The Wolverine (Blu-ray Review)

I feel like this film and I have a lot in connection whereas this flick had setback after setback getting made, I had nothing but difficulties trying to see this one theatrically.  Fellow WSB reviewer Aaron Neuwirth can attest to the fact that I did get to catch the first twenty minutes of the feature in the theater.  LOL.  However, that was the last time I saw any of this movie before FINALLY getting the opportunity to check it out for the first time all the way through on the Blu-ray format for this review.  And let me be the first to tell you…it was very much worth the wait!  While the film’s not a perfect one, like Thor: The Dark World and Pacific Rim this year, I had a fun time with the Wolverine’s second romp as a solo act. And thank God too!  I absolutely hated X-Men Origins: Wolverine…no offense Hugh Jackman.  So now, with The Wolverine finally hitting retail shelves everywhere in the U.S., let’s utilize this moment in time to take a closer, more intimate look at this 2D (theatrical version only) and post-converted 3D (the main difference is the Unleashed Extended Edition with the 3D Blu-ray version) superhero action film.

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I have to admit, as I alluded to above, I waited a long time for this one.  December 3rd seemed like an eternity especially when both versions of the film have been available digitally for three weeks now.  It had been so hard to patiently wait for the superior presentation of The Wolverine on Blu-ray.  More times than I care to admit, I almost talked myself into going down the street to an inferior $2 theater to see this one, but like a priest who takes a vow to never marry another, I held vigilant and strong in my determination to check out the complete feature of The Wolverine on the Blu-ray format.  And I’m so glad I did!  However, let’s save the praise about the Blu-ray presentation for the below A/V sections and dive deeper into the production and story of The Wolverine for a few paragraphs now.  Sound like a plan?

Several years ago, Darren Aronofsky was hired to direct The Wolverine.  After his Black Swan outing I was really pumped to see what vibe he would bring to this project.  However, that never materialized and it almost took a year to find his replacement, James Mangold, who’s previous effort was three years ago with Knight and Day.  After a rewrite of the screenplay originally written by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, and more) we finally began principal photography in July 2012.  Now do you see why I said the project was a little delayed?  Oh yeah!  I almost forgot there was this catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in 2011 that halted things as well.  There’s no denying, this one had a long road to travel to get made, but it’s 2013 and we’re thankfully here at the finish line!

So I’m not going to profess to be a know it all when it comes to the world of comic books, but from what I know, this flick is based on the 1982 limited series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.  All you had to do is say Frank Miller and you already had me at hello.  I have nothing but mad respect for the man.  Chronologically speaking, this film follows the events of X-Men: The Last Stand.  That’s good to know since so many people really don’t care for that title.  Like the third Raimi Spider-Man, I was perfectly fine with it.  So with that being said it makes perfect sense as to why The Wolverine opens the way it does with the inclusion of Famke Janssen reprising her role as Jean Grey.  In addition to Famke we are also treated to cameos by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.  The feature also stars Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Ken Yamamura and more.  With names like these I guess it’s no surprise that the film takes place geographically in Japanese settings, huh?

All I have to say about all this after finally getting the opportunity to take it all in, both the rated and the unrated extended versions on the same day, is WOW!  Wow!  Hot damn!  This is my favorite X-men related flick of the bunch for many reasons that I’ll get to in a minute, but for now let me savor and bask in the after glow for just a few more minutes.  Ah!  Okay, I am composed now.  Let’s talk The Wolverine folks.

So as I mentioned kind of above, our film takes place some time after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand.  Logan (Jackman) still can’t get over what happened to the love of his life, Jean Grey (Janssen), out of his mind while at the same time denouncing himself as the Wolverine.  That name is dead to him and he’s trying his hermit-like best to bury the past.  However, we all know the real deal.  The longer you try to suppress the past and not the deal with the more it will catch up to you two-fold.  And with that being said welcome ladies and gentlemen to The Wolverine, a movie about a man struggling to find that eternal balance.  You see, for obvious reasons, the struggle is eternal because Wolverine cannot die, or at least he thinks so (I’m foreshadowing that part in the film for you).  Prior to catching up to modern day, we are treated to a little back story of Logan as a soldier and another Japanese soldier, Yashida (Yamamura), he helped to protect from a nuclear blast in World War II.  Without Wolverine’s help the young soldier’s life truly would have been annihilated.  Forever grateful of Wolverine’s help, the young soldier went on to live a long and flourishing life as the most powerful man in Japan and helped to rebuild the nation after the devastation of the nuclear war from so long ago.  This is where we catch up to modern times.  Let me clear my throat…ahem.

