Outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe the X-Men universe maintained by 20th Century Fox is tied for longest, and is probably the next best in terms of continuity, but over all the films have been incredibly hit or miss. We’ve had two truly great movies in X-Men: First Class and X2: X-Men United, a good movie in X-Men and two pretty terrible films in X-Men 3: the Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
So how does the latest entry stack up? Pretty good actually. Or mostly, anyway.
The Wolverine starts out with Logan in hiding in Alaska after the events of X-Men 3, living on a mountain side drinking heavily and being tortured by memories/visions/nightmares of Jean Grey who died by his hand at the end of that movie.
He’s now taken a vow to do no more harm however events draw him off the mountain and into the town where he is found by Yukio and informed that her boss is a man Logan once saved during World War 2 who would like to repay the debt. Logan then gets on a plane and heads to japan where the man reveals he can take away Logan’s healing factor and let him live a mortal life free from the torment his immortality has caused him.
The next morning after refusing the offer he wakes up and his healing factor doesn’t work. Well, it doesn’t work as well as it usually does anyway.
That’s sort of the issue with the first two acts of the film really. Invincible men fighting isn’t really that interesting so Wolverine sans healing is an interesting premise however with his powers only dulled he doesn’t really have to adapt his fighting style from his standard “run straight in and claw them in the face” technique. Still, seeing him slow down and actually take damage is pretty interesting and Hugh Jackman is a good enough actor to sell the premise of “holy shit this is what being legitimately injured feels like?” during the fight sequences that ensue and while there’s not really any tension because, let’s face it, the title character isn’t going to die it does manage to make the fights more engaging than they have been in X-Men 3 or Origins.
And it really is pretty cool to see Wolverine fight ninjas. Lots and lots of ninjas. And Yakuza. There’s a fight scene on top of a bullet train in particular that is both fun and engaging despite not being particularly inventive.
That’s the best way to describe the first two thirds of The Wolverine: it’s fun and engaging but it’s not particularly inventive. There’s pretty much nothing that you won’t see coming but it’s all executed well enough that you don’t really care.
The problem comes in the third act where it stops toeing the line of ridiculousness and jumps in head first with Wolverine fighting a massive adamantium Silver Samurai rather than a city full of ninjas and yakuza. There’s some great imagery there, the sequence with ninjas shooting him with rope arrows you’ve seen a glimpse of in the trailers is pretty cool but from that point on you can practically recite the dialogue along with the characters because it’s just that predictable. There’s even a moment that makes a call back to an earlier line in the film which is plot-important however instead of being dramatic most of the people in my section just laughed at how cheesy and stupid it is.
Which is a shame really because the film is well cast. Hugh Jackman is a great actor and it’s nice to see him get more to chew on in what is arguably his defining role. Tao Okamoto is a perfectly fine as Mariko, the woman who gives Logan reason to live again and Rila Fukushima is also good as the quirky sidekick who can foresee people’s deaths. Will Yun Lee is in this as ninja #1 and that’s fine and Hiroyuki Sanada as the requisite secret Yakuza linked family member is pretty great once he starts going a little crazy.
Svetlana Khodchenkova plays Viper, a mutant with the ability to create poisons and such, and she’s more than a little over the top. She has a few good moments but it’s hard to take her seriously in most scenes. Luckily I’m not sure you’re supposed to, really. X Famke Janssen reprises her role as Jean Grey, albeit as a nightmare/hallucination and she’s good at being both sympathetic and tormenting Logan.
All in all The Wolverine is a pretty good movie it’s just hampered by it’s last act being a little too far into ridiculous predictable cliche territory. It’s easily one of the better X-Men movies to date as well so it’s definitely worth a look.
Oh, also, of course you need to watch the credits.
Oh, also also, in case you were wondering, from best to worst: First Class, X2, The Wolverine, X-Men, X-Men 3, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I actually hold Wolverine and X-Men 1 in pretty equal esteem though as well as Origins and X3 in pretty equal disdain.