The Wolverine (Movie Review) – Thanks to terrific direction from James Mangold and the best work from Hugh Jackman in this role yet, The Wolverine is a comic book movie that really works

By Benjamin Lane

The Wolverine. (2013). Run time: 121 mins. MPAA: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality, and language). Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, and Hal Yamanouchi. Written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank. Directed by James Mangold.

Hugh Jackman is the Wolverine. No one denies it. Yet hardly anyone brings attention to it. Nowadays it’s “Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark!” Absolutely true. I can’t imagine anyone else playing him. “Christopher Reeve is Superman!” Absolutely true! “Ron Perlman is Hellboy!” That’s one of my favorites there! All these are true, but no one seems to mention Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine. Maybe it’s because he’s been playing the role for over ten years and this latest entry marks his sixth time with the metallic claws. Hopefully this time people start noticing. It’s great to finally see Hugh Jackman break free and reveal to audiences that just because you’ve been a certain character for over a decade doesn’t mean you can’t dive deeper into the role. It’s also finally great to see the Wolverine get the stand alone movie he deserves.

I love X-Men. The story of the X-Men and the individual characters thereof have always been a love of mine and I have always been able to just dive into the comics and the animated television show. Then the movies came. While it is true that Christopher Nolan reinvented comic book movies with The Dark Knight trilogy, we should really be thanking Bryan Singer for releasing X-Men because quite frankly, if he hadn’t done that, we probably would have never seen Nolan’s films. X-Men was the first real superhero movie to show that superhero movies can be cool. Sure Spider-Man came after that and was great, but X-Men was what started it all, at least comic books as we saw them up until The Dark Knight and even some after that. Then Singer returned to direct X2: X-Men United which proved to be even better the original and really turned him into a big time director. I love X2 and hold it to be my favorite in the franchise and I still hold it to be one of the best superhero movies of all time. Also important to note is the fact that X2 is the first and only time up until this film that I said “Hugh Jackman is the Wolverine.” Then Bryan Singer backed out of X-Men 3 in order to do Superman Returns which God only knows why he did that, and after that came the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was a complete failure. Then, Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn stepped in to direct X-Men: First Class which worried a lot of people and fans but ended up being a breath of fresh air for X-Men fans and movie fans in general, including myself. I loved First Class. The sequel to First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past is coming in 2015, but before that we get a second attempt at a Wolverine standalone movie, and it comes from none other than 3:10 to Yuma director James Mangold. Originally, The Wrestler and Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky was helmed to direct, and I must admit that would have been incredibly awesome to experience, but I think I can settle with him doing the Noah’s Ark adaptation which will star Russell Crowe. For now, though, we have The Wolverine by James Mangold, and he does as good a job as any at giving this character his own movie.

You should know this going in, if you haven’t seen it already: this is Logan’s movie. Mangold and company place their focus on the character of Logan instead of the beast that is the Wolverine. And believe me, it works. This is definitely a character piece, based on the 80’s comic series by Chris Claremont, with obvious modifications. Sometimes however, the accurateness is breathtaking, even one particular scene that appears to be taken directly from the comics. Logan is such a remarkable character and it is great to see him finally get the right treatment, even if it does have its flaws. Mangold sets the film up wonderfully, focuses on Logan, and makes it all realistic, and then the final twenty or so minutes come around and that’s when it really becomes like a comic book. It’s not a bad thing because even in those final minutes it’s well done and awesome filmmaking, but it just didn’t ring well with the tone of the rest of the movie. That set aside, this movie is very good. Going back to my opening statement, Hugh Jackman is the Wolverine. Never before this movie have I felt that so clearly, but this one did it. I don’t credit that completely to Jackman, even though I do give him credit. I also credit James Mangold, who is known to get great performances out of his actors (just see Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma and Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line). He obviously had a lot to do with it, but that is taking nothing away from Hugh Jackman. Supporting him is Rila Fukushima who does a nice job throughout, Tao Okamoto, and Hiroyuki Sanada. Svetlana Khodchenkova plays Viper, and I have to be brutally honest, I hated her. She was probably the worst thing about this movie. Her character was annoying, way too cartoony for the rest of the film (even the ending), and she just gave a bad performance.

One of the best things about this movie though is James Mangold, once again. He’s a phenomenal director, and he proves himself once again here. I can’t imagine it would be easy to direct a Wolverine movie, but Mangold does it to perfection, and makes every scene feel like you’re there. I was invested the whole time. Look out for the scene on top of the train. That’s all I will say.

FINAL VERDICT: James Mangold is known for pulling great performances out of his actors, and he does so with Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine, which is the much needed improvement over X-Men Origins. Hugh Jackman unleashes the beast when he needs to, and he is quietly addicting when he needs to be. The Wolverine is a very good comic book film and the breath of fresh air the Wolverine fan base needed. (B+)

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