James Mangold (“Walk The Line” & “3:10 to Yuma”) once stated, “In a way, Roger Ebert helped make 'The Wolverine.' 'Why should I care about this guy?” Mangold finally provides an answer to that inquiry that like Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy” or Raimi’s “Spider-Man 1&2” gets to the heart of what makes the character memorable. Deconstructing the charisma and providing a resolve to the comic book legend that in accordance with a Japanese centric location crafts an isolated film that showcases the best and a bit of the worst of comic book movies.
Slipping into the psychological territory of storytelling in which Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) immortality is challenged. He can feel pain and not be able to heal it away, the blood continues to pour, and the aches from the wounds of the past won't stop because the scars of his grief are not merely pulled back together by his mutation. Taking place months removed from the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” we see Logan (Hugh Jackman) as a long-haired and burly man that has taken a vow never to take another life. His grief and guilt for killing Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) have riddled him with emotionality, and after a drunken hunter shoots a large bear with a poison-tipped arrow, the bear rips his fellow friends to shreds. Logan (Hugh Jackman) hears their screams and goes to see if he can help and discovers the bear collapsed, he states “don’t make me do this” as the bear makes one last attempt to survive and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) places the beast out of his misery, breaking his promise to Jean (Famke Janssen).
He then goes into to town, confronting the hunter in a bar. While there, he is joined by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young mutant with the ability to see people’s deaths before they happen. From there the story resembles Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s “The Wolverine” comic from 1982, taking place in Japan in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is poised with the question: “do you want to live forever?” What if you could grow old and start a family, settle down, and live in peace? This topic becomes the focal point of our character as not only do we spend time getting to analyze these complexities that he's confronted by but Mangold crafts an action-centric thriller around the character as well. Allowing the character to push the story, instead of the other way around, Mangold provides an emotionally compelling look at the character that wouldn’t be followed up until 2017.
Mark Bomback and Scott Frank are responsible for the screenplay given, and they even spend providing commentary on the atomic bomb dropping of Nagasaki in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) states “I was here when it happened.” Like that of an American soldier realizing that he may have been on the wrong side of a horrendous event, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) eventually has to figure out how to become the animalistic beast once more so that he can save the young Mariko (Tao Okamoto). In a spellbinding sequence that ends with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) fighting off a greed driven father whose samurai abilities are unable to conquer the healing skills of the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).
A climax that is far better than the actual final battle we receive in which a giant adamantium robot challenges our clawed hero, yes you heard that right. It’s like “Wonder Woman” in which the first two acts of the film are nearly perfect, and the final battle feels like a studio forcing a filmmaker to craft something for the masses that doesn’t correctly meld with the story being told. The digital animations aren’t exactly handled the best either, in which this giant samurai resembles something from a PS3 graphics card (at least it's updated from a PS1).
The helming of this climax is handled well like the rest of the film, the action scenes from the first two acts are far superior though because they underline themselves with grit and emotion. We’re not just watching Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) swing his claws because it looks cool, but we’re providing reasons for him to do so which makes each puncture feel far more impactful. Mangold and his cinematographer, Ross Emery, give a very vibrant look that is digitalized but also can deliver portraits that resemble comic book panels at times. Some of the images are merely epic though, like that of a shirtless Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) standing in the moonlight as he fights a samurai in the rain. How does that not excite you?
Marco Beltrami also provides a score that stands out more than most; it’s not the x-men overtones we’ve heard before, their far more subtle than that. Rarely overstepping its welcome, the score works better than past X-men scores because it carries the story, much like Hugh Jackman’s performance. He’s gritty, resolved, challenged, and emotionally captivating. His second best performance as the character in which Jackman’s iconic growls and screeches depict his animalistic tendencies, but Mangold’s added resolve to the character allows for Jackman to finally invest himself into the character in a far more resonating fashion.
His fellow Japanese actors are overlooked far too often though, Hiroyuki Sanada is exceptional as the crazed father. He compels the viewer like a great villain in which you understand his reasoning, but despise him nonetheless (why wasn’t he the main antagonist again?) Tao Okamoto, and Rila Fukushima are outstanding as well and share genuine chemistry with Hugh. Both are charming and even have resonating emotional subplots attached to them, like that of Tao, a girl dealing with the expectations of a family that she continues to disappoint due to their selfish desires. Rila is a mutant whose ability is a curse like Logan’s (Hugh Jackman), seeing the death of everyone you meet. It takes a toll, much like the film’s story does when it hits you with punches that carry more weight to them than you’d expect.
“I see you on your back, there’s blood everywhere, your holding your heart in your own hand.” It's lines like that one that after viewing the unofficial sequel begin to carry extra weight, as Logan (Hugh Jackman) no longer seems to be a character whose claws make him unique. He’s tortured, symbolized as a suffering man from those very claws that others confused as a gift instead of a burden. Yes, it’s a PG-13 rendering in which you don’t get the full effect sometimes, but inherent Eastwood characteristics in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) could care less if you like him or not carry the film to a particular poignancy. We’re watching the character evolve right before our eyes; I’m glad Mangold realized that Ebert was right.