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The Wolverine
Reviewed by Paul Benjamin, © 2013

Format: Movie
By:   James Mangold (director)
Genre:   Super-hero
Review Date:   July 25, 2013
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

My first freelance writing gig was on The Wolverine Encyclopedia. I was a writer on the X-Men Origins: Wolverine video game. Suffice it to say, I know a thing or two about Wolverine, and Hugh Jackman continues to be the best there is at what he does.

There are problems and plot holes here and there. However, by and large the problems in this movie are the little nit-picky ones that primarily irk super fans, not the "Superman saves lives and doesn't kill people" issues of super hero movies that miss the core nuances of the characters.

If you've read Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's Wolverine mini-series that inspired this film (or if you watched the movie trailers), you know the gist. Wolverine goes to Japan, fights Yakuza and ninjas, meets the love of his life, gives up his powers and is on the verge of death in a way we never saw in the other X-Men films.

I went into the theater with low expectations. X-Men Origins: Wolverine left me flat and after Superman II and the second Sam Raimi Spider-Man, I wasn't terribly interested in yet another superhero sequel in which the hero loses his powers. I was pleasantly surprised. The power loss felt very much in keeping with the original mini-series in which Logan's healing factor was pushed to the edge by drugs and injuries, but built to fit the X-Men movie franchise.

More than anything else, the love story carries this film. Most of the movie feels more grounded than other superhero movies, with Wolverine getting to know Mariko Yashida and going up against Yakuza thugs. With his healing factor on the fritz, Logan feels more like Die Hard's John McClane with claws than your usual hero in tights. The tone is also right on the mark established in the X-Men films, with an effective mix of humor and fun alongside the death-defying action.

The biggest problem in terms of tone is the third act where, after enjoying something a bit more grounded than your usual superhero movie, you're quickly reminded that you're watching something based on a comic, thanks to a final battle that is more flamboyant than anything in the comic that inspired it.

The weakest link in The Wolverine is Svetlana Khodchenkova as the villainess. Ann Veal from Arrested Development is more memorable and has more onscreen charisma (Who? Her?). I mean, I have had plenty of discussions with friends about whether or not Uma Thurman is beautiful or weird looking (I'm on Team Beautiful), but whether you think Uma's hot or not, no one can argue she has charisma. Presence. In The Wolverine, Khodchenkova as Viper is a cardboard cutout. She's the Mystique of this film, but with none of the presence and gravitas of Rebecca Romijn.

In D&D terms, even if you think Viper has a high comeliness stat, her charisma score is a 3.

Viper aside, The Wolverine is worth a trip to the theater for the bullet train fight alone. If you're looking for a more grounded superhero tale with a love story, this is your film. If you're hoping for an over-the-top superhero story, you'll get some of that, too. If you just want to see Wolverine skewering bad guys on his adamantium claws, go get in line. One final word. Be sure to stay for the in-credits stinger. 'Nuff said.

Paul Benjamin is a New York Times bestselling author who lived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where his wife served as a U.S. diplomat. An unofficial ambassador of all things awesome, Paul has written and produced comics and video games for diverse properties including many Marvel characters such as Hulk, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, as well as Star Wars, Star Trek, Starcraft, World of Warcraft, the Muppets, G.I. Joe, Monsters, Inc., and more. His original manga series Pantheon High was a YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens nominee. More about Paul can be found online at http://www.paulbenjaminwrites.com.

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