“The Wolverine” is a fairly solid standalone offering that redeems itself from the significantly weaker “X-Men” spin-off “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
Somber and restrained, this film presents a refreshing noir reboot for the franchise. Compared to other “X-Men” blockbuster movies, it utilizes a contemplative tone and a deliberately slower pace, while clearly managing to keep the momentum for another brewing sequel.
Interestingly, this dark and slow-moving character study doesn’t feel much like a summer superhero movie, which isn’t actually a bad thing. Amidst the cookie-cutter cocktail of summer-movie staples around, the material shows how less becomes more in its storytelling. Appealingly modest and introspective as it is, it follows the more recent superhero adventures’ tried-and-tested treatment, which attempts to make the main character more human and less cartoonish. Its intentional downshift into a mood piece avoids the comic-book fatigue coming from the moribund of effects-savvy superhero movies spreading like wildfire in theaters.
This installment promotes an intriguing sensibility for an erratic affair full of character-driven moments. Instead of falling prey to another worn out origin story, its more original and exotic tale prioritizes a very specific and self-contained fare. Its share of effective moments combines that unexpected flavor for its broodingly tormented mutant antihero and some suitably borrowed strands from Japanese genre cinema. Using its Asian locations to its advantage, its sense of intimacy outshines the action — while still keeping the casual viewers entertained for the most part. It does all these without straying from its recognizable main character’s superhero roots.
The movie clearly features director James Mangold’s conscientious choice of favoring characterization over pixel-driven effects. On the good side, he takes his time in exploring the more nuanced realms of his material. He wields bold and vivid strokes in this superhero and Asian crime drama mash-up; thus, keeping up with the narrative’s adamantium backbone.
As a thrilling, action-packed outing treading on dark waters, “The Wolverine” boasts exquisite production values. The speeding bullet train sequence is worth mentioning for its breathtakingly first-rate action.
Mangold actually comes close to creating a one-of-a-kind genre piece, if it weren’t for the random violent showdowns and the disappointing final act. More often than not, there is an overdose of hyperkinetic chaos of the good and the bad guys happening way too quickly on screen. And so, there’s rarely a genuine sense of jeopardy and concern on anyone’s fate on screen.
Unfortunately, apart from the piled up action elements lingering around, the movie also eventually finds itself back to the generic comic-book formula. After a well-established mystery-thriller flair early on in the story, it somewhat loses its way towards a jarring ending. By then, it succumbs to the usual cartoonish and by-the-book antics, particularly showing a silly reveal that heavily relies on the main actor’s performance.
The buffed up Hugh Jackman as Wolverine rightfully elevates this comic-book adaptation through his charismatic depth and ferocity on screen. He does a good job of portraying the human, emotional side of his eponymous mutant character. He carries his immortally weary role without necessarily ending up as a dull and tiresome on-screen persona. Rula Fukushima makes a powerful Yukio. Some major and minor characters tend to register more powerfully than others. But overall, the viewers are given enough reason to care about the film’s characters.
“The Wolverine” may not be a perfect treat, but it offers a decently absorbing story that can both entertain the superhero fans and the regular moviegoers who are in need of some depths and layers in their action flicks. More often than not, it gets things right. However, its cruddy commercial break in the end hinders it from becoming an ultimately definitive cinematic venture from the ever-burgeoning list of “X-Men” flicks on the big screen.