If you thought that “The Wolverine” was two-thirds of a good movie marred by a cartoonish, CGI-heavy finale, the upcoming Unleashed Extended Edition should appease your objections — at least by delaying that finale with more of the material you really like. The new version was screened Tuesday night at Fox Studios for a capacity crowd, and even attending press seemed swept up in its momentum, clapping and cheering as the eponymous hero battled his way through a story which for the first time was as dark, complex and violent as the comics that made him an icon.
To be fair, director James Mangold’s theatrical cut offered not just a reimagining of the character after Gavin Hood’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” film, but a rejoinder to the idea that superheroes need to save the world every time they encounter an adversary. The 12 minutes and two seconds of footage in the Unleashed version of “The Wolverine” expands the world in which Logan (Hugh Jackman) finds himself during the film, and offers more sophisticated renderings of characters that were promising but lacked the screen time to become fully dimensional.
Fans hoping for more action will certainly be satisfied by the new material, which features two significant set pieces and documents Wolverine’s dismemberment of foes — not to mention their attacks on him — with even more excruciating detail. After six films, Wolverine’s slashed cheek has lost its ability to induce a wince from viewers, but watching him get run through or hacked to pieces with swords while he answers in kind with his claws is a new and glorious kind of viscera.
The first involves a showdown outside the “love hotel” where Logan and Mariko (Tao Okamoto) hide out, and the second during Logan’s blowout battle with the Black Clan. While neither affects the narrative, both enhance his intensity as a warrior, and showcase his endurance and determination. For example, in the “love hotel” fight, Logan is still ailing from being shot, and it’s a fall from their balcony (rather than just his slow deterioration) that prompts Mariko to find a veterinarian to remove the slugs from his body. But even as the full-fledged, super-resilient Logan in the second sequence, the added footage — in which Yukio hotwires a snowplow in order to eliminate a few of his ninja foes — highlights not just what he can endure, but the lengths he will go in order to do the right thing and rescue the people he cares about.
Meanwhile, Mariko and Yukio (Rila Fukushima) are both more interesting due to the expanded information presented and because they are more active and involved in what’s happening. In the theatrical cut there might have been a mention of Mariko’s skill with knives, but audiences get to see it in the extended cut repeatedly, and while it admittedly feels inorganic, it makes her more than a damsel in distress. Additionally, the larger complexities of the conspiracy to kill Mariko are clearer, and the allegiances feel more substantial, making its brokered deals and conspiratorial schemes feel more sinister.
While the new footage enriches the impact of the film, most of it remains superfluous — at least insofar as audiences could get everything needed from the story with the theatrical cut. Nevertheless, Mangold’s film — in any form — is not only superior to its predecessor, it’s the superlative interpretation of Logan, and probably the best X-Men film ever made. Mangold’s thematic depth as a storyteller and clarity of purpose drives this movie in a way that makes the others seem superficial by comparison, and with the exception of that final, CGI-laden showdown, feels more tangible, and believable, than earlier portrayals of the character.
There’s also the matter of the character’s dialogue in the new version, which includes three f-bombs instead of just one. But whether it’s Logan’s potty mouth, his punishing battles or the overall story’s political intrigue, “The Wolverine: Unleashed Extended Edition” feels like the first X-Men movie for adults. With any luck, it won’t be the last.
“The Wolverine: Unleashed Extended Edition” is available on Blu-ray December 3.