The X-Men film series got it’s start nearly sixteen years ago and after sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and a sequel/prequel/attempt to fix continuity it’s still going strong. But in the series there’s one entry that tends to get overlooked. I remember people not being all that excited about The Wolverine after the previous solo film left a lot to be desired. And in spite of being a much better story it still has fairly mixed reviews. So today I wanted to discuss why I think this is the 2nd best X-Men film (X2 and First Class tie for first place) of the entire series.
-Post Last Stand Storyline-
I recently wrote about the third entry in the X-Men saga (I’ll leave a link at the end of the article) and how it felt very much like the definitive end to the stories moving forward in the timeline. And it seemed like with X-Men: First Class having been released two years prior to this that was the case. Thankfully, The Wolverine decided to set it’s story after The Last Stand. We get to see how some of the repercussions from that film ended up haunting Logan (I’ll dive into that more shortly). All the other films didn’t get to do much with this point of the timeline and with Days of Future Past’s retcon of continuity they probably won’t. I would have loved to have seen at least one film show the fall-out from “The Cure” and how it affected the mutant community for better or worse.
-Logan’s Broken Psyche-
It’s fair to say that Wolverine has never been the most stable X-Men character in the franchise. But that’s also what makes him one of the most fascinating. Within the films it’s set-up to pull apart this web of mysteries that surrounded his life before the X-Men. What The Wolverine did was take this a step further. It’s no longer what Logan can’t remember that haunts him, but what he can’t forget. In order to protect quite possibly the entire world Logan killed Jean Grey. Anyone who is forced to kill the woman they love is going to have some serious issues. So seeing Logan, a character who is nearly unkillable and seen the worse of humanity over centuries of violence giving up on life is a poignant idea.
-Less Mutant Oriented-
This may seem like a paradoxical argument, but let me continue. Yes, this is X-Men the series that is all about mutants, but just because you can have characters with abilities doesn’t mean it’ll make for a better story. One of my major issues with both The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the over-saturation of mutant characters to their stories. While the first two films always made sure to use and explain characters abilities within the context of the story, once other directors (and studio mandates) got into the series it became more about what’s “cool” than what’s cohesive. Thankfully, there are only three (including our title character) major mutant roles in the entire film and their mutations are actually integral to the plot. Yukio’s (Rila Fukushima) precognitive ability about seeing everyone’s deaths is an important piece to a story that’s all about Logan’s mortality. And while Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) may not have gotten as much screentime to flesh out her character we understand the importance of her ability in relation to working for Yashida. It’s also funny to point out that none of the mutants have excessively “showy” powers. There’s no lightning bolts or optic blasts getting tossed around which gives this film a refreshing feel.
-The Story:Action Ratio-
Tying into the previous “less showy” comment I wanted to discuss this tidbit. Of course this film has some impressive action scenes as any X-Men film should. But director James Mangold struck a terrific balance between character beats and action beats. There are some great action scenes in this film. The whole bullet train fight is fun and tense to watch. On the other end of that is all the subtle moments that happen between Logan and Mariko (Tao Okamoto) throughout the story. And look at the first act of the film. There’s no real action within those moments, but it’s compelling to watch because we’re seeing Logan at his lowest point. I will admit that the end face-off between Logan and the Silver Samurai isn’t the best, but the action scene of Logan arriving at the facility is thoroughly entertaining.
-Casting Mostly Japanese Actors-
This may sound like a silly thing to bring up considering the film is set in Japan, but come on. One of the recent topics of conversation in Hollywood has been “whitewashing” characters or locations for whatever reason the studio or director gives to the press. And yes, our lead actor in the this film is white, but at least most of the supporting cast is Japanese. This actually makes the film feel less like a Hollywood blockbuster and more like a sweeping epic in my opinion. Plus, if you’re going to tell a story about Logan set in Japan you might as well do it right the first time and not have to fix it with a reboot.
-Hugh Jackman Giving Everything to the Role-
It’s not news that Hugh Jackman loves portraying Wolverine in the X-Men films. But unlike some actors who look at their first big role in a Hollywood film as just a stepping stone he’s stuck with this character through thick and thin. And the fact that he does it with such dedication is unbelievable. For this film alone he put on a huge amount of muscle mass. Also, he wouldn’t consume liquids 36 hours prior to filming his shirtless scenes in order to give his figure a more exaggerated look. This man wanted to put the best representation of Wolverine on the big screen and in my opinion he succeeded.
As usual what are your thoughts? Did you enjoy The Wolverine? Do you prefer your X-Men films to be more ensemble pieces? Like me, are you upset knowing that Jackman will end his run in this role after the third Wolverine film?
Also, here’s the link to that previous article I posted as promised. Give it a look if you’re bored. And as always, thanks for reading.