Directed by James Mangold ('Knight and Day,' '3:10 to Yuma,' 'Walk The Line'), 'The Wolverine' inspired by the celebrated Marvel comic book arc and featuring Hugh Jackman, in the title role takes the hero to a Japan he hasn't seen since World War II - and into a shadowy realm of ninjas, mutants, and brand new class of villains. To date the film has topped over $371 million in the worldwide box office becoming the highest grossing film in the franchise internationally.
Jackman returns as 'The Wolverine' and faces his ultimate nemesis in an action-packed, life-or-death battle that takes him to modern-day Japan. Vulnerable for the first time and pushed to his limits, Wolverine confronts not only lethal samurai steel but also his inner struggle against his own immortality; an epic fight that will leave him forever changed.
This summer gave us three metal-based manly superheros – the Man of Steel, the Man of Iron, and the Man of Adamantium. While 'Man of Steel' was easily my favorite of the three, 'The Wolverine' wasn't too far behind it – which isn't at all what I expected after that awful Wolverine-fueled 'X-Men Origins' movie. I didn't think they could ever rebound after that train wreck, but – fortunately for us – 'The Wolverine' is more like 'First Class' than 'X-Men Origins.'
As we learned from 'X-Men,' 'X2: X-Men United' and 'First Class,' it takes a strong director with the ability to create unique and unforgettable action sequences to make the 'X-Men' movies work – something that neither Brett Ratner could pull off with 'X-Men: The Last Stand' nor Gavin Hood with 'X-Men Origins.' James Mangold hopped aboard the franchise for 'The Wolverine' and made the character worth caring about again, all the while churning out a few stellar sequences sure to make any action fan giggle with excitement.
'The Wolverine' takes place after the events of 'X-Men 3' – but it almost entirely ignores that joke-of-a-movie. If one hadn't seen 'X3,' he/she could follow the story of 'The Wolverine' without problems. Emotionally and physically beaten down by his tragic life, Logan (Hugh Jackman) has entirely distanced himself from his fellow mutant friends. The recluse has hidden himself away in a thick forest. He only heads to town when he needs supplies. Haunted by the ghost of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Logan wants to put the inner beast to rest. He has made a vow to keep his claws retracted, to control his anger and to swear off violence. It's when a figure from his past returns that he again unleashes the beast.
The film opens with a great introduction to the character that turns things around for Logan. 'X-Men Origins' featured a cheesy intro that showed Logan and Bro living through every major moment in world history. 'The Wolverine' gives a great scene set in one of those moments – a crazy bombing in World War II Japan. When the bombs are about to fall, Logan saves the life of a young Japanese soldier. Now, more than 68 years later, that man has reached out to Logan, ostensibly to say goodbye, but also to make him an offer; knowing the sorrow that has come from Logan's powers, he is willing to take Logan's immortality for himself, while in turn making Logan a mere mortal and capable of dying. After giving his answer, Logan becomes involved in the dying man's family affairs, and it's then that the claws come out.
James Mangold refuses to get pegged into one genre and he isn't afraid to tackle something new. His big break was with the crime drama 'Cop Land.' After that, he helped guide Angelina Jolie to an Oscar for her role in the drama 'Girl, Interrupted,' followed by the romantic comedy 'Kate and Leopold.' He gave us the fantastic psychological thriller 'Identity,' the Oscar-winning Johnny Cash biopic 'Walk the Line,' the western revival '3:10 to Yuma' and the playful action blockbuster 'Knight and Day.' Is there anything that Mangold can't do well? He stepped into 'The Wolverine' and gave the character meaning, fleshing out a new side of the brutal mutant. On the entertainment side, he tackled the action in a way that made it an all-out fun ride. I dare you to watch the train sequence in 'The Wolverine' and tell me that it wasn't absolutely awesome.
Mangold has mentioned that Fox allowed him to film the 'Wolverine' movie that he wanted to make, so his original cut definitely pushed the boundaries of the PG-13 rating. The theatrical cut simply removed the excessive violence and an F-bomb or two, but the unrated cut has been included on a 2D bonus disc in this 3D release. Only one greatly extended scene will catch your attention – the "Wolverine versus the Village Ninjas" sequence leading up to the climax. This scene was weak in the theatrical cut, but is slick and cool in the extended cut. The only other noticeable change is the addition of spurting blood during many of the movie's more stabby shots. Arrows that pierced a man in the chest during the theatrical version may now cause a bloody mess by going through his head instead. I wouldn't recommend the unrated version for younger teenage audiences - but for us grown-ups, it's a must.
Fox has plans to continue the stand-alone Wolverine flicks after this summer's 'X-Men: Days of Future Past.' After re-watching 'The Wolverine,' I couldn't be more excited about Mangold and Jackman re-teaming for the next installment.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
A few retailers have their own exclusive releases, but there are basically two versions of 'The Wolverine' out there to purchase – the 3D release (which is being deemed the "Unleashed Extended Edition") and the standard 2D release. Although the extended cut is only available in 2D, the disc can only be obtained by purchasing the 3D edition. The 2D version does not include the superior cut. The 3D release includes a 3D Blu-ray with theatrical cut, a 2D Blu-ray with the theatrical cut, a 2D Blu-ray with the extended cut and a DVD/Digital Copy of the theatrical cut. The Digital Copy code can also be used to redeem an Ultraviolet copy of the theatrical cut.
