortunately, isn’t as bad as it sounds. The CGI was top-notch, and it didn’t look woefully unrealistic. I suppose it was sort of a necessary evil, since up until this point he was only fighting humans, and they needed something more spectacular at the end. And when the Silver Samurai drilled into Wolverine’s claws, I definitely cringed. A lot.
The biggest complaint I’ve read from comic fans is the film’s subplot of Wolverine losing his healing abilities. Apparently, this didn’t happen in the comic. For the regular viewer, this was one of the film’s best features. The problem with Wolverine is the same problem with Superman: he’s invincible. Not only that, he’s practically immortal. When you have a character that essentially can’t be killed, it’s hard to build up any cinematic tension. Fortunately, Wolverine’s attenuated powers help ramp up the tension in the action sequences. You realize he could die (of course he won’t), and that helps inject life into a movie that could have been boring as hell. Without that subplot, the movie would have been a lot worse.
As far as complaints go, I don’t have a lot. Yeah, the third act was a little cheesy, but not more so than any other superhero movie. The cinematography should have been a lot better. Considering they filmed the movie in Japan, they hardly spent any time on establishing shots to showcase the unique and beautiful setting. Also, Wolverine outrunning a nuke, and the CGI bear were both bad ideas. Fortunately, those were in the beginning of the movie, and once they were over, things got a lot better.
The Wolverine is not only a good superhero movie, it’s a good movie in general. It sets itself apart from the pack because it takes on a more serious, grounded tone, something that most superhero movies fail at. And it manages to do so without being GRRR DARK AND GRITTY GRRR like so many other films these days. Hugh Jackman is still amazing as the title character. It’s funny seeing how fucking huge he is in this movie, then to going back and see him in the first X-Men film. He was still pretty ripped back then, but he’s even bigger now. It’s kind of incredible. That aside, he turns in a great performance, bringing all the necessary humanity to the character.
Without a doubt this is one of the best X-Men movies. I hope the filmmakers can find another worthy Wolverine story, and round out a solo trilogy for the character. In our world that is filled with so many shitty superhero movies, it’s really nice to watch a good one for a change.