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The Wolverine - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Wolverine
Directing: B+
Acting: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B+

You may be wondering what possible need there was for yet another movie in the X-Men universe -- particularly one including Wolverine, of which this movie makes the fifth. I certainly was. It's why it took me over a month to go see it. Even then I only went because I wanted to see a movie and, having seen everything else playing that appeared worth seeing, this was the best option available.

There's something to be said for having extremely low expectations. That's what was set by X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), easily the biggest clunker in the entire X-Men universe. We're all better off just pretending that one didn’t exist, even though X-Men: The Last Stand was not markedly better. Given that the reboot X-Men: First Class (2011) was no better than that last Wolverine movie, that makes this one the best in the fanchise since X2 (2003). Maybe that's not saying much. It says enough that, surprisingly, The Wolverine is worth seeing.

Everything both X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: First Class did wrong, The Wolverine does right. First Class is far too overcrowded with characters; The Wolverine wisely focuses on a select few, allowing the story to breathe. Unlike virtually every other superhero movie of the past several years -- including those in this franchise -- The Wolverine builds up to its action sequences and uses them sparingly, instead of bombarding us with them for virtually the entire run time of the film.

In other words, The Wolverine instead opts for straightforward, classic storytelling. What a concept! We get time to care about the characters. Granted, this film starts with an impressively rendered depiction of the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki -- that's one way to start with a bang, and it does so effectively. This is where Logan, otherwise known as the Wolverine, meets the pivotal character in this movie: a Japanese soldier named Yashida who had been holding Logan captive in a well but frees him when the bomb is being dropped. Logan instead convinces Yashida to come down into the well with him, where he can be protected.

Nearly the entire film takes place in Japan, which sounds a little like pandering to international audiences -- and maybe it is -- but it actually works. The only time Logan is in the U.S. is in the beginning, after that opening flashback scene, where we find Logan a grizzly mountain recluse, hiding from his demons and his past. He is only pulled away from hiding when he is located by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), the protégé of the man whose life Logan saved. She convinces Logan to come back to Japan with her, to help her grant Yashida's dying wish. We only meet two other "mutants" besides Logan in this movie, and Yukio is one of them: she has visions of the moment when people die.

Here we get into local Japanese corporate intrigue, organized crime, culture clashes, and the like. It's all very heightened intrigue that serves the story well, at least until we meet who appears to be the story's villain: the other mutant employee of Yashida's, "Viper" (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who has a forked tongue, can spit poison on people, and is apparently immune to all known poisons. This is where the movie veers back into cornball territory, taking it dangerously close to being as dumb as the movies that preceded it. Almost without fail, her dialogue is hokey. At least her scenes are comparatively few.

Broadly speaking, The Wolverine is still very much a Hollywood movie, with all the regular trappings of formula: the love interest (Mariko, played by the beautiful Tao Okamoto, is Yashinda's granddaughter) who predictably winds up in bed with Logan; the parade of villainous henchmen; yes, even the action sequences. But! This one has some unusually memorable action sequences. There's a gripping and very cool fight Logan engages in on the roof of a speeding bullet train that proved particularly enjoyable.

And then, of course, there's still the "climactic" showdown between our flawed hero and someone matched to him in strength. At the very least, through much of this movie, Logan is weakened -- taking away my chief complaint about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in which there was no reason to care about Logan because he was invincible and couldn't be killed. Not so in this movie! For a fairly long period of time, his ability to heal is taken away from him. Okay, so yeah, we all still know he's not going to die. But giving him at least some measure of vulnerability makes all the difference in the world. This time, there's actually something we care about at stake.

The Wolverine has its flaws and its clichés, but it spends far more time on effective buildup than most movies like it these days; it takes the action to an exotic (to Americans, at least) part of the world; and as an added bonus, has some quite lovely cinematography, mostly during scenes that are not action sequences. This is a movie that showcases the setting and the characters rather than the action, and uses action to serve the story. Why didn't the studio enlist director James Mangold for this franchise three movies ago?

Hugh Jackman redeems THE WOLVERINE.

Overall: B+
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