While it looks and sounds great, the home release for The Wolverine reminds us why 20th Century Fox should stop making Marvel movies.
Marvel seems like an invincible studio these days. Fresh off the billion dollar successes of The Avengers, Iron Man 3, and $600 million Thor: The Dark World, one might forget the darker days of the late 90’s, when Marvel was nearly bankrupt. In a fit of economic desperation, they pawned off The X-Men and Fantastic Four to Fox and Spider-man to Sony. At the time, it seemed like a viable way to keep the Marvel name out there, even if the comic book side died entirely. But many will disagree as to the quality of these products: comic book purists decry the bastardization and poor scripts, while movie fans have rewarded several of these with box office success. None of these have received the backlash of disdain and groans more than 20th Century Fox, who created a great-looking series of X-Men movies, but failed to adhere to much of the established comic canon. On the way to making the (perhaps) accidentally great X-Men: First Class, they also created the unpopular (Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Elektra) and the blasphemous (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). With an amazing video and audio transfer, the home release of The Wolverine makes up for what is sadly another disappointing feature.
Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Real Steel) is given the chance to trade his Adamantium claws to save the life of the ailing Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a Japanese soldier he previously saved during WWII when Nagasaki was bombed. Soon, he’s immersed in a deadly turf war involving the Yakuza clan and their plans to assassinate Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okomoto). Orchestrating things behind the curtains is the mutant/chemist Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who infects Wolverine with a machine that keeps him from healing. Yashida’s adopted pixie daughter Yukio (Rila Fukushima) joins to defend Logan while helping to uncover the plot. When the three sides meet, Logan must battle the Adamantium machine Silver Samurai, whose host is not whom you expect.
To say The Wolverine wants desperately to right the wrongs of Origins is an understatement, and for awhile we’re buyers. The story early on is deeper than we expect, the characters more dynamic than most of the non-Marvel created films, and the idea of a mortal Wolverine gives him lots to struggle against. Playing in his sixth X-Men movie, Jackman is Wolverine – forget the height difference, he got the scowl, the ‘bub’ mockery, and the brooding. There is no doubt that he is the perfect fit, occupying the role totally and without equal, although many females in the audience will be lulled into enjoying his absolutely massive physique while missing several key quality control issues which ultimately derail the film. Simply put, The Wolverine suffers from terribly contrived mutant enemies for our hero to battle and offers nothing new action-wise. These problems become apparent early on and painfully stick around like the disease infecting Logan’s body. Khodchenkova is a terrible Viper, a second-class baddie who has no place taking center stage in a Wolverine movie; when the predictable third act is presented, our villain is so poorly inadequate to the task of defeating Logan that we’re left wondering why Fox picked this character in the first place. That might seem picky, but I think movie and comic fans alike can agree on the idea that a great action film starts with a thoroughly hated bad guy. When Logan comes upon Viper, we’re not impressed in the slightest, and The Silver Samurai – looking like a cross between Iron Man and Thor‘s Destroyer – is very beatable.
Fox rewrites its own movie canon established in X-Men Origins: Wolverine by suggesting that Wolverine’s unbreakable Adamantium claws can be broken using Samurai’s hot Adamantium sword. This further confuses the audience, demonstrating Fox’s idea of canon is whatever it wants to be at that particular time. Take away the stunning post-credit scene (which gets us ready for the sequel XMen: Days of Future Past) and most would be ready to throw their Blu-ray player right out the window. Failure here lies squarely on the creative team including Director James Mangold’s (3:10 to Yuma), as well as Writers Scott Frank (Minority Report) and Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard), who apparently forgot the 50-year history of their character, and that a film like this needs a powerful third act to take the character beyond its own film. Instead, The Wolverine disappoints on most levels, begging the question whether it’s time for Fox to hand these films back to Marvel.
