In the Home Theater: The Wolverine (2013)
So here's where things get a bit wonky. Remember that line in the last review? For Logan? Where I said that, between these two movies, one was the better film, but one I liked more? Well...here we go.
The Wolverine is a major recovery movie. After the silliness of X-Men Origins, which failed not only as a stand-alone film, but also demolished Fox's larger, strategic plans, to make a series of Origins films focused on singular members of the X-Men, this sub-franchise had a lot to prove. Let's also remember that, at this point, Disney / Marvel has released seven films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with an essentially flawless quality record, wrapped up the principal arc of an entire franchise within the MCU (Iron Man), and is firmly into Phase 2, with funding and green lights secured through Phase Three.
The Wolverine takes Jackman's titular character out of the typical X-men settings to-date. There's no footage that takes place at the School in Westchester. No Danger Room, and, other than Famke and a brief shot of a news clipping with Halle Berry's Storm in a photo with Wolvie, there's no X-Men. OK, I'm not counting the post-credits scene in that statement. Point is, this film seems to try and step well aside from the core franchise. A good idea, as remaining entangled in Singer's time-traveling BS seems to overly complicate matters. There's still some anachronism to contend with, as the movie's plot has its roots in Logan's World War II era past. Rescuing a Japanese Army officer who releases him from his POW prison cell as the Americans arrive to deliver Fat Man and provide the killing blow to Japan's word domination endeavors, Logan sets off a chain of events that will eventually come back to haunt him. Flash forward to the present, where Logan is living in the wilderness, trying to shake the guilt from having killed Jean Gray in order to release her from her Dark Phoenix possession at the end of X2. An emissary from that Japanese officer arrives to request Logan's presence back in Japan to pay his final respects, a Mr Yashida, now head of a worldwide technology conglomerate, is dying. With some coercion, Logan finally agrees, and we're off to a Japanese adventure.
There are a number of things that work in this film, and a few things that do not. One of the latter is Svetlana Khodchenkova, who portrays the character Viper, one of the bad guys-but-not-as-bad-as-some-of-the-other-bad-guys. She is all kinds of out of place as the one Westerner in the story other than Logan, and not in a good way. I would have preferred to just have another character native to the region as the additional villain, or at least just someone not so awkwardly injected into the storyline.
And that is also one of the story's problems. Everyone is a villain. There are kind of two teams of bad guys, with one being decidedly petty and maybe not as evil as the other. I don't know. They are all bad, I guess. But trying to parse out who is more bad than the other is problematic and the story nearly comes off the rails at some points when that is thrown in your face. A bit more intrigue and taking the Marvel approach of making this more of a deeply cultural mystery, would have gone a long way. Marvel has proven that the best way to make these movies is to decide on making a great genre film first, and then throw some super-heroes and villains into it. So more of making a Rising Sun / Shogun / The Last Samurai flick and then layering mutant fiction into it would have made it less clumsy in stringing it together, especially the climax, which became overly complicated hyperbole to the point of being ridiculous. I also had a severe disconnect when Logan chastises a man for infidelity, literally in a scene right after Logan himself has slept with an engaged woman. I get it; one character is a bad guy, and the other isn't. But then let's not maneuver the viewer to the point where they have to notice that hypocrisy by drawing direct attention to the comparison.
Artistically, I love the movie. Scenery is a really nice collage of Eastern architecture and the beauty of Japanese nature. What we often think of today is the skyward sprawl of areas like Tokyo, and we rarely consider the majesty of the forested mountains and plains of Japanese topography. There are just some absolutely gorgeous action sequences. Wolverine with a back full of arrows continuing to stride forward on just sheer willpower was one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. The martial arts scenes are also well done, and Rila Fukushima, who would go on to portray Tatsu Yamashiro, aka Katana, in The CW's Arrow, is a particular stand-out. The action sequence on top of the Japanese bullet-train is also a treat, if a slight bit over the top, and not as well done as the highway scene in The Matrix: Reloaded. There are some things that are not so great, too, especially the Silver Samurai armor, which, when uncowled, looks entirely like a rip-off of the un-helmed Vader scene from Return of the Jedi.
The Wolverine is a nice popcorn film, and, despite some of my negative takes on it, I liked watching it more than Logan. While the theatrical performances in Logan were in an entirely different class, that film is unseated with the ridiculously convoluted timeline puzzle that is Bryan Singer's X-Men universe, and that detracted from my enjoyment of that film. While The Wolverine is a more typical super-hero flick, especially in its second half, it also does not aspire to be more than that, and it is well-disconnected from the rest of the X-Men universe chicanery. Either that or it just preceded a specific divide that makes these movies problematic in their continuity. Either way, I found the second film, overall, a more enjoyable view than the third, while acknowledging that the third film is the greater cinematic achievement.