It starts out like gangbusters, but the end of The Wolverine becomes an exercise in frustration as everything that made the movie kind of awesome is flushed down the toilet in favor of a stupid, cliché ending because fuck you. The entire third act is just because fuck you. At least Wolverine: Origins had the grace to shit the bed right away.
The movie begins with the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, when Logan, a POW, saves a young Japanese officer. We then skip ahead to sometime after the events of X3, and Logan is now living on the side of the cliff—not in even in a proper cave, just on the side of a cliff, which made me laugh—listening to classical music and having nightmares within nightmares. He’s become a grizzled homeless survivalist who is engaged in a passive-aggressive territory battle with a bear, and he’s in deep mourning for Jean Grey, who keeps showing up throughout the movie as a ghostly dream vision to berate Logan like goddamned Horrible Lori from The Walking Dead. Of all the various crimes the X-Men franchise(s) have committed over the years, the vicious butchering of Jean Grey is the worst.
But then a Japanese woman, Yukio (Rila Fukushima) shows up and whisks Logan off to Japan to say goodbye to that Japanese officer, who turned into a powerful industrialist after the war. The bulk of the movie is set in Japan as Logan attempts to protect the granddaughter of the officer, Mariko (model Tao Okamoto), and the plot revolves around Logan’s mutant healing factor being suppressed so that he can be injured. The movie is at its best when we’re watching Logan do his ass-kicking thing while also completely baffled as to why suddenly taking a bullet in the chest hurts. The weaker Logan grows the stronger the movie is as he must rely on others and his own resourcefulness to survive.
There’s a lot to like about The Wolverine. Hugh Jackman is as good as ever as Logan, director James Mangold (Walk the Line) is competent, and Marco Beltrami’s score is a standout (he also did a great score for Snowpiercer). Yukio and Mariko are fairly stereotypical characters—Yukio is a Harajuku-lite and Mariko is the typical demure Japanese lady—but they have decent motivation and characterization, and The Wolverine passes the Bechdel test TWICE, which is unheard of in superhero movies. The first half of the movie is solid as Logan, injured and out of his element in Japan, tries to unwind the Yakuza-related conspiracy surrounding Mariko. There are flourishes of humor and the mutant angle is, for once, not treated as a metaphor-bat to bludgeon the audience with, but as a natural part of this world, so much so that anyone barely ever says the word “mutant”.
But then the Yakuza angle disappears all together and Logan fixes his healing problem—in a sequence that stretches credulity even for a superhero movie—and The Wolverine leaves a big juicy skid mark in its underpants. The idea that Logan was going to end up dismantling the Japanese mob was exciting, but in the middle of act two the real plot is revealed and it’s exactly the clichéd and OBVIOUS thing you thought for sure they wouldn’t do because it’s SO GODDAMN OBVIOUS. Which leads us to The Wolverine’s biggest problem—the world’s stupidest and least-motivated villains.
The plot to kill Mariko boils down to fuck you. Her dad is crazy because fuck you. The Silver Samurai, one of Wolverine’s greatest nemeses, is now a giant robot because fuck you. The ninja/samurai dude is involved in the conspiracy because fuck you. The mutant doctor is doing all this because fuck you. And the “twist” is less an actual surprise and more a giant middle finger. This is probably the worst villain plot since Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. No one’s motivation makes any sense, except for the Silver Samurai’s because it’s OBVIOUS. There’s nothing clever or fresh about it. It’s exactly what you think it’s going to be and it’s aggressively disappointing after the first half of the movie teased a potential mob showdown. There’s no other word for the third act except this: impotent.
The Wolverine is not a bad movie. It’s miles above Origins and X3. And it’s refreshing to watch an X-Men movie that isn’t stuffed to the gills with extraneous characters, but by the time the post-credits tag rolled around to tease X-Men: Whatever the Fuck I was completely over it. Watching forty minutes of Wolverine suffering explosive diarrhea tends to do that.