BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Wolverine
20th Century Fox's Latest X-Man Flick Hits Home Video...
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I've been a fan of the Marvel Comics' character Wolverine for over twenty years now. I first picked up a Wolverine comic back in 1991 when, on my 12 birthday, my parents asked me what I wanted and I said, "Wolverine comic books." To this day, I don't remember why I asked for these in particular nor do I remember where I'd heard of the character, but it was a decision I'd soon find shaping my reading habits. As I entered junior high and high school, I read far more X-Men and Wolverine comics than I did school books and, while I'd be remiss to say I regret the decision (as I should have focused more on school no doubt), I am proud to say I, like so many other comic readers and fans who began the habit back in the late 1980s and early 1990s), developed a sense of the comics experience in what talented creators like Larry Hama, Chris Claremont, Frank Miller, Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee and other brought to life on the printed page each month.
Now, with the popularity of comics dwarfed by the magnificence of the Hollywood blockbuster, the best way to introduce new fans to classic comic characters is through film. Thus, enter Hugh Jackman's role as Wolverine in multiple X-Men films, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the recent home video release The Wolverine. Spinning a yarn from a time before Wolverine's years as a team player, this solo adventure finds everyone's favorite mutant with claws tearing up the screen - and baddies - in Japan. A new setting for those only familiar with the live-action films, Japan - in the comic series - played home to Wolverine for years as he trained to become the warrior he is today.
The Wolverine makes for an engaging, entertaining and enjoyable romp through a new adventure unique to the big screen. Combining elements and characters from various comic story lines into a single film may lead to some confusion and disappointment for die-hard Wolverine fans, but for live-action film series fans, the action is full-throttle, the fights are intense, and the storyline is entertaining and fun.
Hugh Jackman once again reprises his role as Logan, this time following his actions as a part of the X-Men in X-Men: The Last Stand. Following his execution of Jean Grey, Logan isn't just depressed, he's got a death wish and he's actively seeking something which has avoided him for far too long: death. He's vowed never again to kill but, unfortunately for him, he's just unable to keep his promise. And, because of his mutant healing factor and unbreakable bones, he's unable to die. A conundrum for sure.
Enter Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who explains she has a solution for the mutant's life problems. Decades prior, Logan saved a Japanese soldier named Yashida at the bombing of Hiroshima and now, Yashida, a wealthy businessman with seedy connections seeks to repay the favor...though in a different way entirely. Soon, Logan finds himself in Japan in the company of Yashida's son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okomoto), where Logan finds Yashida seeks to sap the mutant's healing factor abilities, thus curing Yashida's ailments and providing Logan with the long sought cure for his depression: death. However, once the procedure is done, Logan soon learns a life lesson - only when something is gone is it truly missed. Thus, we find our hero making amends by attempting to restore the status quo and regain his healing factor, all the while falling in love with Mariko, who's being hunted by rival Yakuza gangs because of her status as a member of Yashida's family. This of course leads to emotional turmoil as Logan soon finds himself in love with Mariko whose family is trying to imprison him (nothing like the wanna-be in-laws!) Oh, and let's not forget Logan is still suffering from PTSD following his battle with the Dark Phoenix/Evil Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand, so he's seeing Jean appear to him in dreams and visions. Did I mention the Silver Samurai shows up too?
Again, for die-hard comic fans (such as myself), the film will probably seem a convoluted mess of various story lines we've read before throughout the long and drawn out history of Wolverine. Confined to a single 2 hour movie, we soon see how, even with decent acting, a generous special effects budget and impressive use of camera work, the story remains overly congested. Characters who, in the comic, make for bitter rivals receive little screen time while new, awkwardly introduced characters are featured front and center. Likewise, characters who could have easily been left out of the entire film steal certain scenes for no other apparent reason than to include another Marvel character in the movie. While I'll never understand exactly why screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank wrote the film the way they did nor why director James Mangold brought it to life the way he did, The Wolverine still - somehow - works out to be an enjoyable and fun mess.
Negativity aside, I actually enjoyed The Wolverine a lot, I really did. It's a lot of fun and, for those who aren't die-hard fans of the comic, it's probably the most superhero fun they'll have at the movies this year. While Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy created a moodier mythos for Batman and Zack Snyder's recent Man of Steel introduced a more emotionally wrought Superman, Mangold's The Wolverine seeks to not only expand Logan's character a bit, but it focuses on what some moviegoers really want to see -- Wolverine tearing up baddies with his claws and proving why he's the best there is at what he does, though what he does isn't very nice. A popcorn movie to be sure, The Wolverine expects nothing in return but an enjoyable 2 hours of escapism.
The hi-def picture and sound on the blu-ray release are gorgeous, with natural colors coming through and beautiful hues bringing the surroundings and settings to life. The picture - in its original 2.40:1 ratio - is accurate and looks amazing on screen; sleek, sexy and smooth. Likewise, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track reminds anyone with a home theater why they originally bought such items. The audio brings to life each and every scene and immerses the viewer in the motion picture, with audio effects present across the sound stage through the entire film.
As for special features, the disc includes a number which will impress fans, including the 54 minute "The Path of the Ronin" featurette, which explores the film's origin in the comic storylines, various interviews with cast and crew, clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage. An enjoyable and engaging way to explore the film's creation while better understanding the filmmaker's decision making process (though why they made certain changes I still don't know!), this is one bonus feature well worth watching. Other bonus features include an alternate ending and a 3-minute set tour of the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past feature film which is in production now for a 2014 release. Lastly, for those with a tablet or smart phone and the relevant app, viewers can watch additional bonus content and material via the Second Screen App.
As I've said, I'm a die-hard Wolverine fan so I'm biased. Even if The Wolverine were really bad, I'd still probably enjoy it... at least a little bit. As it is, The Wolverine is a great way to escape the real world and immerse yourself in the rip-roaring story of a depressed mutant who finds purpose and life one more time. Enjoyable and fun for both new and old fans alike, The Wolverine shows everyone's favorite mutant doing what he does best. There's plenty of decent acting, enjoyable special effects, some ridiculous use of random Marvel characters, and even some major plot changes to your favorite comic book story lines... but nothing so crazy you'll not want to see what happens next.
The Wolverine is available now on Blu-ray and DVD wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley