The Wolverine (2013)

Our two stars, Hugh Jackman and his muscles.
Our two stars, Hugh Jackman and his muscles.

“When he’s most vulnerable, he’s most dangerous.”

Directed by James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada and Svetlana Khodchenkova

Logan (Jackman) – aka Wolverine – dreams of his past, and an encounter with a Japanese officer and a certain Fat Man at Nagasaki. He wakes in the woods, haunted by nightmares of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) relating to X-Men: The Last Stand, which is understandable. He is drawn out of his self-imposed retirement to avenge a bear poisoned by stupid hunters, then lured to Japan by Yukio (Fukushima), a retainer to Yashida, the officer Logan saved in Nagasaki.

Logan flies out to say goodbye, but Yashida has a proposal; he wants to buy Logan’s healing factor, which his doctor (Khodchenkova) believes she can transfer. He dreams of the doctor assaulting him and wakes to find Yashida dead, then thwarts an assassination attempt aimed at the old man’s granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto) at his funeral. He appoints himself Mariko’s protector, but discovers that his healing factor is gone.

Logan and Mariko tend to each other’s wounds, physical and emotional, and the inevitable happens. Then she is snatched. Logan and Yukio track her to the house of her father, Shingen Yashida (Sanada), but find that she has already been taken again by the family’s ninja retainers, the Black Clan. Logan removes a parasite from his heart, restoring his healing factor and allowing him to defeat Shingen.

At a Yashida factory, Logan confronts and is captured by the ninjas. Dr Green – a venom-spitting mutant – reveals that they still wish to extract his healing factor, feeding it into a robotic battlesuit piloted by… Yashida! (dun dun dun!) Logan must face down this final opponent and confront his own demons before he can learn to live again.

What’s wrong with it?

The film has one too many plots. See that fairly complex summary above, that completely misses out the whole bit where Shingen and Mariko’s slimy politician fiance are trying to kill her because Yashida left the family business to her instead of her father. This turns out to have been a ploy by the not-dead Yashida, but the purpose of that is elusive. It’s possibly something about her not being as strong as her father, but that’s kind of bullshit since he’s a petty, hate-filled lunatic.

The official love interest is much less interesting than the kooky sidekick, although less dull than I remembered from first watching.

Some of the action is a little hard to follow with the blurring and the fast cuts and the lots of guys in identical ninja suits. At least the Yakuza have visible faces and distinctive tattoos.

The film wheels out the ‘How did you know there was a pool down there?’ gag last seen breathing its last in Diamonds are Forever.

Viper/Dr Green is a cackling cliche whose outfits get sillier and sexier as her villainy becomes more pronounced.

What’s right with it?

The film has a lot of fun with the more vulnerable Wolverine, although its grand set pieces still rely on his invulnerability, which gives Jackman lots of opportunity to look simultaneously anguished and phenomenally ripped. It’s a look that seems to work for a lot of people.

When it’s not being migraine inducing, the action is pretty awesome, although as useless as it might be half the time, one does wonder why almost no-one even tries to shoot Logan. (Actually, one doesn’t; melee looks more exciting.)

Although everyone knows martial arts, it makes more sense than usual given that, rather than just being Japanese, they are all members of a super-traditional Japanese family with lots of enemies who try to stab them in the neck while they’re sleeping.

How bad is it really?

It’s actually really good. I mean, it’s not as smart as it pretends it is and the plot is over-convoluted, but it manages to dangle the possibility that Logan might actually die and only fails to convince because he’s the franchise cash cow. It’s certainly much better than either of its immediate predecessors, Last Stand or Origins: Wolverine.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Logan attempts to fight his way past an army of ninjas. Knowing that they can’t beat him with regular killings, they shoot harpoon arrows into him with ropes attached and poison arrows to slow him down. He eventually falls with dozens of arrows in his back.

What’s up with…?

  • Mariko’s conviction that her pursuers won’t find her in the secrte family retreat where she grew up? She basically knows it’s her father coming after her.
  • Viper? She kind of deserves her own film, but her entire backstory is shoehorned into one breathy conversation over a set of high tech thumbscrews.
  • Viper’s face? At one point after being injured, she basically peels off her skin like a snake. Is this a healing thing for her?

Ratings

Production values – Pretty damned slick, as well you’d hope. Could use fewer cuts. 6
Dialogue and performances – Viper is a little weird, being a very noirish femme fatale in a Japanese/action milieu. Otherwise, the dialogue is decent and the performances good. 7
Plot and execution – The basic plot is solid, but the extra layer of the father’s attempt to have his own daughter killed seems over-engineered and doesn’t integrate very well with the rest of the film. 8
Randomness – The sexy-sexy feels a little arbitrary, although again, less so on rewatching. There is also the Chekhov shooting spree where Logan wanders around the house having pictures of the Yashida’s pet ninja clan and their totemic Silver Samurai armour pointed out to him. 7
Waste of potential – Oh, man; such a step up from its immediate predecessors, if not quite to the standards of what came before that or after this. 2

Overall 30%

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