Crouching Tiger, Hidden Wolverine (A Spoiler-Free The Wolverine Review)

The WolverineIn The Wolverine, sequel to 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hugh Jackman must again be angsty, kick ass, and chew bubble gum… and he’s all out of bubble gum. Although Jackman’s Wolverine doesn’t tread new ground, the movie is very different from the five preceding X-Men films. So it’s different. Is it worth watching?

The plot, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox:

“In modern day Japan, Wolverine is out of his depth in an unknown world as he faces his ultimate nemesis in a life-or-death battle. Pushed to his physical and emotional limits, he confronts not only lethal samurai steel but also his inner struggle against his own immortality.”

First, a disclaimer: I’m not a huge Wolverine fan. I like the X-Men Universe a lot. In fact, it’s the only comic series, other than Christopher Nolan’s Batman, in which I have any interest. However, I never seemed to click with Wolverine and saw his centrality to the X-Men Trilogy as one of its greatest weaknesses (the other, of course, being Brett Ratner).

The Wolverine’s foreign, for the X-Men series at least, setting and story is the film’s greatest strength, even if decreased my enjoyment of the movie. Simply put, The Wolverine isn’t an X-Men movie. There are only one or two other mutants in the entire film. This movie is about Wolverine, alone and confused, struggling with the death of Jean Grey and some new-found limitations (If you want more detail on this point, watch any trailer). The Wolverine’s setting and style is so different from the rest of the X-Men series that the viewer can’t help but empathize with Wolverine, feeling uneasy and uncertain, headed into alien territory.

Unfortunately, The Wolverine presents an almost caricatured depiction of Japan and Japanese culture. Maybe I’m the one lacking knowledge, but is the broad concept of “honor” still so important that Japanese women have to do exactly what their father tells them to do? Are ninjas who run and flip unnecessarily still employed as assassins and protectors? From a film standpoint, I can appreciate the desire to incorporate or reference elements of samurai cinema or wuxia. However, you can have old Japan or you can have new Japan. If you try to have both, it looks and feels cartoonish.

Everything else was good enough to disqualify nitpicking. It was fairly well-written, even if the dialogue was a bit predictable. James Mangold’s direction was good, but not exactly visionary. Marco Beltrami’s score was big and loud or soft and touching when appropriate. Non-Hugh Jackman acting was good, even if it doesn’t deserve individual praise. That said, Tao Okamoto held down the female lead very effectively for her first ever film role.

Even though he certainly could at this point, Hugh Jackman didn’t just go through the motions. A character like Wolverine doesn’t require a lot of range. An actor needs to be sad, angry, and occasionally sad and angry. Props to Jackman for imbuing some depth into his character, something that can’t be said for several of his trilogy-mates (*cough*Storm*cough*).

Plus, he’s shirtless a lot, if that’s a thing that interests you.

Unfortunately, The Wolverine wasn’t the movie I wanted or expected. Even the first Wolverine film incorporated lots of X-Men, which led me to expect another X-Men film this time around. That is not the case with The Wolverine. I won’t try to fool anyone into thinking this is anyone’s fault but my own, but I do want to make sure everyone knows what they getting into.

Despite a couple flaws, The Wolverine is a good action movie. As a film, it’s much better than The Last Stand or Origins: Wolverine. But as an X-Men film, it’s easily the worst. In retrospect, it should have been telling that the franchise was conspicuously absent from the film’s title.

Bottom Line: If you want to see Hugh Jackman, especially shirtless, you’ll love it. If you want to see a Wolverine film, you’ll like it. If you want to see a movie about the X-Men universe, wait until Days of Future Past.

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