I’m not a big fan of the X-Men films. The only one that I thought was remotely good was X2: X-Men United (2003) which I thought was the only film that truly captured the ensemble spirit giving each of the characters in the film an actual story and through line. This being said, I do think that what the films in the franchise did get right is the casting for most all the characters both good and bad and it is to Hugh Jackman as Wolverine who truly grounds the films (as evidenced in the fact that he is the only actor who has appeared in all the films), so it is no surprise that the latest film in the franchise The Wolverine (2013) focuses on Jackman’s character after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).
Logan (Jackman) is haunted by Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), the woman he loved and whom he killed, so he has disappeared into the wilderness away from society. During an altercation at a bar, he encounters Yukio (Rilia Fukushima) who tells him Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a man he saved during WWII in Japan, wants to see him before he dies. Logan decides to go to Japan to honor the request of the Yashida. Upon reaching Japan, Logan soon discovers that Yashida (who also has become one of the wealthiest men in Japan) may hold the secret of taking his immortality from him and allowing him to live a normal lifespan and maybe be reunited with Jean in the afterlife. Before Logan can truly make a decision that will disrupt the rest of his life war breaks out between the Yakuza who decide to kidnap Yashida’s daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who holds the secret to controlling the future of Japan. Now Logan finds himself protecting Mariko at all cost.
This film is a far improvement over the previous solo Wolverine film X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) as it goes back to the basics of the character. It delves into Logan’s grief of not being able to save Jean Grey while paralleling that with his trying to protect and save Mariko, whom he also falls in love with. The film explores the nature of honor as filtered through Logan’s eyes and through the Japanese culture. When Logan loses his invulnerability by Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), another mutant like himself, he must contend with his newfound humanity but there is an even deeper conspiracy at hand for Logan that even he may not be prepared for.
As directed by James Mangold this film is smaller in scope that the previous films which works in this film’s favor as it becomes more of a character film as Logan grapples with vulnerability, guilt, redemption, honor and indeed love. If there is one thing that the X-Men films have gotten right it is that of Logan’s hidden love and inner demons as it pertains to Jean Grey. In this film she is a personification of his guilt not just emotional but physical as it reminds him that he is practically immortal and may never be reunited with her in the afterlife. Yashida’s deal to strip Logan of his immortality is profound in that it forces him to see life in a finite way which can be enticing for an immortal that has nothing to live for. When Logan falls in love with Mariko it allows him to come to terms with his grief of Jean’s death while also allowing him to find a reason to go on living and allow him to find his purpose in an immortal life.
This is not to say that the film is without its faults. There are some amazing action sequences especially the one of the bullet train and the invasion of Yakuza gangsters at Yashida’s funeral but the third act seems overly big with the Silver Samurai only showing up in this sequence and whereas most of the film’s action was very Japanese in look and nature this final sequence is very modern and metallic which takes away from the grandeur of the Japanese local and culture of everything that came before it. This is a small gripe as this film improves upon the previous films in the franchise by returning to focusing on character which is why I liked X2: X-Men United.