The Wolverine

The Wolverine Unleashed Extended Edition takes big steps towards giving long-time fans the version of Marvel’s clawed mutant that they’ve always wanted to see on screen.

The first solo Wolverine movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was a bloated, cartoonish mess that vomited stereotypical criticisms of comic book movies onto the screen as story points. Unsurprisingly, that left no one happy. When a follow-up, The Wolverine, was revealed to be drawing direct inspiration from the character’s early solo comic book outing created by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, there was reason to hope the character’s second headlining gig might fare better.

The Wolverine hit theaters this past summer, and thanks to James Mangold‘s direction (both on set and behind the scenes in dealing with Fox) it was a thematically strong film, with Nolan-esque ambitions to break the image of the comic book film as a superficial effects showcase. Yet it still seemed to be held in check; in particular the film’s violence and intensity didn’t quite match up to the intensity of Claremont and Miller’s conception of the character.

For the Blu-ray and digital release of The Wolverine, Fox is taking an unusual step by releasing an extended and unrated cut of the film. This marks the first time that Fox has veered away from the PG-13 rating with an X-Men movie, and a rare example of any major studio offering an extended unrated cut of a major tentpole. I saw the cut last night on the Fox lot. It is more bloody and violent; it’s a movie that offers the grimier side of Wolverine even as it fails to address issues that kept the theatrical cut from fulfilling all its ambitions.

Note: full spoilers for The Wolverine follow.

So what’s new in this cut? With no opportunity to review the theatrical cut beforehand, and no explicit conversation about this version at the post-show Q&A these notes are not meant to be 100% comprehensive. There is certainly more blood, especially in the first big fight sequence at Yashida’s funeral, and all the action features many more shots of claws and swords puncturing bodies. Some alternate takes are sprinkled into the action, featuring more intense violence. The love hotel sequence is a bit different. There are extra f-bombs and some more swearing in general, as well as some extended and additional dialogue.

The biggest addition, which accounts for many of the extra twelve minutes in this version, is an extra segment that takes place at the beginning of the ninja encounter that opens the movie’s final sequence. It features a lot of blood, in big washes, thanks to dastardly use of a snow-grinding machine. This sequence seems to have been shot with the knowledge it could end up cut from the final edit, as there are easily discernible “in” and “out” points that don’t tie it too firmly to the action that bookends the fight. I’d also wager (but am not 100% certain) there are more shots of the Silver Samurai drilling into Logan’s bone claws, in what is still the most stomach-turning sequence in any film featuring Marvel comic characters.

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What you won’t see is that reveal of Wolverine’s original ’70s costume at the very end. Expect that to be on the disc as the alternate ending, but for now that costume isn’t going to be canon in the film series. The photo above is the costume prop as displayed at the screening of the extended cut.

While The Wolverine still doesn’t feature the arterial sprays and piles of severed limbs that must really result from Logan’s combat arts, this is still the most explicitly violent and vulgar X-Men movie yet. Some of the film’s more eccentric ideas (like the wacky and awesome “Darth Vader by way of Tetsuo: The Iron Man” tone in Yashida’s final appearance) also feel better-placed in this more violent film. In that respect, elements of the movie now get closer to the Wolverine that some fans want to see on screen.

Is it a better movie overall? Not really, because the issues that plagued The Wolverine in its theatrical cut aren’t erased. Despite some additional dialogue and action, Mariko is still two-dimensional and far less interesting than the clairvoyant warrior Yukio. The villainess Viper remains a plot device that has grown into the shape of a woman. As Viper’s costume changes track the film’s shift to an increasingly nutty tone, her evolution from “sexy doctor” to “WTF?” still plays silly and out of place. The bullet train action sequence is a neat idea, but still feels like something better suited for a Bond film, and a late-period Brosnan or Moore one at that.

The good news is that The Wolverine is still a pretty good movie, especially for the first two strong acts. James Mangold directs with as much attention to the small moments as the setpieces, and isn’t afraid to let the characters breathe. This is a tentpole movie about death, and it often uses the specifics of Wolverine’s story to engage that idea directly. (I keep going back to the notion that Wolverine, as a ronin, is a warrior cut loose from death as his master.) Some of the quiet moments are genuinely moving, and The Wolverine also isn’t afraid to engage the pure oddity of a guy who can pop claws through the back of his hands.

Like the theatrical release, this cut feels like an uneasy collision of elements, and in that respect shows both the evolution of the superhero film and a lesson in how far it still has to go. Ten years ago this movie would not have been made; it took Christopher Nolan and the success of Marvel to embolden Fox to give James Mangold some leeway. That the film gets to slow down as much as it does is an achievement, and a step in the right direction. The Wolverine has real story and deep themes at its core, and doesn’t always force them to serve action sequences. But script elements such as Viper do creep in, and stunt the film’s growth.

While the unrated The Wolverine is more superficially “adult” (it wouldn’t score a PG-13) it is not more adult in a true sense. It does not explore the theme of death in more significant fashion than the theatrical cut. The romance between Logan and Mariko still feels like an opportunistic makeout session, and Mariko’s counterpart, Yukio, remains the film’s only fully-formed female character.

The watching the two incarnations of The Wolverine is like watching Fox experimenting. Things couldn’t get much worse than Origins, so Mangold had some freedom to play with a more serious tone. The result did well in a theatrical run, so there’s reason to let loose a bit more on Blu-ray. Can we expect to see some of these lessons put into action sooner in the next cycle, and will the next incarnation deviate even further from the template that prioritizes action over all else?

The Wolverine Unleashed Extended Edition is available now as a Digital HD download. The Blu-ray and DVD will release on December 3.

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About the Author

Russ Fischer lives in Los Angeles. For film reviews, the 1-10 scale breakdown goes like this: anything over a 5 is positive. (twitter.com/russfischer) or (russ.slashfilm at gmail.com)

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