“What kind of monster are you?” asks a shocked Shingen to Logan. Logan replies, “The Wolverine!”
Hugh Jackman made his first appearance as Marvel’s most famous mutant Logan/Wolverine in 2000’s X-Men, a film that had surprisingly turned out to be good (I remember everyone in my high school saying that they were going to see it despite not expecting it to be any good; just the idea of an X-Men movie was enough to get everyone in theater seats, including me). I’ve seen every X-Men film on the big screen (2011’s X-Men: First Class being the only one I was able to see twice). Five films and 13 years after the first one, Jackman is still portraying the character, and this time he’s brought us the long-awaited adaptation of the Wolverine 1982 limited series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. James Mangold was brought in to direct after a few delays (including the departure of Darren Aronofsky from the director’s chair as well as the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011).
Set some time after the events of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, 2013’s The Wolverine finds the quick-healing mutant continually haunted by the death of Jean Grey, whom he was forced to kill in order to save the world, while living as a hermit in the Yukon. One day, he’s approached by Yukio, a mutant with precognitive abilities who works for Yashida, a man who Logan once saved during the dropping of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki in 1945. Yukio tells Logan that Yashida wants to repay his life debt to him before he dies of cancer, and Logan reluctantly agrees to travel to Japan. Logan meets with Yashida, who offers to make Logan mortal by having Logan’s powers transferred to him, thus saving Yashida’s life and allowing Logan to live a mortal life. Logan refuses, and Yashida dies the next day. Yashida’s physician, Dr. Green (the mutant Viper) introduces something into Logan, which he dismisses as a dream. During the funeral services, Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (who was made CEO of Yashida’s business according to his will) becomes endangered as Yakuza gangsters try to kidnap her, but Logan protects her as they make their escape. Along the way, Logan realizes that his healing powers are gone and he tries, along with Yukio’s help, to uncover the truth behind the attempted kidnappings and his new-found mortality as well as confront his inner demons.
I was really taken into the story of this film; perhaps it was the Japanese setting. I like classic Japanese films; I enjoy seeing the culture that’s being depicted (especially anything samurai-related), the costume design, and the production design. The best ones set a specific tone that’s deliberately slow (compared to American films), no matter what the genre. Thankfully, all of that has been brought to James Mangold’s terrific film. Jackman is excellent once again and is in the best shape of his career for this film. The stakes aren’t as big as in the other X-Men films, but that didn’t bother me since they are much more personal for Logan this time around, and are heightened by his mortality. The film isn’t rushed; it takes its time to tell its story, and it tells it well (thanks to a screenplay by Mark Bomback, Scott Frank, and an uncredited Christopher McQuarrie, as well as film editor Michael McCusker). The film is more thoughtful and introspective. Although many have complained about the use of the Silver Samurai, I felt the character was used effectively (it serves the story rather than just being a random cameo) and provides a nice little twist in the finale. The action scenes are excellent; there’s such a ferocity in the samurai-styled fighting that occurs. The exciting bullet train sequence is also one of the year’s best action scenes.
The international cast is excellent (Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, and Famke Janssen). Francois Audouy’s production design was incredible, creating Japanese villages, a funeral service, traditional Japanese houses, the love hotel, as well as that impressive fortress. The special effects work well while not being flashy (the Silver Samurai being the impressively big highlight). Also, Wolverine’s adamantium claws look the best they’ve ever looked. Ross Emery’s terrific cinematography evokes a noirish yet contemporary feel. Isis Mussenden’s excellent costume design reflects traditional Japanese garb (including that of the samurai) while creating new outfits for Viper, Yukio, and Wolverine. Marco Beltrami, an Oscar nominee for 2007’s 3:10 To Yuma, re-teams with director Mangold, writing an exciting dramatic score using Japanese instrumentation. This really was the Wolverine movie fans have been waiting for, and the mid-credits scene even gives us a glimpse as to what’s being set up for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.