Going into this movie I was kind of nervous about the whole thing. The Superhero offerings this summer haven't been the best of the bunch, and the last time we got to see Hugh Jackman don the razor claws - it was a pretty awful movie going experience. I am glad to say, this movie wipes all the worry for the future of the X-Men franchise away.
Rather than go BIG and LOUD with this one, Director James Mangold takes the opposite approach bringing a quieter more world-weary version of our favorite angry Canadian to the screen. Picking up after the events of X3: The Last Stand - Logan is haunted by visions of his love, Jean, whom he had to kill in the heat of battle. Since then he has become a total recluse, living in the wilds, listing to the radio while getting drunk and making friends with the local wildlife. While confronting some hunters who illegally killed a bear for sport, he meets Yukio, a fellow mutant with the ability to see the deaths of anyone she meets. She's also pretty handy with a sword. She has been tasked with finding The Wolverine and taking him back to Tokyo to meet a man whose life he saved 70 years earlier during the bombing of Nagasaki.
In the intervening years the young solder he saved has become a wealthy brilliant industrialist with dreams of immortality of his own. It is here that he gives Logan an offer he is hard pressed to refuse - a meaningful death. Since Logan is pushing 200 years old by this point, a natural death is a long time off and with his recent visions - death would actually be a welcome respite. Of course the plot can't be that simple. Something has to go wrong. The industrialist's granddaughter heir-to-be Mariko, is almost assassinated and Logan is poisoned weakening him to the point where his ability to heal is restrained. In order to save the girl's life and his own, Logan must unravel the mystery that he has unwittingly found himself in. This path sets him on a journey of discovering his own self worth and gives him an unexpected reason to keep living.
This entry into the franchise is by far and away the most quiet and somber entry in the entire series. Mangold wisely takes the movie and plays it closer to something along the lines of a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western than a mutant comic book action fest. That isn't to suggest there isn't any action to be had, there is plenty of that. The action this time is a bit more bolted to the ground than in previous installments. The camera work is close and intimate - a bit too wobbly maybe so take your Dramamine - coupled with the plot that Logan can't heal, the action feel much more urgent and in your face than ever before. It feels like there is something at stake. Each gunshot or slice from a Samurai sword gives the audience something to worry about for our favorite hero. He isn't the same unstoppable machine he once was.
While I fully enjoyed this entry and liked the direction it took; that isn't to say this is a perfect movie. Far from it I am afraid. While I loved most of the movie, it's faults are pretty glaring. For one, the script is just a tad bit too predictable. The symbolism and metaphors established early on repeat throughout and it isn't hard to keep about a hundred yards ahead of the plot. Also there is a rather egregious case of over casting that should have been resolved between the characters of Yukio and Mariko played very well by Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto respectively. While these actresses were great in their rolls, there is no reason for these characters to be separate individuals. So much of the movie is setup by Logan establishing a relationship and rapport with Yukio that it is incredibly jarring when Logan runs off with Mariko and starts the process all over again.
On top of that you have the visions of Jean Grey, brought back to life again by the always great Famke Janssen. It makes sense to me for her to be there, but unless you're well versed in the X-Men movie universe, you might be more than a little bit confused. The device works well to highlight the ever changing mental state of Logan, but maybe used a tad more sparingly, it might have helped it resonate.
Then you have the terribly underused Svetlana Khodchenkova as the mutant Viper who holds the secretes to Logan's vulnerability. She only has a handful of scenes and doesn't get a chance to play her evil character to the full "Jame Bond Villain" level she should have been. She's smart, she's a sexy, lethal Femme Fatale - but you'd never know with the 10 minutes of screen time she's given. Considering she can shed her skin, has a snake tongue, and spits acid - you'd think the filmmakers would have showcased that a lot more. And then there is the ultimate villain himself The Silver Samurai. I can't get into his usage without going too far into the spoiler territories for comfort, but I will say it's not a surprising reveal nor is it well executed - a different approach might have kept the grounded nature in check rather than spiraling out into typical superhero fare.
That isn't to say this movie is a total failure either. By in no ways is it that. It is probably the most mature of the X-Men movies released thus far. The characters feel real and tangible without this fantasy superhero veil hanging over it. The movie does have this feeling of being a bit edited. The action, themes, dialog - all feel like this was made to be rated R but then was cut back to a PG-13. The world created by Mangold feels very real and current day and it serves as a welcomed change of scenery for our hero - I just wish there was more of it! By the end of the movie Logan is a changed man both physically and mentally than when we found him at the start. Perhaps another draft of the script could have helped iron out the few trouble spots in our adventure. 2D or 3D doesn't really matter here either, I caught it 3D and while the train fight and a few other moments were quite well done, it didn't make an impact on the experience as a whole to warrant it. But what this movie does well is sponge away the dirty stain left from X-Men Origins: Wolverine and most of the damage done by X3: The Last Stand. Be sure to stick around to the mid-credits for a tantalizing look at X-Men: Days of Future Past due out next summer! Is is worth seeing in theaters? Maybe not, but it is worth seeing, so don't let it slip past your radar for too long!
In the End: 6/10 Not perfect but far and away better than the last couple Wolverine adventures.