Of all of the tactics used by companies to promote a product, my favorite in a simultaneously ironic and serious sense is the “We Fixed It!” strategy. Whether it’s Domino’s basically admitting that its old recipe was garbage or Apple releasing a second generation of a device that actually works, it takes a lot of balls from a company to own up to the failure of one of their own products, even if that failure is incredibly obvious. It seems that 20th Century Fox possesses such balls, as the most recent advertisements for the film have surrounded a critic’s quote that “This is the Wolverine Movie Fans Have Been Waiting For”. The assumption this makes, of course, is that the previous Wolverine prequel Fox produced was not the Wolverine movie fans had been waiting for, and while it’s hard to argue with that claim it’s still nonetheless surprising that any major player in Hollywood is willing to admit their own mistakes. Luckily, it just so happens that the newest appearance of the Box Office’s favorite X-Man is almost unanimously living up to the studio’s promise. It may not be quite as effective on an emotional level as it’s trying to be, but an abundance of well-choreographed action and an enticing vision of what lies ahead for the franchise make The Wolverine a fine remedy for the wrongs of its predecessor.
The Plot: 5/10
Summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, Wolverine becomes embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.
Among the ranks of other “Superheroes”, Wolverine has always stood apart from the likes of Spider-Man or Iron Man in that he has a very low level of moral obligation to his fellow man. Sure, he’ll do his best to save his friends or other assorted innocents when the situation presents itself, but given the chance he would always rather seek out isolation rather than trying to root out evil and stomp it out around the world. While this detached side of his personality may have made him an incredibly effective and entertaining foil to the rest of the X-Men in the previous three films, it doesn’t work quite as well when he’s working on his own. For one thing, it causes the scale of the film to be drastically reduced from the levels we’ve seen in movies like The Avengers or The Amazing Spider-Man, with the plot centering not on the hero trying to save millions of innocents but on trying to save himself and about two or three other people he’s taken a shine to.
Aside from the scale issues, The Wolverine also suffers from a devastatingly dull second act. With the film’s run time coming in just over two hours, it’s all the more difficult to ignore how flat the romantic subplot that dominates this section of the film seems. Ignoring that subplot, though, the story still feels fairly limp. The number of enemy factions with conflicting motivations struck me as confusing rather than intriguing, and when everything is straightened out by a large twist near the end it’s hard to understand what all of the fuss was about.
The Writing: 7/10
From a writing standpoint, there are a lot of things the movie does well. In particular, Logan himself feels far more like the Wolverine we came to know and love in the first three films than he ever did in the prequel. Between a steady stream of one-liners and a few amusing bits of situation comedy (including a bath scene that reminded me a lot of the makeover sequence in Beauty and the Beast) it felt like the writers did a great job of reinforcing the most entertaining aspects of the character. My only complaint is that the Jean flashbacks Logan experiences throughout the film are far less interesting now that seven years and an entire feature film have passed by since the ending of the third film. It’s hard not to feel like Logan will be much more interesting once he’s gotten over the little emotional speed bump of killing one of the loves of his life.
The Acting: 6/10
At this point, Hugh Jackman really doesn’t have to try anymore once he dons the mutton chops that magically change him from Jean Valjean to claw-wielding antihero. Logan is supposed to be gruff, annoyed, and emotionally repressed, and that’s exactly what Jackman gives us here. Unfortunately, these aspects of his character make it a little difficult to feel any meaningful chemistry with anyone on screen, be they old flames (Famke Janssen) or new (Tao Okamoto). Personally I felt like Jackman had much better chemistry with his pink-haired “Bodyguard” Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who is vastly more interesting than any of her female counterparts on screen.
The biggest weakness in the acting department comes from Svetlana Kodchenkova, whose shamelessly hammy performance as token other mutant “Viper” (assuming you don’t count Yukio’s vague, unhelpful prognostications) is a laughable impersonation of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin. Even with the diminished scale, a strong central villain could have made the story just as compelling as any apocalyptic comic-book fare. Sadly, as all we get here is poison-spewing femme-fatale cliche, it’s hard to care that much about exactly who Logan is fighting and why.
The Action: 8/10
While the action might not be as showy or creative as the multi-mutant-featuring predecessor, it is far more effective. Instead of fighting a set of super-powered baddies, Logan is now faced with a set of human enemies who are suddenly something to be concerned about now that his trademark healing abilities are mysteriously diminished. With this new level or mortality, the stakes are raised considerably higher than they’ve ever been for the character, and the fight scenes are that much more engrossing as a result. Throw in the fact that a lot of those fight scenes pit our hero against Ninjas, Yakuza and similar pillars of Japanese villain-hood and you get a level of action that will justify most viewers’ ticket purchases.
As a final note, there is an after credit sequence that you will absolutely want to stay for. The direction for the franchise it suggests is one that I am incredibly excited to see play out.
The Verdict: 6.5/10 – Perfectly Adequate
+ Wolverine feels much more like the character we originally fell in love with
+ The action manages to be impressive without jumping the shark on effects
– The second act and corresponding romantic sub-plot are just plain boring
– Wolverine is still best when acting as a foil for the other X-Men
Rotten Tomatoes: 66 %
Keith and the Movies: 4/5
The Code is Zeek: 4/5
Amonymous Reviews: 3.5/5
The Cinematic Katzenjammer: 6.3/10
Fast Film Reviews: 2.5/5
The Average: 6.8/10 – Good