Once in modern day times, we find ourselves watching a long-haired, caveman-like Logan as he survives as a nomad in the wilderness amongst the bears and whatnot.  However, he’s not alone.  Not anymore at least.  He’s been tracked by a red-haired katana wielder named Yukio (Fukushima).  She convinces him to come back to Japan to pay his respects to her dying master, enter a mortally ill Yashida this time around.  A reluctant Logan makes the trip out there, but he instantly doesn’t like what he sees.  Not only is he forced to be bathed and groomed, but also he gets presented with an option that could cost him his life to save Yashida.  On top of all this and his own personal demons too, things are more than meets the eye as he’s also in the middle of one hell of a family feud as its revealed that Yashida’s successor isn’t who we thought it was going to be all along.  You know what they say, never do business with family and after one watch of this you’ll see why.  Hot damn!  Things flair up here!  And best of all, we’re just getting started.  I never once mentioned the countless ninjas, the seductive, Poison Ivy-like mutant named Viper, the monstrous Silver Samurai and the countless, exhaustive number of action sequences.  Excuse me, but do I have your attention yet?

Let’s talk about one of these action sequences.  How about the train one?  One word describes it all.  AMAZING!  It was intense, breathtaking and every bit reminiscent and over-the-top as the Matrix Reloaded highway scene as you can get.  Remember the action piece on the train in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2?  That sequence has nothing on this one as our hero, still not going under the moniker of the Wolverine yet, and a henchman of the Yakuza battle it out on top of a speeding bullet train.  Let’s just say this henchman exhibits superhero like abilities as it’s even hard for our hero to stay on top of the speeding train and he has claws!  This is just one of the many zany, wild and crazy action junkets you’ll be treated to here during your two hour romp with The Wolverine.  Picture this film as one of those roller coasters that loop around raptor-like with an actual plot that’s tangible and somewhat credible and you have the latest entry in the X-Men franchise, one of the best in my opinion.

There’s no denying that Hugh Jackman was born for this role.  It’s “uncanny” the way he just fits the part.  From his rippling muscles (he looks buff and fit as always for this role) to his Wolverine-like beard, the guy just embodies, menaces  and exhumes everything about the iconic comic book hero literally lifting him off the funny pages (minus that goofy yellow outfit).  I think the Aussie is finally at his pinnacle here with the Wolverine character and I said this about him in his most recent outing Prisoners, but this is the best I have ever seen the man as the Wolverine.  Like Robert Downey Jr. to Tony Stark, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this titular hero.  Thank God Jackman loves doing so and as a side-effect, loves pleasing his fans too.  The man’s truly an inspiration to us all.  I remember when he flew around the globe one year just to spend an hour of time with his Hall H fans at Comic-Con.  The guy’s a real class act.  Thank you, Hugh.

Now that I have just about all my praise out of the way, let’s talk about some of the bad.  With everything good in life, there has to be some bad stuff too, right?  Well, thankfully that’s not really the case here.  Sure there are some bad moments of dialog, missed opportunities and times where the story almost trips over itself, but if you can enjoy Thor: The Dark World, then you can find a place in your heart for The Wolverine.  It’s not a perfect movie, but as far as Marvel comic book ones are considered, it’s a pretty damn good one.  So much so now I find myself wondering what was better this or the second Thor adventure that I enjoyed so much?  Perhaps another viewing of both is required before I cast a finale decision on that one.  I will say this, while I was only provided with the 126-minute rated one to review here, iTunes did get my money on the Extended Edition.  I just had to see how it all went down in a much bloodier fashion, albeit with three F-bombs too.  So if you ask my opinion about which one you should buy, I think that’s a no-brainer.  If I was able to give you the four extra dollars to buy the 3D unrated one, I would.  It’s definitely not for the kiddies, but for everyone elsethat wants to see some extra carnage I definitely recommend it.

