Fans of the character will want to seek out the “Unleashed Cut” of James Mangold’s The Wolverine. While there are only a few minutes of footage not seen in the theatrical cut, we are treated to Hugh Jackman spitting out a couple more grizzled F-bombs, some added gore and shots of Logan stabbing and slicing Yakuza baddies, and an action sequence towards the end of the film is extended by a minute or two (just long enough to include Jackman chewing on a cigar before blowing stuff up). While all of this may seem inconsequential (and, when taken by themselves, they certainly are) these moments serve to reveal character through action.
Indeed, what makes The Wolverine one of the best installments in the long running X-Men franchise (aside from its focus on Jackman in the role he was seemingly born for) is how character focused it is. It is as small in scope and scale as is possible for a $120 million dollar blockbuster. Set entirely in Tokyo, Japan, the film deals with Logan’s mortality (or lack thereof) both thematically and narratively driven by the loss of his “healing factor” (that which keeps him from aging and renders him nearly impossible to kill). Not only does this newfound vulnerability add suspense to the action sequences (such as a standout fight/chase through downtown Tokyo that ends on a bullet train) but also forces Logan to come to grips with his own humanity. “Immortality can be a curse,” says the dying man Wolverine once saved during the bombing of Nagasaki.
Thus the rage and added oomph mentioned above tracks the tragic elements of Wolverine – his dismissive demeanor emblematic of a man who understands that one day he will have nothing to fight for. The Wolverine sees Logan wrestling with these questions, and rendered feral from both fear and the existential angst perpetuated by his recurring dreams of Jean Grey (the woman he loved whom he was forced to kill). She’s obviously a metaphorical stand-in for the way Logan sees his past as all he has, disillusioned with life in the present. At two points in the film the notion of Wolverine as a Ronin, a samurai without a master, comes up. Jackman carries these ideas perfectly, his face looking wearier than ever, and able to fully communicate Logan’s rage.
While it is occasionally quite compelling, this isn’t to say that the movie is extraordinarily profound. However, it is rare to see a picture this big so character driven. Unlike most superhero films, which usually end in CGI buildings or cities crashing down as the forces of good and evil collide in the loudest way possible (not wholly unsatisfying or entertaining, mind you), The Wolverine manages to deliver on its beat-em-up promises while offering something a bit smaller and more interesting – obsession with mortality can be as all consuming as an obsession with the past. I will always appreciate The Wolverine for its sense of style, of place, and its dedication to its protagonist.