The superhero blockbuster has become something of a spectacle. They have the ability to take on a giant scale with larger than life personas and condense it into a two to two and a half hour affair that rakes in money and sets up for more return with sequel after sequel after sequel.
While the latest and greatest model for massive output has become Marvel’s The Avengers, it is sometimes easy to forget that probably one of the earlier models of team-ups that turn into sequels was the X-Men series. Starting in 2000 and ending with Last Stand in 2006, the short lived series brought to live some of comic book’s most notable and recognizable characters. Among those was Wolverine who was played perfectly by Hugh Jackman. Wolverine was to put it delicately, bad-ass, and was debatably the favorite among the casual fan. This warned a standalone “sequel” which turned out too be a massive dud and completely flattened out the character in the process.
Money rules though and Fox gave Wolverine another shot with director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma) at the helm. With a lot of hesitancy going in because of the last movie, I came out completely in awe of just how fun that movie was. And it wasn’t based solely on action.
The Wolverine follows Logan, aka Wolverine, as he is a recluse following the events of Last Stand. He is found by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) in a small hunting town causing trouble with the locals and is asked by her to come and visit a dying friend of his in Tokyo. Wolverine has previously saved the man’s life during World War II and the man wanted to say good bye to him. Wolverine agrees and this sets up the very simple story premise.
While simple, it almost makes the story better in that it is not overly intertwined and covering lots of ground in a short time. It knows exactly what it is and lets you worry more about Wolverine rather than what is happening behind the curtain. I found this refreshing because too many times have superhero or just action movies tried to blow you away with this crazy story and left you either confused or unsatisfied. This story is basic and the plot is not what is important here, it is who is leading that is.
Wolverine has always been an interesting character and getting more into what makes him who he is is something that has always been the object of an X-Men movie. X-Men Origins forgot completely of this goal and was just dreadful. Luckily, in the latest fare, the focus is what makes Wolverine who he is and we are entertained by this. What drives the story is this element of being an animal. Is Wolverine an animal trying to be a person or is he a person trying to be an animal? This comes up many times and watching how he reacts to each opportunity is fantastic.
The movie opens with him saving Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) during World War II and Wolverine is found as a P.O.W. in a hatch. The camera angle on the shot is a perfect representation of this theme. We look down at Wolverine as an animal, stamping in the mud with claws out and he turns more human as he chooses to save the man.
The action is shot well and Mangold did a great job giving us fantastic fighting sequences. I like how he truly respects the Japanese cinema in the process and the fight scenes feel like something from a classic samurai flick. But one scene stands out, on a train, that will have you on the edge of your seat. It is so well shot and exactly what makes the blockbuster so much fun if done right.
That being said, I felt that the last battle was weaker than the rest and was something more like the previous Wolverine movie rather than this more refined one. It does not detract from the movie but could of been more focused and choreographed better.
The characters are all great and the actors do a great job playing them. They are interesting and we get enough information on them to be satisfied without beating our heads with their exposition. The weakest character was probable the villain mutant/scientist Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who felt a little under written and overdone compared to the others.
Other than those few issues, The Wolverine was an utter joy to watch and one of the best blockbusters of the year. It had a solid story and great action and the performance by Jackman as Wolverine was superb as usual. This movie is a testament that not every action movie has to be intricate, it is the small things that can make giant waves.