The Wolverine slashes its way onto Blu-ray with an MPEG-4/AVC-encoded transfer that is both gorgeous and gritty. All digital grain has been retained here, with clarity and focus never competing for screen time. The lines and pores on Jackman’s face are realistic and lifelike, while buildings, roads, and clothing sport enormous detail. The color palette explodes in bright Japanese reds and blues, while Wolverine’s sublime classic browns look just as rich. Granted, the saturated scheme might be off-putting to some, but don’t blame 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment for that – Mangold’s vision is brought faithfully home, and the results are nearly perfect. I say ‘nearly’ due to some problems with night shots and blacks getting seemingly crushed into nothingness. We tested this with both a Plasma and LED setup and experienced the same problems. It’s not anything that festers or ruins the experience, but videophiles might have a problem. Sweat, individual hair folicles, and blood look real, as do many of the CGI action scenes. Again, The Wolverine is a rather dark film, so much of the climactic battle in the second act look more like silhouettes. Finally, there’s zero evidence of banding or aliasing, satisfying rumors by some of motion judder early in Act 1. This is a nearly flawless transfer by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
The Wolverine‘s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is one of the best of 2013. I’ve given high marks to these kinds of films lately, but it’s only because Fox and others are absolutely dominating in this field. This isn’t a booming or thunderous lossless track, but its excellent placement of sound makes it an experience in a more sublime manner. The key here lies in the surround, which is constantly brimming with a collection of forest sounds, seaside atmospherics, and city traffic. But there’s also the powerful ‘SNIK!’ sound of Wolverine’s claws as they deploy, the wind of 200-mile-per-hour bullet train, and the whizzing of arrows from Mariko’s bow. There is some issue in understanding Yuki and other actors, but turn on the English, Portuguese, or Spanish subtitles to clear that up. Composer Marco Beltrami delivers an almost western score that matches the Outlaw Josey Wales theme of the film. Sound moves effortlessly through the front speakers, while the center channel delivers American voices quite well. Again, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has worked hard to bring Mangold’s vision of the movie home, and the results are well-appreciated.
One of the other puzzling aspects of The Wolverine release lies in the spreading out of supplements across specific discs. The only way to receive the following supplements AND director’s commentary is to purchase either the 3D or the Best Buy collector’s set, called Wolverine Unleashed Extended Edition. But, the 3D contains no supplements at all, further adding to the confusion. What you get on this vanilla edition is good enough, but we’re having a hard time understanding why the commentary doesn’t appear here. What you do get is presented in HD:
- The Path of a Ronin (53:44): This is a fairly exhaustive exposition behind the tone and background of the movie. We start with Inspiration: A Ronin’s Journey (11:26) a discussion of the Wolverine/Frank Miller comics behind the story’s origin, as well as an overview of the plot. The next part Design: Mastering the Arc (15:42) looks into the differences between Wolverine and the synergy of Japan, along with the challenges of shooting on location and in the expansive Fox sets. At least the research behind the fictitious Yashida and the Japanese snow village are done well. We then move into Execution: A Killer Team (19:04), which introduces us to the fresh faces of the Japanese actors including Tao Okomoto and Rila Fukishima, as well as various weapons used in the film. Hugh Jackman: The Man Behind the Mutant (6:19) shows us how Jackman snaps effortlessly from Logan to the berserker while embodying the best parts of the character. Finally, Reflections: The Evolution of Wolverine (1:56) wraps up how Mongold’s vision mixes with Marvel’s original concept of Wolverine and The Silver Samurai.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:28)
- Alternate Ending (1:36): Fans were pretty divided on this ending, and I’m actually glad it was left on the editing room floor.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past Set Tour (2:47): Director Bryan Singer re-introduces us to the world of X-Men offers us a sneak preview of the next film. Gotta love the Cerebro set.
- Second Screen App gives the viewer additional bonus content including costume tests and interviews. The app is available across iOS and Android mobile devices.
Our evaluation copy arrived as the 2D Blu-ray Combo Pack, complete with a DVD and Digital Copy/Digital HD versions of the theatrical release. The debossed slipcase is colorful and there is no inside art. In addition, you get the free digital comic Marvel Infinite. Unfortunately, Best Buy is the only US retailer to offer upgraded packaging of the film, unless you want the Adamantium Edition, which includes all the X-Men films in addition to the two Wolverine ones. Both of those versions contain the extended unrated edition (18 minutes longer than the theatrical), which I suppose is an extra value. However, the fact that we’ve been forced to double- and (in the case of Star Trek: Into Darkness) triple-dip this year to get all the supplements is frustrating to say the least. Customers shouldn’t have to buy a bulky box to be able to get all the supplements. There, I’m off my soapbox now.
The Wolverine does a decent job of getting our hopes up, only to fall way short of its early high laurels. The lack of canon is frustrating, as is Fox’s continued predilection for altering that canon whenever they see fit. The acting is solid, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has done a great job bringing the movie home, with a terrific audio and video transfer. The supplements are not quite what we would have liked, and we hate the smattering of supplements across different versions of the release. Unfortunately, all the supplements in the world can’t keep us from wondering if it’s time that Fox give back these properties to Marvel, so that any lingering anger and confusion among fans can finally be put to rest. Frankly, we deserve better, although we’re probably cursed to see many more of these before Marvel takes aggressive steps to get the rights back. I’d only recommend it if you’ve either collected this franchise, or have the will to pick up the more expensive Best Buy set. Otherwise, stick with the rental. The Wolverine is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language and has a runtime of 126 minutes.