The story goes that when director and series newcomer James Mangold ("Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma") received the script for "The Wolverine," the first thing he did was write five words on it: "Everyone I love will die."
Itâ€™s an intriguing production story, one that teases at why this Wolverine film is new (besides its Japanese locale) and worth telling not even five years after "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" blandly sputtered into theatres seemingly half-finished.
Of course, production stories are exactly that: stories. The journey from page to screen is a perilous one, and many a director has seen his lofty aspirations get sliced down to size and carefully scrubbed into something barely resembling the original idea.
Thankfully, Mangoldâ€™s goal for a more confined, character-focused and humanized Wolverine is firmly implanted on "The Wolverine" like adamantium on the popular mutantâ€™s bones, much to its benefit. The result enjoyably combines the familiar stuff weâ€™ve loved about the character in the past â€“ his badassness, his snarky sense of humor, the fact that heâ€™s played by the charismatic Hugh Jackman â€“ with some satisfyingly fresh material as well.Â
The last time we saw Logan (besides his hilarious cameo in "First Class"), he was recovering from a shot to the head with an amnesia bullet. It seems Mangold and his duo of writers, Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, know the feeling, as "The Wolverine" mostly forgets about "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (despite a trip to Japan being teased in that film, but no complaints here) and takes place after the events of "The Last Stand."
Wolverine is now a bearded loner, living out in the Canadian woods, haunted by memories of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), the woman he loved but had to kill when she turned evil in part three. Heâ€™s pulled out of his self-mandated exile by Yukio (the captivating Rila Fukushima), a mutant messenger from Japan also haunted by death.
Logan saved her boss Yashida back in the bombing of Nagasaki (the filmâ€™s tense, smartly crafted and even chilling opening). Now, as a dying old man, he wishes to say farewell to his old savior and perhaps grant him a special gift: mortality. Logan, wary of passing on his curse and medical procedures in general considering his past, turns him down.
Before he can get out of town and return to protecting the Canadian bear population (long story), the old manâ€™s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is attacked by the Yakuza. Logan ends up protecting her and in the process gets caught up in a web of treacherous family ties, political games and Yakuza hits that seem to require an incredibly convoluted flow chart to completely understand.
Mangold smartly doesnâ€™t get horribly bogged down with the plot machinations or exposition. The confusion even kind of works considering the audience is experiencing things through Wolverineâ€™s perspective, and the audience, just like him, is getting thrown into the drama. After all, the focus isnâ€™t on the confusing Japanese family dealings. Itâ€™s on Logan as a character.
Itâ€™s this smaller, character first approach in "The Wolverine" that makes it feel surprisingly fresh and intriguing. Iâ€™m not sure how well Jean Greyâ€™s guilt-mongering presence works with the film (personally, I was hoping for more emphasis on the effect of living forever rather than the more typical guilty conscience arc) but the scriptâ€™s overall focus on Loganâ€™s struggle with immortality adds something new and interesting to the character.
It also gives Jackman a few more notes for the character other than rogue badass. Heâ€™s wounded, and connection is a risk. If he doesnâ€™t kill his loved ones, time will. Jackman handles the new emotional weight well while still keeping the fun, tough guy charisma that made him a star after the first X-Men film.
Loganâ€™s emotional wounds become dangerously physical when, in one of the screenplayâ€™s best moves, his healing powers disappear in the first act. He still seems to take bullets like a champ, but his new sense of pain â€“ effectively presented by Mangold with blurry close-ups, slo-mo and slurring camera moves â€“ makes protecting himself and Mariko a much harder task.
It not only gives Wolverine a new character element to work with, but it adds to the tense, personal stakes of the various sword fights scattered throughout the film. Mangold doesnâ€™t do anything revolutionary with the action, but the sequences â€“ namely an exhilarating battle on top of a speeding bullet train â€“ are all exciting and surprisingly vicious (it seems to be the summer of the extremely generous PG-13 rating). And best of all, the audience always feels invested in whatâ€™s happening and the people involved.
And if Mangold isnâ€™t a wizard with action, his work with the visuals and setting prove he was the right man for the job after Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan") left the production. He incorporates the unique Japanese setting and traditions beautifully into the film (that alone makes the film feel different), and Marco Beltramiâ€™s score even works in some wailing harmonicas in tribute to Mangoldâ€™s love of westerns.
After doing so much right with grounded characters, action and stakes, the final act unfortunately knocks back a few too many sakĂ© bombs and takes a turn for the wack-a-doodle (thatâ€™s a technical term). It becomes a silly, cluttered mess involving a giant CGI robot samurai and a blonde â€“ and bland â€“ mutant villain named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) whose most notable feature is her collection of Ninja Gaiden-approved jumpsuits.
Itâ€™s an overload of effects, characters and general ridiculousness that reminded me of the overdone finale to last summerâ€™s "Dark Shadows," and when Iâ€™m drawing comparisons to "Dark Shadows," something has gone gravely wrong.
The last 20 minutes â€“ plus the clumsy mid-credits teaser for "Days of Future Past" â€“ do dull what is mostly sharp entertainment. But for about two hours, "The Wolverine" is refreshingly solid, and in a summer season as weak as this current one, solid almost qualifies as strong.Â
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published June 24, 2016
As OnMilwaukee's resident insufferable millennial, it is my job to look at the Summerfest lineup every year, scoff at all the bands and then resume snarkily Snapchatting a GIF-storm. However, there's still a lot worthy of your earholes this year.
Published June 21, 2016
Before the champagne had dried on the Cavaliers' celebration Sunday night, people already began looking for which sports fans were the saddest now that that city's losing streak was over. And wouldn't you know it, it's us. But really, Milwaukee is not the next Cleveland.
Published June 20, 2016
Inspired by an unexpected collaborator located several miles south, Postman's Plot - found on Wells Street and 2nd Street - now has an updated look with a plethora of new seating options and a mailbox to send letters to Milwaukee.
Published June 18, 2016
Businessman and star of CNBC's "The Profit" Marcus Lemonis has obviously gone places since his time at Marquette. But today, he's returned to the Cream City -- and he's apparently bringing some cameras with him.
Published June 13, 2016
The alt pop sister duo of Lily & Madeline have found an infectious combination of mesmerizing mellow music and potent, passionate lyrics. They'll bring that hypnotic mix to the Back Room at Colectivo Coffee on Prospect on Wednesday night.
Published June 13, 2016
According to a report from TMZ, rapper Lil Wayne's private jet from Milwaukee to California had to make an emergency landing today in Omaha, Neb., after the rapper suffered a seizure mid-flight.
Published June 13, 2016
Hearts and minds throughout the nation and the globe were with those who lost their lives and those who lost loved ones in Orlando. On Monday afternoon, City Hall joined in paying tribute and showing love, hanging a large pride flag from the building.
Published June 11, 2016
Ciclovia MKE will take to the streets for the first time this year on Sunday, June 12, shutting down several blocks for an afternoon of open streets, car-free commuting and community building through arts, activities and staying active.
Published June 8, 2016
Even though Milwaukee brands like Boy Blue or Mrs. Howe's are no longer adorning our streets or our grocery store shelves, you might start seeing them around town a little more often. Or at least their classic logos, thanks to Bygone Brand's T-shirts.
Published May 30, 2016
The Tony-winning musical "Kinky Boots" - coming to the Marcus Center starting Tuesday night - is a bold, bright tale of family, acceptance and fabulousness. For actor J. Harrison Ghee, however, it's a story that goes beyond just the stage.