As many people have pointed out in recent weeks, Hugh Jackman has had an incredible career as Wolverine in the X-Men films. Appearing in six movies over the course of 13 years, he's played the character longer than most of the men that have appeared as James Bond. Having said all of that, it's pretty remarkable that after all this time, and following the lousy X-Men Origins: Wolverine, that a film solely about Jackman's character could be as interesting and entertaining as The Wolverine.
There are a few things about Wolverine that are pretty iconic and one of them is, as it is often called, “The Japan Story.” Like previous X-films, The Wolverine takes the central premise of this story but shifts it in a different direction and creates its own narrative with a great deal of success. This hasn't always worked for the "X-Men" movies, but it certainly does here. Previous movies have gone out of their way just for the sake of fan service, be it with certain characters or events often at the expense of the story as a whole, but The Wolverine takes its time in setting up its own mythology and doesn't bother trying to expand the world beyond what it needs. It's very disciplined in that regard and it's something that a lot of superhero movies could learn from.
The film feels like a comic book mini-series, fitting given its basis, and that's not something other films have been able to accomplish. Though it takes bits and pieces of the mythos from previous films, and uses them as influence for the character, the telling of this story is totally self-contained. It's comforting as a fan and a viewer to get to see a film that doesn't think its audience needs constant reminders of the character's origins and world and just lets the film happen.
Director James Mangold has created that most visually interesting and memorable of all the "X-Men" films. His understanding of the material, its location, and the characters is what makes this such an interesting movie to experience. It has grounded drama, intense action, and great jokes which all accumulate into a tone that not any character can carry but fits Wolverine like a glove. This sets it apart from the other movies, which is for the best. Mangold's eye perfectly captures the action sequences of the movie. The editing is clear and concise and doesn't jostle the viewer around to the point of nausea, as some superhero movies this summer have. Furthermore the action sequences in The Wolverine work really well. None of them feel forced, they're all natural and flow with amazing special effects and visuals.
Another great thing about the film is that it doesn't rely on the stable of characters that have been introduced in past films, it's a new roster with new faces. The highlight for the film comes in the form of Rila Fukushima as Yukio, who serves as Wolverine's “body guard” and gets some of the coolest action pieces in the film. Other stand out performances come from Tao Okamoto as Mariko, one of the few regular human characters in the series that is likable and realistic, and Will Yun Lee as Harada. But the biggest surprise in the movie is Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper, a character that would have been treated with brash corniness in the Singer films. Khodchenkova plays the role perfectly and is likely one of the best villains in the franchise because of her subtlety and charm.
The Wolverine might be the best "X-Men" movie ever. It doesn't rely on the hokiness of the previous films, and while it respects the previous canon to a degree, it does a wonderful job telling its own story. This is the Wolverine movie fans have dreamed about for decades. Jackman has once again proven that he understands Wolverine and is one of the most perfect fits for a character since Christopher Reeve as Superman. When you watch Jackman on the screen, you believe it. There's never a doubt in your mind that he IS Wolverine. Much like the title that accompanies the character, Jackman is the best there is.
Rating: 8.5 / 10