'The Wolverine' arrives on Blu-ray 3D with a very strong 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode. The 2D Blu-rays are presented with 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encodes. All versions are presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
All video is absolutely clear, crisp and clean. The amount of detail contained is staggering. Tiny beads of sweat, facial pores, individual strands of hair and bits of debris are perfectly defined and visible. Jackman's chops have never appeared so wirey, almost like Brillo Pad bristles. As the bomb falls in the movie's intro, the incoming blast throws pieces of small dust across the screen. After the plume has passed, individual grains of light sand can be seen falling down upon Logan and his new Japanese friend. This amount of detail never lets up. For those watching the extended version, this means that great details of blood spatter can be seen spurting through the air from henchmen and ninja wounds.
The 3D video quality appears to have been adjusted to compensate for darkened lenses. Darkness is never a problem with 3D viewing. Black levels are rich and deep. Had there been a flaw in black levels, it would have been tragic because of the amount of dark nighttime settings. Vibrant colors perfectly accent these dark scenes. The lighting and colorization is gorgeous throughout the entire film. Through the orange sunsets, neon blue honeymoon hotel lighting and pale moonlight, oversaturation is never a problem.
My only complaint with the video quality is a very minor amount of mild 3D effects. Occasionally, the 3D elements carry a pop-up book-ish look. Elements are layered in planes instead of gradual distances – but this is very rare. For the most part, the 3D dynamic is fantastic. Going back to the opening bombing scenes, countless pieces of debris fly towards the screen at their own distances. Bullets hit the face of a wood encampment building that result in tiny wood chips splintering off towards the camera. Arrows are shot at the screen that may leave you flinching. One shot shows an assassin jumping from one rooftop down to another. The 3D element made my stomach drop. Snow and rain – of which there is a great amount – is properly layered through the image. Had it not been for a handful of pop-up effects, the video quality would be flawless.
Fox has graciously given 'The Wolverine' a demo-worthy 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. From beginning to end, this mix is 100 percent active in all channels, constantly showing off the effects of a perfect 7.1 audio track.
The rear, surround and front channels are constantly lit up with environmental effects. Prior to planes dropping the bombs, you'll hear them circling around the area. Many sounds are heard even though their sources are rarely, if ever, shown. During the madness of people trying to flee the bombing, you'll hear jeeps imaging around the rear channels although none of the jeeps are ever shown on-screen. When Logan walks through the wooded mountainside during a rain storm, not only can the rain can be heard falling throughout all channels, but you can hear the different sounds as water drops splash on different surfaces. As thunderous storms cover Tokyo, lightning-caused rumbles and crackles can be heard in different directions. Again, the source of the sound (lightning) is never seen. Bass and LFE effectively boom throughout.
Vocal levels are perfectly mixed with the effects and music. Every line of dialog is perfectly audible and never trumped by other sounds. The only instances where dialog may be hard to understand are caused by thick Japanese accents – no fault of the audio mix itself. When used, music sounds great – but a few great scenes make great use of no music. The amazing train fight sequence doesn't feature a single note of music.
For this review, I will refer to the 3D disc as Disc 1. There are no special features on Disc 1. The 2D disc with the theatrical cut will be Disc 2. Most of the special features are found on Disc 2. And the 2D disc with the extended cut will be Disc 3. Because the extended version is only available on Blu-ray, I'm deeming it an HD exclusive.
The following feature is the only one found on both the Blu-ray and DVD releases of the film – and even then, only a portion of the full feature is included in the DVD release. The remainder of the the special features are only available on Blu-ray; therefore, they are found in the HD Exclusives section below.
Once again, the 'X-Men' franchise is alive and well. The horrible third 'X-Men' movie and the first 'Wolverine' movie derailed my faith in the franchise that really brought Marvel movies to the forefront, but 'X-Men: First Class' re-established that faith, and now 'The Wolverine' is continuing to show that they're headed in the right direction again. James Mangold removed the comic aspect and got the clawed character's adamantium heart beating again. If you're a fan of the film, this Unleashed Extended Edition is the way to go. Not only does it include the 3D and 2D versions, but it comes with an fantastic additional 2D Blu-ray disc that contains a 12-minute-extended and unrated cut of the film. For me, the extended cut is the way to go and it can only be found in this set. The 3D video quality is near-perfect, but the 2D video quality and the 7.1 audio mix are perfect. A nice and bulky hour-long making-of documentary is included amidst the special features, as is a great director's commentary on the extended cut, a fun little alternate ending and a tour of the 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' set. Considering everything that's included, the Unleashed Extended Edition is the only way to go. Highly recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.