After the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the most popular of mutants had a lot to make up for. The Wolverine doesn’t quite satisfy, but the stand-alone quality of this episode is the right way to reintroduce the character to audiences.
Set after the original X-Men trilogy, The Wolverine picks up the story a few years after the death of Jean Grey. The ever surly Logan has escaped civilization and has found shelter in the Yukon. The indestructible mutant is plagued by nightmares, most of which involve Grey and a few events from Wolverine’s past that still haunt him.
One of Logan’s most vivid memories it’s surviving the nuclear attack on Nagasaki. A prisoner of war at the time, Wolverine not only endured the catastrophic event, but also saved a young Japanese lieutenant named Yashida, who had shown him some kindness in the past. The officer would grow to become a technology mogul and tracks down Logan to “thank him”.
Surprise, surprise, Yashida has an agenda: Wolverine may be willing to give up his gift, or at least take care of his grand-daughter, targeted by the Yakuza and other mysterious forces. Logan gets a taste of mortality (courtesy of fellow mutant Viper), but also a reminder that his moral fiber is stronger than his claws.
Even though there is nothing groundbreaking about The Wolverine, at least is a self-contained story as opposed to yet another brick in the already massive X-Men mythology. Journeyman director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) digs deeper into the mutant’s psyche and delivers a more rounded depiction of the indestructible Logan: His body may heal in a matter of seconds, but his mind is severely scarred.
As the story goes, The Wolverine is a moderate success. The villains are weak, and you can foresee every twist and turn and the action set pieces are hit and miss, with one remarkable exception: A fight to the death on the roof of a high speed train. The knives and claws battle is so remarkably thrilling, it should be the climax of the film, and not a middle-of-the-film afterthought. The Wolverine pushes the limits of the PG-13 rating. I lost count the number of deaths that occurred on the edge of the screen.
Viper is a poor selection as the evil mutant du jour, at least the version featured in the film. Her main skill, spitting various blends of venom in the mouth of her victims, is not particularly exciting from a visual perspective. Furthermore, the actress chosen to portrait Viper -Svetlana Khodchenkova- may be gorgeous, but is definitely lacking in the histrionics department.
Make sure to stay after the credits: A teaser of things to come (X-Men: Days of Future Past) will have the fans howling in anticipation.
Three prairie dogs with very sharp nails.