Written by Mark Bomback, Scott Frank and Christopher McQuarrie
Directed by James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima and more
This was almost the Wolverine movie we were waiting for.
“The Wolverine,” which drops our favorite clawed hero into a ninja movie, is a breath of fresh air in the now-packed superhero genre. Though it offers solid pleasures for comic book fans, it falls short of greatness thanks to a weak ending and confusing, unnecessary dream sequences.
Unlike 2009’s “Wolverine: Origins,” “The Wolverine” is a direct sequel to the trilogy of X-men movies that ended in 2006. In the new movie, however, he’s on his own as he gets dragged back to Japan thanks to the dying wish of a man whose life he once saved. When the man dies, the Yakuza get involved and the man’s granddaughter suddenly needs saving. Even though his healing powers have disappeared, Wolverine steps in to help.
It’s refreshing to see such a familiar character in a new environment, and the movie thankfully drops some of the costumed clichés that have become stale over the last few years. The change also allows for some truly excellent fight scenes, including several with samurai swords and an all-out brawl at a funeral. One of the cleverest is done on top of a moving bullet train, turning what is essentially a game of chicken into a life-or-death struggle.
Seeing Wolverine without his healing powers is also interesting, offering hints at the character’s psychology that aren’t usually explored in these kind of movies. It suggests his character’s death wish far more effectively than the Jean Grey hallucination sequences, which are confusing, ludicrously indulgent and unneeded. If you’ve repressed most of 2006’s “X-men: The Last Stand,” as I did, you’ll be completely lost.
Thankfully, there are other pleasures. Comic fans who remember the character’s Japan arc in the books will find several familiar names, though the characters themselves have changed somewhat. Rila Fukushima is great as Yukio, the kind of spunky, smart-mouthed sidekick Wolverine has been missing the last few movies. Mariko, played by Tao Okamoto, adds layers to what might have been a completely stock character, giving her enough secrecy and depth to give some believability to her romance with Wolverine.
Harada, a mysterious archer, is the only disappointment. Comic book fans will recognize the name as the Silver Samurai, but the movie makes them two distinct characters and robs them both of complexity and coolness.
The ending suffers from the same problem, defaulting to the status quo so that it doesn’t interfere with any of the sequels that are to follow. This is confirmed by the movie’s post-credits scene, an intriguing teaser for “X-men: Days of Future Past.” While the scene was enough to get me excited for the upcoming film, it cheated the movie that came before it.