When compared to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, James Mangold’s The Wolverine (2013) is a bona fide masterpiece. On its own merits, though, it may be little more than an average-to-slightly above average superhero flick, but even still, it’s one of the three best pictures in Fox’s X-Men franchise alongside X-Men 2 and X-Men: First Class. Now, I’ll grant you that First Class is definitely not without its fair share of problems, but neither is The Wolverine, for that matter. Still, if you’re looking for some visually stunning superhero action, you needn’t look any further than The Wolverine.
Hugh Jackman delivers his typically stellar performance as the titular, Marvel comics hero, and here methinks showing more emotion than he ever had previously in the role. Honestly, I can’t even imagine anyone else playing Wolverine any more. Sure, I still think he’s way too tall to play Wolverine—same as I did when it was announced that he’d play the part—but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t nearly define the character in my mind. He’s just so damn troubled and charming!
Another of The Wolverine’s strengths is in its terrific action set pieces, the most impressive of which is a fight between Wolverine and some Yakuza thugs atop a bullet train going 300 miles per hour. What’s more, the CG effects this time around actually reinforce our immersion in the narrative, rather than amplify the artificiality of the piece as the piss-poor effects in Origins did. Early on in the film, in fact, there is a CG bear wandering around that looks surprisingly real for a CG creature by any film’s standards, not just a Wolverine film!
Where The Wolverine stumbles, however, is in its execution of what should, by all rights, be a relatively straightforward narrative. The story finds Wolverine traveling to Japan (sometime after the events of the third X-Men film, I believe), where an old acquaintance offers to relieve Wolverine of his immortality by stripping him of his healing factor. Wolverine declines, but ultimately loses his healing factor anyway, which makes saving his inevitable love interest, Mariko, all the more difficult. The problem is, the reasons for the attempts on Mariko’s life are so convoluted that the first 35 minutes of the movie is almost nothing but exposition. One character simply leads Wolverine around Japan and explains to him at length who each person they encounter is as well as their role in the narrative. If you miss any of it or are not sure who exactly she was referring to, you will most certainly be lost quickly.
This coupled with the lengthy bullet train sequence leaves precious little time to develop Mariko beyond the initial introduction Wolverine is given to her. So when, after 55 minutes of being a virtual non-character, Mariko starts smiling and opening up to Wolverine about her childhood, the mechanics of the film’s screenplay become painfully transparent. Granted, this will likely not bother most viewers as it did me, but even I was able to look past the film’s shortcomings and have a hell of a good time. And that, frankly, is often all I ask of a superhero movie.
The 3D Blu-ray of The Wolverine from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment features an unrated, extended cut of the film in addition to the theatrical cut, making it the ideal version for gifting this holiday season. Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to check out the Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet combo pack, which does not include that cut, so I can’t speak to the quality of the additional material in the extended cut. Special features on that combo pack, however, include a second screen app, an alternate ending, a set tour of the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, and a five-part making-of featurette.