A superhero movie that isn’t setting up a franchise or deeply invested in continuing it is rare nowadays. The Wolverine, a mostly stand-alone film with a slow enough pace to feel like a solid film, is a nice throwback to those quaint days of yore, when times weren’t so tough that movie studios felt pressured into creating a billion-dollar industry out of every film they created.
The Wolverine takes it’s title character, the most popular X-Man, and puts him in Tokyo, Japan for a story-line that starts in Nagasaki, 1945, when the immortal Logan saves a Japanese soldier from the atomic bomb. The man offers to repay Logan in the present by taking away his immortality. Then the elderly soldier’s son, hired archer, granddaughter, the granddaughter’s adopted sister, and the granddaughter’s fiance all turn out to have a part to play, and all fight Wolverine at some point. The plot is naturally over-complicated, but it’s still fun, with good action scenes and locations. The stakes are solid: since it’s a story with almost entirely new characters, any of them can die. Most of them do.
One of the main villains, the Viper, is a woman with snake-like mutant abilities such as breathing poison and shedding her skin. Her motivations weren’t very clear: she’s working for the grandfather, but there isn’t much of an explanation for why and how he found her specifically. Wolverine’s loss of immortality is also a little suspect, as he still retains the ability to shrug off multiple bullet and stab wounds. Sure, it’s because his power was only ‘suppressed’ and it’s plausible that the Viper’s knowledge of biology was needed to help the grandfather’s ailing health, but those are explanations designed to prop up the real reason, which is that both plot decisions lend to better action scenes.
The tone of the film is dark, but humorously so, with Hugh Jackman giving his character the same sardonic, tough-guy attitude that is just like the comic book version of Wolverine. His character is still a lot of fun to watch, and the supporting characters, which include Rila Fukushima as Yukio, the female ninja who insists on acting as Wolverine’s bodyguard.
The film’s credits scene is the most ridiculous, sequel-hooky one I’ve ever seen: Professor X and Magneto both make an appearance, despite barely being referenced in the entire film. I saw The Wolverine with a friend who had never seen any of the other five X-Man films before this one, and he was utterly confused to see Gandalf and Jean-Luc Picard show up. For those in the know, however, it just sets up the next film. It’s very out of place in this film, but since it doesn’t show up til the end, it doesn’t ruin anything.
The Wolverine is a fun movie, if you want a superhero film that is a little different from the rest of them. The director brings his own ideas to the film, much like Shane Black did with Iron Man 3. Hopefully, Marvel’s films and Fox’s X-Men films will continue to allow their directors to go in different directions with superheroes in the future, too. We need the variety.