This movie and storyline are for the diehard X-Men and Wolverine fans. All others will need a guide to try and follow along, or get lost along the way and give up as I did.
To be honest up front, I'm not a big fan of the X-Men world. The only part of it I enjoy is Wolverine himself. Even then, I was not completely educated on his past.
I also did not refresh my memory on how the last X-Men ended and didn't do research prior to seeing the movie, to determine when in the X-Men timeline this movie takes place.
All of that combined to leave me confused until well after the movie was over, and I got home, did some reading, and found that The Wolverine takes place after X-Men: The Last Stand. This would have been a great piece of information to ensure the audience knows, but this movie was written for one and only one audience: Wolverine/X-Men fans.
This quote from director James Mangold is helpful in understanding the setting, but most non-X-Men fans probably won't have the benefit of it before seeing the movie.
“Where this film sits in the universe of the films is after them all. Jean Grey is gone, most of the X-Men are disbanded or gone, so there’s a tremendous sense of isolation for [Wolverine].”
If you are reading this before seeing the movie, you are already well on your way to enjoying it far more than I did.
All that said, I enjoyed Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in this movie more than I did in all the others. He seemed less like a jerk, though I wonder if fans of the genre may feel the exact opposite, since his character did seem more mild in nature, and miss the old Wolverine.
The movie has very little character development. It shows us the pain of the loss he is suffering, but I could never quite connect with it. It was on the screen, but really not felt. We see him going through a sort of depression, but even that doesn't connect. It quickly becomes a 100% action film, filled with some enjoyable and entertaining moments. The irony is, that despite all the action, there are some incredibly slow moving portions of the movie that really should have been edited. I felt like it was about four hours long, and was quite bored during certain sections.
The story is a little complex so don't step out for a minute, doze off, or get too into eating your popcorn. There are a lot of characters and names thrown around, and a lot of things said very quickly about which side each character is on, who they are in love with and who they are related to.
I felt like I needed a guide to refer to during the movie, but eventually gave up trying to figure it all out and just watched Wolverine be cool. I'm sure the true fans of X-Men and Wolverine will avoid the confusion by already knowing the timelines, characters and motivations, but for the average movie viewer, this one is a pass.
Also, don't bother with the 3D. I felt it made the action harder to follow. Wished I'd have seen it flat.