Allow me to begin by alleviating any fanboy fears. This year's The Wolverine is ten times the film that 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine was, at least in my opinion. Not to say that I completely hated Origins, but this year's Wolvie movie had a superior story, wonderful cinematography, and it arranged things in such a way that the idea of a strong, ongoing X-Men film series is not only possible but so very likely (X-Men: Days of Future Past is shooting now, by the way!). Also, in writing about the movie I might give a bit more away than some are comfortable with. You've been warned!
The Wolverine brings the viewing audience up to speed on the state of the X-Men Universe after the events of X-Men 3: The Last Stand. In fact, I found this installment to be Fox's declaration that they have worked to develop the continuity of their X-Men Filmverse and they're sticking to it. This is a fantastic stand, because in doing so they are acknowledging the one thing that the fan community has yet to open itself to and that's the idea of a film continuity apart from the comic source material. It's a movie series based on a comic book series. By nature it's different, so comparisons are not only unnecessary, they're almost completely meaningless.
The story follows Logan from a flashback to the grim days of World War II when Nagasaki was brutalized by The Bomb. Then we're sent forward in the timeline to a wintry setting in the years after the death of Jean Grey and Logan's departure from the X-Men. He's hold up in a cave, drinking away his sorrows, dreaming of the woman he loved and killed. From there he runs into some troublesome hunters who made the mistake of unjustly killing a bear for which he had a respect and an understanding, catches the eye of a certain Japanese woman who has been sent to retrieve him, and is jetted off to meet with a dying acquaintance of sorts.
All of the events in the film, as we progress from the bestial Logan living amongst the animals in the wild to the warrior with a renewed sense of purpose and an acceptance of the tragedies of the past, we see a growth of character in Wolverine and a typical hero's journey. He begins the movie a hero during wartime. We then witness the wreck he has become, an animal living in the woods, subsisting, respecting and being respected by his fellow beasts. As he's pulled from his surrender to his animalistic nature he's given opportunities to process his feelings for the late Jean Grey. Logan is then given purpose when he becomes entangled in the chaos surrounding the Yashida family of Japan. Overall, without giving anything else away, we're able to witness the reforging of the warrior Wolverine and his sense of self. As must occur many times throughout his tragic life, Logan is forced to deal and, in so doing, grow.
There are many great nods to moments from Wolverine's comic heritage, not to compare the film to the events or continuity of any comic storylines. His quiet, predator-to-predator respect for the bear who in turn shows him the respect of distance harkens back to those moments in the X-Men and Wolverine comics when Logan would be out amongst nature, another animal in the animal kingdom. We are also given the classic Japanese storyline from Logan's past, though this time it's set in his post-X-Men years and, in the case of the movie universe, perfectly so. Then there's the quality and nature of the action which was definitely another comic-like aspect of this film. We got to see Wolvie being the best he is at what he does and doing it in a manner which is anything but nice. Add to this the comic book look of the costume of a certain villainess and the design scheme of one of the film's most imposing antagonists who, in a powerful way, redefines the look and function of Wolverine going forward, and you have a movie that was more comic book-y than most comic book-based films.
I do have some issues with the movie, though. There was a continuity error in one sequence when the villainess went to remove her left glove. Due to poor editing she ended up removing it twice. Ouch! Also, I found the end battle to feel a bit hammy. Sure, it's a comic book-like battle, and I read comic books, but the way in which Wolverine fights the main antagonist and what happens to him in the process seemed a bit off from the feel of the rest of the film. There were several moments, some featuring combat, in which the character-developing quality of the movie's story was abandoned so that claws and guns could go up against each other with many gratuitous "Snikts" and "Bangs" to appease the action audience. This kind of weakened the film at times. These were the only serious issues I had with the film.
Regardless of a few minor complaints, I was highly entertained throughout the film, and I am thankful that I was able to find an open viewing time at 10pm last night, Thursday. This is the kind of movie I love to see as soon as it hits, if not sooner. If you're a fan of superhero comics, The X-Men, Wolverine as a character, and exciting action movies, then you owe it to yourself to see this filmic hero's journey in theaters as soon as you possibly can. Also, sit through the credits. DO NOT make the mistake of walking out as soon as the screen goes dark. Trust me on this.