The Wolverine (2013) Review

Rating: 2.5 Stars

The following review contains spoilers.

This review is for the Theatrical Cut of the movie.


In some ways, Wolverine has the same problem as Superman. He’s basically invincible, so the stakes for him entering a physical conflict are low. The way you solve this problem is to present the hero with stakes other than his own possible death, such as navigating moral gray areas and seemingly unsolvable dilemmas. If stumped, you can give them a physically stronger opponent who can stop our hero from winning even if they can’t actually kill them. The Wolverine just takes Wolverine’s powers away, which is the most creatively lazy way to get around this.

Also, here’s a secret: every action hero is basically invincible. James Bond and Ethan Hunt are just as unlikely to be killed in battle as Superman or Wolverine. Creative “unsolvable” problems are always more compelling than “Oh no, our hero might be killed!” because the hero is almost never killed.

Anyway, at some point when Wolverine was fighting in all the wars he was a prisoner in Nagasaki right as the bomb was being dropped. A soft-hearted Japanese officer freed all of the American prisoners to give them a fighting chance, but Wolverine somehow knew they couldn’t outrun what was coming, and he pulled the officer, Yoshida, into Wolverine’s cell and saved his life.

Years later, Wolverine apparently has given up on the idea of teaching at the Xavier School, as he was just too darn sad about killing Jean Grey, and now he sleeps in a cave and threatens people who poison bears. An emissary from the now elderly and wealthy Yoshida, Yukio the Death Predictor (fun at parties!), tracks him down and requests he come to Tokyo to say goodbye to the man he apparently remembers saving at Nagasaki, despite supposedly having no memory from before he was shot in the head with an adamantium bullet in his last solo film. He agrees, and thus begins the equivalent of a “The Simpsons go to Japan!” style episode, complete with every cultural cliché imaginable. It’s like a Wikipedia article about Japan written entirely by white guys who have never been to Japan.

Best Parts:

Though actually they shot on location in Japan, and the movie is frequently quite beautiful because of it. The small-town Wolverine and Mariko are hiding out in for much of the movie’s dull middle chapter is gorgeous.

I liked seeing Harada the archer running across rooftops shooting arrows at the gang members who were pursuing Mariko.

Wolverine versus the yakuza on top of a bullet train was so over-the-top and insane that it was kind of awesome. It’s certainly the most exciting and daring action scene in the film. It’s hard not to smile at Wolverine and his opponent basically flying through the air at each other, dodging the low overhangs the train passes through.

The fight scene between Yukio and Lord Shingen is somewhat exciting, and made all the more bonkers by the fact that Wolverine is trying to pull a robot off his heart in the background.

Worst Parts:

The writing is poor, both the dialogue and the plotting. There are two groups of villains in this movie, and both of their end goals and motivations are kept as obscure as possible for as long as possible, because if you know their intentions from the start then not one action taken by either group makes any actual sense. Right from the beginning, if Wolverine had agreed to give his healing factor to Yoshida, what was the next step? Was he supposed to also agree to have his some part of his body amputated to access the bone marrow under his adamantium? Also, without his healing factor, the adamantium would instantly kill him, but whatever. Why did Yoshida fake his death if he planned to return and continue running his company after capturing Wolverine? Why and how did Viper obtain/implant a healing-factor suppressing robot into Wolverine’s chest? If Shingen’s plan was always to have the yakuza kill his daughter, why did the yakuza never actually try to kill her? Why did Yoshida bring Mariko to his endless tower of identical science labs?

Why would Yoshida leave his business to Mariko, who is never for any moment shown as being a competent businesswoman? Or a competent anything? At every step, Mariko is a blank nothing. She is so weak and dull that her ultimate decision to stab her grandfather in the face with a knife is laughably out-of-nowhere.

The big climax of this movie is when Wolverine remembers that Japanese swords are wielded with two hands, and only a two-handed grip makes this special science sword instantly become hot enough to cut through adamantium. This scene is dumb.

We spend this whole movie in constant contact with Jean Grey’s ghost, who is dull as dirt. Hilariously when Wolverine vaguely mumbles to Mariko that he murdered his last girlfriend, with no context or explanation that she was destroying the world at the time, Mariko just snuggles up closer. Oh, you murdered a girl? And almost just stabbed me in your sleep? That’s so hot. Also, I use the term “last girlfriend” loosely as their big love affair was pretty much all in Wolverine’s head.

Yukio: “So, where do you want to go?”
Wolverine: “Let’s just start with up.”
Yukio: “And then?”
Wolverine: “We’ll see.”
Yukio: “Interesting.”

That’s 100% not how planes work.

Prof X: “Hello, Logan.”
Wolverine: “How is this possible?”
Prof X: “As I told you a long time ago, you are not the only one with gifts.”

Cool, sounds good to me. No follow-up questions needed on that one. It’s just full-steam ahead on the Good Ship Who Cares.

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