Note: there might be mild spoilers ahead. Everything discussed below is in the trailers in some capacity, but if you’re looking to go in ultra pure, tread lightly.
It’s been four years since Wolverine’s last (and first) solo adventure in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine and seven years since the somewhat less than awesome X-Men: the Last Stand. The Wolverine is not a sequel to his origin story, but instead follows up on the ending from The Last Stand. Wolverine has been living on his own for years. He’s wrecked with guilt over killing Jean Grey and has vowed never to hurt a living thing again. He’s even seeing her in his dreams and really, how is that supposed to help?
He’s soon discovered by the super badass Yukio. She’s been sent to find the Wolverine by her adoptive grandfather, Master Yashida, whom Wolverine saved the day the bomb fell on Nagasaki. Yashida is dying. Wolverine is mega depressed. Yashida thinks there might be a solution to both of their problems. He tells Logan he can transfer his healing factor to himself, thus elongating the dying old man’s life and allowing Logan to be free of the burden of immortality. Logan politely declines the offer for the old man’s sake. He, of course, dies immediately after their meeting, but not before Logan meets the lovely Mariko, Yashida’s granddaughter. Logan has a creepy dream about the old man’s hot oncologist (who is definitely not the bad guy… okay, she’s the bad guy) and the next day they go to the funeral. But since this is an action movie, the Yakuza attack and the pretty girl is in trouble, so it’s time for Wolverine to get back to doing that thing that he’s the best at, only his healing powers are gone. That’s the twist and now we have a movie.
It’s a good setup to what is a pretty good popcorn movie. Jackman steps effortlessly back into Logan’s shoes and plays his arc well, going from shaggy-haired drifter back to reluctant hero. It’s easy to empathize with him. Why wouldn’t he be torn up? He killed the woman he loved. It makes sense that he’d disappear, but Wolverine is at his heart a hero, so he’s not going to stand idly by and watch bad things happen to good people. The movie is about Wolverine finding his redemption and on that level it works completely. Add in that he’s doing all of this while at his most physically vulnerable without his healing powers and it raises the stakes significantly. There’s not much at all that doesn’t work for a majority of the movie. The action is great. Nearly every fight scene is as satisfying as the mansion scene from X2 and the effects are better than they’ve ever been. The dialogue is good. Wolverine is officially mutant Clint Eastwood now, and that’s okay. All of the performances are excellent (With one glaring exception. You’ll figure it out.). It’s all going pretty well up until one very specific element is introduced.
Up until the movie’s final act, my biggest complaint was a very nerdy one. Without his healing factor, the adamantium on Wolverine’s bones would kill him. He has trouble healing from bullet wounds but his hands heal immediately after he retracts his claws. You really shouldn’t be able to run a sword all the way through Wolverine’s chest because he has impenetrable ribs. They semi explain most of that away by saying that his powers are suppressed and not entirely removed, but it still bugged me on a geeky level a little bit. It’s not until the Silver Samurai appears a giant CGI sword monster that the movie ever totally lost me. Up until then, it really isn’t the kind of movie where a giant CGI sword monster makes sense. It’s a very personal story. Wolverine fights a bunch of mob guys and ninjas. I get that. The robot just seems way out of place.
Really, the weakest stuff all centers around the villains. Even after all the cards are revealed, we don’t know anything at all about Viper and how she ended up in the position she’s in. It’s all really vague. Everything about her is. Her powers are never fully clear and at one point she rips all her skin off to reveal… Nothing. She looks the same. Sure, it looked creepy, but it’s not like she turned into a snake lady or something. It just sort of happens and that’s that. The reveal of why Logan’s powers are all screwy doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. Basically, everything about the villains and their plan is weird.
The Wolverine suffers the opposite problem of the X-Films before it. Rather than throw so many characters on the screen that there’s no time to get to know any of them, this movie doesn’t quite flesh out the handful of characters it presents to us. Oh, and there’s a CGI sword robot. I can’t stress enough how jarring that is, and I knew it was coming from the trailers. It’s really weird. The fight with the Silver Samurai ends in a very satisfying way (it’s a really cool moment), but it’s still a giant robot in a movie that doesn’t really need a giant robot. With a reworked final act and a little more time developing the villains, this could have been a knockout movie. As-is, I give The Wolverine a solid 3.5 out of 5 giant CGI robots. The last act hurts. Otherwise, it’s a lot of fun.
In case you were wondering, there’s absolutely a mid-credit tease. You’ll want to stick around for that.