After X-Men Origins: Wolverine turned out to be a bit of a mess, I was equal parts skeptical and hopeful about The Wolverine. I was skeptical for obvious reasons. But I was hopeful because this seemed like a completely different movie that was actually going to tell Wolverine's story without the distractions of mutants flying everywhere and shooting lasers out of their eyes. Thankfully I wasn't disappointed.
The Wolverine is the movie I (and many fans) wanted Origins to be. It takes place some time after X-Men: The Last Stand, when Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) had to kill his love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Doing so made him question his whole identity, and that internal struggle is the driving force behind this film.
The movie opens with Wolverine saving a young Japanese soldier, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), from the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki. We then flash to the present day, where a full-bearded Logan is living in a cave and is friends with a bear (sort of). After killing Jean, he is afraid of what he's capable of, and he would rather live away from people than risk hurting anyone again. It is only when Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a fiery warrior with equally fiery red hair, finds Logan and tells him that Yashida is dying and wishes to say goodbye that Logan returns to society and heads to Japan. But Yashida actually wants to offer Logan the chance to become mortal again, which only makes it harder for him to acknowledge his true nature.
Once in Japan, Yashida dies and Logan ends up protecting his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from the Yakuza gang and from her father, Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada). There's sword fighting, knife throwing, and some ninjas with bows and arrows. In the middle of it all, of course, the claws come out. The action is what the audience loves to see, and it doesn't let us down. And when Logan isn't sticking his claws through some bad guy, he's dreaming about Jean. There's a nice balance between the two that reminds us that, even though Logan has healing powers and an adamantium skeleton, he's also a man who has seen and done many things and is struggling with who he is and who he wants to be.
It's been 13 years since Jackman first played Wolverine, and he knows this character inside and out. That comfort level is what makes it so easy for the audience to connect with Logan and his struggle. His brooding, scowling performance brings Wolverine down to a more human level and shows that you can still have an existential crisis even when you've been around for hundreds of years.
There is, however, the matter of the Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who takes Logan's healing powers at the beginning of the film. The Wolverine is possibly the most relatable of the X-Men movies, but the Viper brings a heavily melodramatic element to the film. Her costumes are so outlandish as to be laughable, and her main motive seems to be villainy for villainy's sake. She's almost too embedded in the comic book reality for a movie that focuses less on mutants with powers and more on the internal difficulties Logan is facing.
While the first two thirds of the movie deal with human emotions and identity crises, the film does get a bit overzealous in its final act. Wolverine fights the Silver Samurai, a giant made of adamantium, while Viper continues with the melodrama. But all in all, director James Mangold managed to make an entertaining film that gives us more of an insight to Wolverine than we've ever had before. It's a standalone Wolverine film that is actually about Wolverine.
And, true to Marvel fashion, there's an excellent post-credits scene.