I suspect that quite a few people won't like The Wolverine because it doesn't feel like a superhero movie. This is a completely reasonable reaction -- especially if you decided to skip all of the other superhero movies this summer and happen to be in the mood for a superhero movie. A friend of mine and I both agree on the sentiment that The Wolverine is just a normal movie, only Wolverine happens to be the main character. What's interesting is that this is his main complaint, while it's my greatest compliment.
I will also concede that the expectations game may have played a role here. I despised X-Men Origins: Wolverine because I'm pretty sure that it despised itself. Plus, its timeline is so out of whack, it's impossible to consider it canon. (I won't even start to get into the Deadpool problem.) Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that, to my surprise, I really enjoyed The Wolverine.
It came as a welcome surprise that The Wolverine takes place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. For whatever reason, I had assumed that this was going to be a direct sequel to the previous Wolverine movie. Instead, we finally find out what happened to Logan/Wolverine (again played by Hugh Jackman) after walking away from his life as a member of the X-Men. We now know that Logan lives in the woods and is sad. He gets even sadder after a bear is killed -- going as far as to confront the hunters at a local honky-tonk that plays songs from Cracker's Kerosene Hat album. It's all very depressing. Granted, I was in the mood for a depressing superhero movie.
The movie opens with a prologue of sorts in which a World War II-era Wolverine saves a Japanese soldier from nuclear doom. Now, in the present, this same dying soldier -- now a rich tycoon -- summons for sad Wolverine to say goodbye. Wolverine then travels to Japan, the two say a tearful goodbye and the credits roll after what turned out to be a 22-minute movie. Obviously that last sentence is a lie. The trip to visit Wolverine's former friend turns sinister and adventure ensues. But it is a controlled, intimate adventure. No buildings come toppling down when Wolverine fights a criminal. If you want to see buildings topple down, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim and R.I.P.D. will all satisfy that urge. (And I know that you haven't seen R.I.P.D.. And if you have, may the lord have mercy on your soul.)
I honestly can't decide if The Wolverine is that good or if I was just that desperate to see something different on the day that I saw it. (To be fair, the third act becomes more akin to what we usually see out of these movies -- a giant samurai robot and flaming swords are involved -- but that didn't take away my enjoyment of the rest of the movie.) I'm starting to suspect that other people might be feeling the same way. Audiences overwhelmingly rejected the stupid R.I.P.D. and instead gave their money to see The Conjuring, a movie that cost $110 million less to make.
Wolverine struggles with his immortality in this movie, which, yes, that's a concept that's a little played out at this point. Thankfully, at least in The Wolverine, taking away some of Logan's powers isn't something that Logan himself initiated (no matter what the trailers would lead you to believe). And, it's not all of his powers -- he's still very strong and is still made out of adamantium -- it's just that being shot by a bullet hurts his now. Not as much as it would hurt you or me, but, still, it's sometimes nice for a superhero to not be invincible.
Regardless, I do know how bad a Wolverine movie can be without a clear vision. (Unless you count "let's dump as many mutants in this movie as possible even though it will fuck up any sense of continuity" a vision. Perhaps it is a vision and I'm the one who's wrong. I'm often wrong.) The Wolverine certainly has a vision. Perhaps I'm overvaluing The Wolverine simply because it's competent, but, for this type of a movie, "competent" is a fairly rare attribute.
The Wolverine isn't your typical superhero movie. It's gritty, but "Marvel" gritty, not The Dark Knight gritty. Yet even The Dark Knight is still a huge movie. The Wolverine doesn't aspire to be a huge movie. The Wolverine doesn't even aspire to be a superhero movie. The Wolverine seems to be content with just being a good movie -- and it succeeds.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.