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THE WOLVERINE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee
Director: James Mangold
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 126 Minutes (Theatrical), 139 Minutes (Extended)
Release Date: December 3, 2013

You’re a soldier, and you seek what all soldiers do.”

And what’s that?”

An honorable death to end your pain.”

Film ****

Now THIS, ladies, gents and mutants, is the true Wolverine movie we’ve all been waiting for. I no longer have to live with the disappointment of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine because I now have a movie that has instantly wiped that previous movie from my memory like an adimantium bullet (crap…last and only reference). What’s more, we have our beloved clawed mutant placed in no less than a modern day samurai tale!

Credit the superb director James Mangold (Identity, Cop Land, 3:10 to Yuma) for delivering the first movie in the X-Men series to match the level of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga. The Wolverine is darker, edgier and far more brutal than any installment in the series before it and, like Nolan’s hero trilogy, it tells it story in a more grounded and realistic fashion. And in what is sure to delight fans, we get an unrated extended cut featuring our hero engaging in much more graphic combat than ever before…and delivering a few more F-bombs to boot!

Picking up after the events in X-Men: The Last Stand, the bruised and battered Logan (Hugh Jackman) awakes from a dream within a dream. The first shows him in Nagasaki during WWII, where POW Logan helps a young Japanese office named Yashida to his safety during as two B-52 bombs wipe out the entire prison camp. Logan awakes from that dream to find himself face to face with the ghost of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), only to find his claws in her chest.

We then find Logan, greatly bearded and long with hair, awake and in the real world…Alaska, to be precise. With nothing getting him by but occasionally protecting bears in the woods and attack the very hunters who harm them, he is soon tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who is there on behalf of a dying Japanese man who wishes to see Logan one last time before passing on. After heavy persuading, Logan reluctantly agrees to the visit.

They soon arrive in Tokyo, and once Logan is groomed and trimmed down to his trademark look, he confronts the man who wishes to see him. It is none other than Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), whose life Logan saved back in Nagasaki. He even presents Logan with the very samurai sword he bestowed to him 70 years prior.

Yashida’s way of paying back Logan is proposing the gift of mortality, since he finds his healing factor to leave him in nothing but pain especially since Jean Grey’s death. Through technological advances made by Yashida’s corporation, Logan’s mutant powers can be transferred from his body to Yashida’s. But Logan is quick to argue that no man should want his powers.

But in the midst of this proposition, war breaks out between members of the Yakuza and men working for Yashida, in particular his son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) who is looking to take over the corporation. Before long, Logan soon finds himself protecting Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who is the desired heir to the company and thus the target of a kidnapping. Clearly a conspiracy is at work.

And other sinister characters are at work as well. Most notably, that of Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), Yashida’s former oncologist who has actually, to some degree, sabotaged Logan’s mutant powers. She has employed an assassin named Harada (Will Yun Lee) to track down Logan and Mariko, who are on the run.

Adapting a pivotal Wolverine comic penned in 1982 by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, director Mangold and screenwriter Mark Bomback have crafted one of more absorbing stories to ever be seen in the comic book movie genre. Though the past movies have showcased Wolverine and made him very much the central focus, this one is by far the first to tap into his dark nature and expose his vulnerable side. It’s one of the best character studies of any comic book character done to date.

And though the film is given lots of room to breathe and not be completely overshadowed by wall to wall action sequences, the action in this movie is UN-FREAKIN-BELIEVABLE! First off, can I just say how wonderful it is that Wolverine’s claws aren’t displayed in horrendous overly done CGI as they were in that previous movie that I must not hint at anymore? They are back to a much better look this time and I can’t thank the filmmakers enough for making sure of that!

As for show-stopping bits, I never thought I’d see the day when another movie had a bullet train-based action sequence that outdid the one in Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible. But doggone it, this movie has done just that, as Wolverine battles Yakuza thugs on a bullet train speeding through all of Tokyo. It’s a pulse pounding sequence where that will absolutely having you ducking for cover, and ranks as one of the best all around action sequences in recent years.

And as far as combat sequences are concerned, Wolverine has never been better showcased. The fight choreography is at a top notch level, not to mention Hugh Jackman has never looked more ripped in any other movie (all previous X-Men movies included). This is the role that made Jackman a star and one that he has fully owned ever since his first appearance nearly 14 years ago, but he has never been showcased better in the part than in this superb, ass-kicking installment!

Lastly, I must urge any and all who read this to purchase the 3D Blu-ray edition, and not because of the 3D (which I’ll get to in a second), but because this is the only edition to contain the Unrated Extended Version which is probably the bloodiest X-Men movie we will ever be graced with. At one point, a character is hit with an arrow so fast and hard that blood hits the screen, and in a later scene several goons are mowed down by a snow auger…which had me MARVELed (had to work in at least one bad pun).

The Wolverine is a combination of an absorbing character study, hard-edge action and top level lavish filmmaking (I haven’t even mentioned how beautiful Tokyo looks here)…and that’s a combo we rarely ever get in the realm of the comic book movie universe. It’s the best movie of the genre for 2013 (miles ahead of Iron Man 3 and even much better than Man of Steel), and absolutely a pivotal achievement in the X-Men movie series!

And do stay midway during the credits for an awesome bit which leads into next summers X-Men: Days of Future Past!

Video: 2D ****, 3D ***

I saw the 3D version theatrically and I can say that outside of the fantastic bullet train sequence, the 3D in this movie wasn’t very memorable…the same can be said for the quality on this 3D Blu-ray release. Mike mentioned how lifeless the 3D quality was on the Man of Steel release, and I would put that same label here. Again, great colors and the effects to occasionally catch your eye, but for a movie of this stature you simply come to expect more than what was delivered

Now as far as the 2D version goes, which I wanted to also detail since I’m wanting to put more focus on the Extended Cut of the movie, nothing but glorious HD magic! The terrific cinematography (again, Tokyo looks nothing short of majestically stunning) and the awesome action and effects work show off in a most fantastic form. Colors and all around detail are also extravagantly displayed!

Audio ****

With a 7.1 lossless mix in tow, this movie becomes even more brutal and ferocious! Dialogue delivery and the music score from Marco Beltrami are both handled magnificently. And as for action, that’s where the money’s worth really kicks in, especially during that bullet train sequence. And the last half hour of the movie is nothing but non stop ass kicking and claw stabbing which gives your surround sound system lots to work with and deliver!

Features ***1/2

This is quite a neat 4-Disc package from Fox. Disc One is the 3D Blu-ray feature, while the extras are located on Discs 2 (the Theatrical version) and 3 (Extended Cut).

Disc 2 features the majority of the extras, starting with a near hour long documentary titled “The Path of a Ronin”, a much in depth documentary covering multiple aspects of the production from adaptation to production design to Hugh Jackman’s view on the progress of the character. There’s also an Alternate Ending and a brief look at the set of X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Disc 3 only has one feature, but it’s a terrific commentary with director James Mangold and exclusive only to the Extended Cut of the movie, which represents his original vision!

And both discs 2 and 3 also feature the use of a Second Screen App, which can be downloaded through iTunes or Amazon and synched up with the movie for an interactive presentation.

Lastly, Disc 4 is a standard DVD copy which also includes a code for a downloadable Digital HD version.

Summary:

The Wolverine is a triumph in its presenting of this beloved character and his true animal side. Placing him in Japan and in a contemporary samurai story makes for one of the best comic book movies to date! And the Extended Cut is an absolute must see for everyone!

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