The Wolverine – 2013
Director James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee
Screenplay Christopher McQuarrie (uncredited), Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
James Mangold’s take on The Wolverine is an example of how good any film can be if one focuses on the importance of building a good story around a great character. That character, as portrayed by Hugh Jackman, has survived 6 films and continues to grow, even if the plots for his films have not always succeeded in creating other worthwhile characters.
This story starts with Logan as a prisoner in Japan just before the end of fighting in The Pacific theater. He saves a Japanese soldier named Yashida from certain death and that soldier is eternally grateful. Forward to present day, Logan is living a true nomadic existence in the Yukon. His will is broken and he promised the ghost of Jean Grey that he will never use his prodigious powers again. Of course this promise lasts only as long as one wants the crowd who paid for the movie to wait for theatrics. In this case the beautiful Yukio (Fukushima), the adopted granddaughter of that soldier finds him just before he takes apart some unscrupulous hunters (like is there any kind in movies). Before one can say “I wonder if he will go to Japan?” Logan is in the air with Yukio and, just as quickly, back on the ground in The Land of the Rising Son.
Once there, he is introduced to the Yashida, now an old man (Yamanouchi) near death. Yashida gives Wolverine an offer, trading his immortality to the old man, so he can fade peacefully into old age and someday join Jean Grey. Logan refuses, and, after he saves Yashida’s other equally beautiful granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto) from a certain death, he has an extremely odd dream. This dream is followed by a discovery that Yashida has been pronounced dead. Yukio tells Logan she did not foresee this death, which is counter to her mutant ability.
From here, we move to the funeral, an attempted kidnapping of Mariko and to the development of multiple plots. All the while, we see Logan’s mind and heart open up like we’ve never experienced in the earlier films. This is genuine development of character, spurred on by the accompaniment of genuine characters (Yukio and Mariko) who have personalities, motivations and true character. They are possibly the two most completely drawn peripheral characters in the entire X-Men Series. Their characters help push Jackman’s performance further than ever before.
The story for The Wolverine is thorough. It’s better than anything else the series has seen. There are threads that run through simultaneously and independent of one another. They still create a flow that feels organic.
Fukushima and Okamoto are fantastic. They have a presence that does not need them to fill the screen with words. The economy of dialogue allows for what they do say to have more weight. This weight is something that Jackman handles with aplomb.
If there is a weakness in the film, it’s with the male characters outside of Logan. Just about every one of them is either spineless, foolish or has whimsical motives subject to change for little to no reason. Yashida’s Dr. Green, the intentionally mysterious until they clobber you over the head about how mysterious she is. Viper (her mutant name), could be better. Her character is as goofy as she is dangerous. We even get 3 obligatory scenes where she explains who she is and what drives her.
There are several high points to the action in The Wolverine. The flight from the Yakuza through the streets with the bow and arrow sniper and then on the train, back at the Yashida compound and then the final showdown all work within the story, and not seeming to be some sort of tacked on scene. It’s a solid film, not just a solid X-Men film.