Review: The Wolverine

Written by: Derek Winnert

Where have all the mutants gone?

Well, I don’t really know, but The Wolverine has gone to modern-day Japan, summoned by an old acquaintance we see him meeting years ago in the film’s prologue. There in Japan, for the first time, and not the last, he loses his super powers, his big metal claws that is, that have hitherto pretty much made him invulnerable and invincible.

Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine

Hugh Jackman says he wanted to ditch all the old characters and go to a new place and tell an entirely different kind of story with a darker tone. He’s done that for sure in The Wolverine. Job done!

Some will miss the X-Men movie characters, maybe, along with the American setting and the camper, jokier tone. But those who like their comic-book movies Christopher Nolan-serious are going to be in for a treat.

Now 44, Jackman spends most of the movie showing off his gym-fit physique: he’s got no rubber suits to hide under and hasn’t got any CGI to help him out, body wise. I don’t blame you at all, Hugh.

Yes, fine, Jackman’s ultra-fit, inhabiting The Wolverine so much, so far and so deeply by now that he’s beginning actually to look wolverine. It’s hard now to imagine that he was a last-minute replacement for a hapless Dougray Scott, who had to bow out when filming on Mission: Impossible II over-ran in 2000. But he was.

There’s no doubt that Jackman’s got a great way with the action – there’s plenty of it by the way, and it’s thrillingly staged – and that he can also have a great way with the witty dialogue and one-liners if only they’ve given him a bit more polished wit and funny one-liners to chew on.

With all the previous characters missing, apart from Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey, who keeps appearing in dream sequences there’s a bit of a mutant void, a slight yawning chasm actually. Thankfully, we do get one mutant, Viper, played rather magnificently by Svetlana Khodchenkova. She puts her heart, soul and especially her tongue into it. An impressive villainess, indeed, is Ms Khodchenkova.

We also get Rila Fukushima, as Yukio, who assumes the role of The Wolverine’s bodyguard when he finds himself without his powers. Ms Fukushima is another undeniable force and presence in the movie, a little firecracker. Yukio’s the one who meets up with The Wolverine in a bar and brings him to his old acquaintance Yashida and his destiny. The old acquaintance (Hal Yamanouchi) is now a dying industrialist, who’s trying to prolong active life by fair means or foul. He’s got a rather dysfunctional family, some fair, some foul.

And we also get Tao Okamoto, playing Mariko, granddaughter of the dying industrialist, and who starts to come on to The Wolverine, if only he can forget Jean Grey, and is also a bit of a dab hand at bailing The Wolverine out herself, when he gets into trouble with the not-having-his-superpowers-anymore thing.

Ms Okamota’s really rather a bit of a good thing in the movie. And then there’s also Mariko’s not-nearly-so-nice brother Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), a bit of a chip off the old block, by the look of things. Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

That’s the cast of characters and the actors; different, intriguing, taking things in an obviously needed new direction. Then there’s the marvellous production, incredibly smooth and polished direction by James Mangold (Knight and Day, Walk the Line), seamless special effects, marvellous cinematography, thrilling stunts and pointless but apparently essential 3D.

While Mark Bomback, Scott Frank and Christopher McQuarrie’s offbeat screenplay tries hard, it’s not quite up to the task in hand. The same can’t be said about Jackman, though. He’s way up to the task in hand, and always in there for it, trying so hard you can’t see him actually doing it. The effort never shows, the quality of a true artist. What a class act he is!

On this form, The Wolverine 2 must be on the horizon in a couple of years after this one.

Author: Derek Winnert

Derek Winnert is a leading UK movie critic, film writer, author and editor. Read his Classic Movie Reviews at

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