The Wolverine Review – Comic Book Movies can be More than Non-Stop Action

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“Eternity can be a curse. The losses you have had to suffer… a man can run out of things to care for, lose his purpose.” So begins Logan’s journey to rediscover a reason to live and a summer blockbuster film that aspires to be more than its pedigree. Does The Wolverine accomplish its goal to be both an exciting comic book film and a  personal character journey? For the most part, yes. Despite some small shortcomings, The Wolverine rises above the pack of mediocre genre films and accomplishes something unique; Director James Mangold has created a comic book film that is simultaneously action packed and deeply intimate. This X-Men spinoff is certainly worth seeing, which is something that could not be said about the adamantium man’s first solo endeavor.

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In many ways, this film is more than a comic-book film, but it manages to do so by embracing its comic-book roots. That’s right, Wolverine’s got roots son.

The Wolverine is unique in the fact that it is pretty much a strait-forward adaptation of the limited run Wolverine penned by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Despite Bryan Singer and other film directors’ reluctance to willingly adapt a single comic storyline, Mangold has proved that comics can certainly be adapted successfully, even if doing so sacrifices the groundedness that typifies the recent cadre of recent genre films. The Wolverine, spoiler-alert, focuses on Logan (does he have a last name?) and picks off after the events of the middling film X-Men: The Last Stand. The very fact that The Wolverine in many ways redeems the previous film’s horrendous storyline is proof enough that Mangold and writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank know what they are doing. Logan is once again drifting from place to place, befriending the wildlife and getting into a barfight here and there for kicks. During one such encounter, he comes across another mutant, the japanese ninja who can foresee a person’s death, Yukio, who offers him the opportunity to fly to Japan to send off an old war-buddy, Yashida, the multi-billion dollar leader of the technological powerhouse Yashida Corporation. Yashida offers the Logan, who is literallyl haunted by the death of (spoilers of The Last Stand) Jean Gray, the opportunity to sacrifice his immortality so that he can put those ghosts to rest (or maybe even join them in the afterlife). What follows is a Wolverine story unlike any others as Logan is both physically and emotionally vulnerable, which makes for satisfying and engrossing filmmaking that is also tinged with that dry wit that the X-Men films are known for. Logan soon finds himself as the bodyguard for Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, as they run from those who want both Logan’s healing powers and Yashida’s powerful technological empire. It is an exciting ride that fluctuates nicely between personal story driven moments and pulse-pounding action. In summary, it checks all the boxes of a summer blockbuster but with the maturity to acknowledge that it is characters that makes these stories worth watching.

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Yup, those are ninjas. If you are thinking “awesome” than this is the movie for you. If you are thinking “cheese” than you might want to sit this one out, or go check out your pantry.

That said, once Logan accepts and steps off the plane in Japan, the rest of the film sticks to this unique locale. Yup, The Wolverine almost exclusively takes place in modern day Japan, which comic book lovers like myself will totally dig, and those who might not be comfortable with some subtitles and ninja warriors might shy away from. Mangold totally embraces the idea of Logan/Wolverine as a Ronin, a warrior without a master or purpose, which is one of the film’s strengths and possibly its weakness depending on who is watching it. For me, I was totally engrossed with the whole “fish out of water” aspect of the film, and loved watching Logan fall for the Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, and engage in bloody fights with members of the japanese mob on top of a 300 mile-an-hour bullet train. But for my wife, and I can imagine many that are not as comfortable within the geek sub-culture, this setting might be a bit of a turn-off. What makes Singer’s films, and even the more recent X-Men: First Class, is the accessibility of it all. These filmmakers take the comic-book out of the comic-book movie and instead drop these engrossing characters in a very real world, or at least as real as teleporting blue ninja monsters like Nightcrawler can tolerate. Not so with the The Wolverine; because Mangold and his team openly adapted a comic series, they chose to embrace every aspect of it, including its foreign setting, and went even further in some cases with the final encounter with the Silver Samurai (I am not spoiling anything here that wasn’t in the trailer). Still, if you can buy into this very comic-booky (definitely a word) world, what you will get in return is a highly engaging and exciting film that delivers on as both an action film and an emotionally driven character story that asks some great questions of its protagonist: questions such as, “what does it mean to be immortal,” “do warriors search for a honorable death or simply something to fight for?” The fact that Hugh Jackman has created a character believable enough to sustain such probing questions is testament enough to the power of this film. While the ending of the film (certainly the weakest part of the film, but still eons better than Wolverine Origins) may not stand up to these philosophical ponderings, it is still a satisfying conclusion to a very well-rounded foreign excursion, made all the better by an after-credits scene that is so incredible it had me clapping in the theater afterwards. Seriously, that scene got me so pumped for the forthcoming Days of Future Past, I can’t stand it. So if you like comics or appreciate a summer blockbuster with as much heart and it has explosions, than The Wolverine is more than worth your time, despite a mediocre conclusion. You just may want to go with a group of your buddies and maybe not your significant other or your parent (unless he or she loves comics, in which case, more power to you).

I am giving The Wolverine a B+.

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So what do you think? Are you going to see The Wolverine, or are you too turned off by the setting or the terrible Wolverine Origins? If you saw it, what was your favorite part, and what, for the love of all thats good, did you think of the after-credits scene?! Let me know in the comments below.