The Wolverine is just one of these flicks that gives me hope that Marvel finally has their craft together, evident with the last X-Men entry and the newer Phase 2 films over at Disney as well (excluding Iron Man 3).  And I guess it’s no secret that The Wolverine also shakes things up a bit in the X-Men movie universe with a special mid-credit sequence that should lead us nicely into the events that unfold in the next X-Men film in 2014 as well as hopefully (fingers crossed) a third Wolverine solo film too.  Come on Marvel!  You just have to do it!  Pretty please?!

So enough about how much I love this film.  Don’t you want to know how this Blu-ray measures up in the A/V and Special Features department?  I sure would!  So let’s claw away with the suspense here and drop the bomb on everything that’s technically good and bad about this superhero Blu-ray release.  Like Hugh Jackman’s muscles, I’m pumped!

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20th Century Fox scrapes The Wolverine onto the Blu-ray format with a nearly impeccable razor-sharp 1080p AVC MEPG-4 video codec at times framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio presentation.  This one is a tough one to grade as certain sequences are tinted and color corrected to look different and stand out from other time periods that take place within the film like the opening bombing and the brightly list streets in Japan.  One thing Fox doesn’t skimp on though is the detail.  I used the word razor-sharp above because I’m a pore whore.  Thankfully, pores and fine detail are all on display here as well as every strand of scraggly hair in the Wolverine’s beard, every freckle on Jean Grey’s arm and the big mole on the Viper’s face just to name a few.  Like I said colors are kind of all over the place, but they’re vibrant when they want to be like Yukio’s red hair for example.  Skin tones all look natural throughout and black levels are all dark and inky, which is good because there’s a lot of darkness in this one.  Other than a few of the CGI moments, I have no complaints here.  Things are sharp, contrast is exceptional and best of all as you would expect from a new modern day release, the presentation and image is free of any blemishes, artifacts or noise in the print.  I’m very happy in this department as I am also with the aggressive audio surround track below that we are about to tackle and address.

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The Wolverine slashes things up here.  And I mean that in a very good way!  We all want a loud and aggressive surround track, right?  Of course we do!  And I’m pleased to report that 20th Century Fox does not disappoint in this department here at all.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix encompasses, immerses and puts you into the middle of every onscreen battle.  My shoulder hurt just seeing the Wolverine take so much abuse.  He gets many the clobbering here, not to mention bullet holes.  Ouch!  By the end of the ride, I felt like I’ve been beat up.  Yeah folks.  Things are that good here, hence my 5-doggie score.  The subwoofer immediately makes itself known in the opening scene from the rumble of the atomic bomb.  So right from the beginning, we know who’s boss here.  From the poison dipped arrow tips that fly by you in the surround channels to the little nuisances that fill your soundstage with harmony, things are perfect here and I could go on and on with examples.  Of course, the action sequences will definitely not disappoint, but it’s also the quieter scenes, albeit there’s not many of them where this surround track really grabs you tight and pulls you in.  There’s also a rousing and climatic cinema score going on as well if you are keeping track.  Couple that with loud and intelligible dialogue and I believe you have a real winner on your hands here.  Trust me, I wouldn’t steer you wrong.  Also, selectable via the menu options there are Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks as well as English, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.

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Sadly, the 2D version of the film does not include the extended, unrated cut nor does it contain the audio commentary by Director James Mangold.  So if you’re a huge fan of this flick, you’re best bet is to suck it up and spend the extra bones on the 3D Blu-ray release.  Like with what was the case of the Fox’s Prometheus 2D and 3D releases last year, your eyes and ears will thank you.  Again…I know it’s sad, but it’s oh so true.  The extended, unrated version adds another 12 minutes of runtime to the flick complete with CG gore, extended scenes and cursing.  So if you’re a fan of the film, I think you know where it is, right?  While I would love to talk about the extended version more, I still have a job to do here and that job is to report on what I have in my hands to work with, the two-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo pack.  Since you already know you are missing the audio commentary track (I know it makes no sense at all), let’s take a closer razor sharp look at all the goodies we do have to work with here.

