Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Wolverine

I'm a pretty big fan of the X-Men film series thus far (see my review of X-Men: First Class), and even though the last Wolverine film was a bit of a let-down I still had relatively high hopes for The Wolverine. With the promise of Wolverine's well-known Japanese exploits to be heavily featured as well as a  highly skilled craftsman in the director's chair, I had a feeling this might be the surprise superhero hit of the summer. Surprisingly, this summer has been full of pretty decent entertainment (I didn't expect to give so many positive reviews at this point in the year) and I was a little worried that a steep decline in quality was on the horizon. Part of me wondered if my initial reaction to the positive vibes of the trailer was wishful thinking, giving the unflattering perception of Wolverine's origin film. However, it finally seems like they knew what to do with Wolverine in this film and pulled off a much-needed course-correction for the future of the X-Men franchise.

The Wolverine begins with a dream sequence in which Logan saves the life of a young Japanese soldier as the atomic bomb detonates over Nagasaki. Waking up in the present day, Wolverine is tortured by the death of his love, Jean Grey, a death that came at his own hands in the third X-Men film. He has since banished himself to the Canadian rockies, living as a hobo and trying to stay out of trouble. Just before he engages a few locals in a bar fight, however, a Japanese girl named Yukio intervenes and takes Logan to her homeland as a favor for her employer. The man Logan saved in Nagasaki has become the CEO of the most powerful technological corporation in Japan and wishes to thank Logan in person for saving his life all those years ago. Once Logan arrives however, he realizes that the man is offering more than he bargained for - a chance to become mortal.

Unlike the previous Wolverine solo film, this story offers the audience brand new concepts and dramatic stakes that have never been hinted at before. Logan's journey to Japan might seem a little uncharacteristic at first glance, however the culture clash adds a whole new dynamic to the typical Wolverine storyline. Once the film gets to Japan, I have to admit a personal bias - I love Japan. Having served a two-year mission there for the LDS church, I was absolutely loving the authenticity of the locales as well as the surprising lack of subtitles. Normally when taking a mainstream character into another country, the filmmakers can't help but rely heavily on captions for all the foreign dialogue. I found it impressive that director James Mangold was willing to take a chance by stranding the audience in a foreign culture to experience the same thing that Logan does throughout the film.

One of the great things about the Wolverine character is his gruff demeanor. Hugh Jackman does a tremendous job of channeling his best moments from prior X-Men films into an emotional performance that allows for us to empathise with the immortal mutant (which is no small feat). Also, his odd pairing with Yukio provides a great juxtaposition that creates moments of humor and emotional vulnerability for the surly Logan. Mangold does a great job of balancing the drama, the action and the humor in what could otherwise be a strangely uneven film.

While I found the first 3/4 of this film to be on par with the best of the X-Men series, the final act was a bit of a let-down. This seems like a recurring issue with summer action films, so I'm not going to get too hung up on it. I just wish the climactic battles at the end of these kinds of films were as clever and gripping as the epic fight atop the shinkansen in the second act. Some of the storylines don't really resolve in a satisfying way, but all of that can be forgiven once the after-credits scene begins (please don't leave the theater early!).

Overall this is one of the better films in the X-Men series (only X-Men: First Class and X2 are better in my opinion), and anyone who is a fan of the Wolverine character is surely in for a treat. It may seem like I'm giving a lot of positive reviews this year, but at the risk of losing credibility I have to say that I'm predisposed to enjoy movies when I sit down to watch them. What can I say, I'm a fan of movies. Normally I don't spend money to watch films I don't think look good (hence the reason why no review of R.I.P.D. exists on this blog... yet...). Having said that, I don't take my star-ratings too lightly either. For example, I saw this film at a pre-screening on Tuesday and needed a few days to decide how much I really enjoyed it. While it may seem like the default rating for my 2013 reviews, I give this film a slightly generous three and a half stars.

THE WOLVERINE is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language