20th Century Fox’s control over the X-Men film franchise resulted in all kinds of unexpected highs and disappointing lows. Now that Marvel Studios has regained control of the property, it would be easy to write off Fox’s X-Men movies as being lackluster across the board. But several of the X-Men movies Fox made in the 2000s and 2010s are too good to simply be forgotten by comic book fans.
While universally beloved titles like X2: X-Men United and Logan stand a good chance of still being discussed 20 years from now, they aren’t the only superhero movies Fox produced that deserve to be remembered. And there’s one especially underrated comic book movie that remains one of the most singular and ambitious films the genre has ever seen.
The movie in question is 2013’s The Wolverine, a superhero flick that deserves to be talked about far more often than it is. Fortunately, it’s streaming now on HBO Max, which means giving it a fair shot has never been easier to do.
Directed by Logan filmmaker James Mangold, The Wolverine is set several years after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, and picks up with Hugh Jackman’s Logan when he agrees to travel to Japan at the request of a dying man whose life he saved near the end of WWII. Once there, Logan is forced to go on the run with the man’s granddaughter and embark on a journey that forces him to come to terms with the painful memories that keep him awake at night.
After spending years making a name for himself as a jack-of-all-trades by directing everything from acclaimed, intimate dramas like Walk the Line to compelling genre movies like Cop Land and 3:10 to Yuma, The Wolverine marked Mangold’s first foray into the superhero genre. Thankfully, the director didn’t let the demands and scope of comic book moviemaking overwhelm him, and his sturdy, artistic style is on full display in The Wolverine.
Whether it’s a shot of Jackman’s Logan moving slowly through the snowy streets of a Japanese village or an image of him withdrawing a samurai sword from his chest while silhouetted against falling rain, Mangold makes The Wolverine feel like a loving homage to the Western and samurai films that influenced it. The fact that he manages to do so while also punctuating The Wolverine with several thrilling superhero action sequences, like the film’s gripping bullet train fight, is a testament to Mangold’s filmmaking capabilities.
But The Wolverine would be nothing without Hugh Jackman. The actor gives his first truly great performance as Wolverine here, bringing the character to life with a commitment and ferocious intensity that has rightfully made anyone else hesitant to try and take on the role after him. The Wolverine also partners him up with several memorable supporting characters, including Rila Fukushima’s scene-stealing Yukio, a mutant with precognitive abilities who strikes up a quick and understanding friendship with Logan.
Not everything The Wolverine does works. The film’s take on the Silver Samurai is disappointing, and Svetlana Khodchenkova’s villainous Viper brings an cartoonish presence to a film that could do without her. But coming off of 2009’s dire X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Marvel fans didn’t have particularly high expectations heading into The Wolverine. What they ended up getting is a film that stands as one of the most contemplative superhero movies ever made.
The film digs deep into the mind of Wolverine, giving Jackman the chance to put his investment in the character on full display. In that way, The Wolverine ends up being the perfect lead-in to 2017’s Logan, a film that not only sees Mangold and Jackman working together again but also revisiting and perfecting everything they did and didn’t do right in their previous collaboration.
There is no Logan without The Wolverine. The 2013 film, while flawed in a number of ways, succeeds in being more distinct, artistic, and atmospheric than most other superhero movies, and it deserves to be remembered for it.
The Wolverine is available to stream now on HBO Max.