Alternate Ending (HD, 1:36) – It doesn’t take owning a college degree to figure out what you’re getting here.  Give this one a try.  You may like it.  You may not.  I prefer the film’s original ending, but for those longing for nostalgia (no spoilers), you might dig the duds in this one.  Thankfully, this one’s not too long to invest your time in and check out.

X-Men: Days of Future Past Set Tour (HD, 2:47) – Here we get treated to a little sneak preview of the next X-Men film I hinted at above in the film department.  Are you pumped for it or what?!

The Path of Ronin (HD, 53:44) -This is the one that truly raises the score here and sets the bar higher as we get a near hour long immersive feature that follows the journey of our hero and explores the samurai infused tone, action and roots of the story as the word “ronin” is brought up a couple of times within the flick (I won’t spoil its meaning in the film).  We are also treated to a bunch of behind the scenes footage, clips from the film, interviews with cast and crew and more.  This one is definitely worth the price of admission and investment of your time.  If nothing else, it prevents The Wolverine 2D Blu-ray set from falling flat on its face in the Special Features department.  Hugh Jackman even admits that he has looked forward to this comic book storyline since he did the first X-Men film over 12 years ago.  Again…you just have to love this guy’s enthusiasm for this role after he has done this character over and over now.  It was interesting to learn how this flick was originally pitched in the car on the way home from Comic Con and the appeal of how this is the first story where the character of the Wolverine is branched out on his own without the ancillary of other X-Men characters.

Sync with Wolverine Second Screen App (HD) – This one provides for an interactive Second Screen experience with additional bonus content accessible through either IOS or Android devices.  I generally tend not to get into these, but pick your poison here if you will.  If you are a fan of the film, my money is you’ll give this one a spin.  Just make sure your player and device is on the same wi-fi network.  That helps tremendously.  LOL.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:28) – I bet you can’t guess what this extra is?  If you say the film’s trailer, ding, ding…you’re a winner!

Exclusive Marvel Infinite Comic – A download code is available for a comic written by Jason Latour.

UltraViolet Digital Copy (HD/SD, 126 minutes) – While it’s not an iTunes HD Digital Copy, this UltraViolet redemption code will have to suffice.  So with that being said I found out a little secret about the Playstation 3 about a week ago.  It’s not really a secret, but I didn’t know about it.  If you have not done so already, create a VUDU account and download the VUDU app in the Playstation Store and a lot of your redeemed UV library should be present there and most importantly…a lot of it should be available for playback in HD and HDX…even UV tittles that you previously had which were SD only.  That’s pretty cool, huh?  I tried it with Pacific Rim the other day and the HDX playback looked pretty good if I don’t say so myself.

DVD (SD, 126 minutes) – And of course, the old standby for the kids in the minivan is here.  Presented on a separate DVD disc, you’ll find the theatrical version of the movie housed.  Your kiddies will thank you for this one day!

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So there you have it.  The Wolverine 2-disc Blu-ray release has been officially unleashed and dissected here on Why So Blu.  I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re pretty much all fans of this film here on the site.  With epic action sequences, a pretty solid story (back and present) and a bang up audio and video presentation, what’s not to love about this slashing superhero release?  20th Century Fox also does a very nice job here with a pretty sweet making of piece that runs almost an hour.  They only drop the ball with the emission of an audio commentary.  I said it once and I’ll say it again.  If you can swing it  and are not worried about the kids hearing several F-bombs, put your money down on the 3D Extended Edition.  You can thank me later.  For that reason, I have included Amazon links for both versions of this Blu-ray release that hit retail shelves everywhere today.  Enjoy!  I did!



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