Cast: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova
Director: James Mangold
Runtime: 126 minutes
Release Date: 25th July 2013
Matt C: Conventional wisdom has it that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was some sort of cinematic abomination, a film that nearly buried the X-franchise, one possessing no redeeming features whatsoever. It was without a doubt a tremendously flawed and wildly misjudged movie, but as is the way of these things, as time goes by people tend to amplify the flaws to the extent that any positives are barely acknowledged. The good didn't outweigh the bad, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there at all, and the most overwhelmingly positive thing about the whole enterprise was the raw charisma of Hugh Jackman's (then) fourth turn as the Ol' Canucklehead, a character he obviously relishes playing, always giving 100% even when the material he has to work with may leave something to be desired.
Things started to sound promising for The Wolverine from the off. The aim was to take things back to basics for the character, adapting one of the most acclaimed storylines from the comics, avoiding a convoluted narrative overstuffed with extraneous characters. Hiring Darren Arronfsky, one of the most interesting directors working in American cinema today, was a coup, but then the 2011 Tohoku earthquake hit delaying the Japan-based production, followed by Aronofksy bailing for ‘personal reasons’, leaving the door open for the capable but far less interesting James Mangold to take the director's chair. An apparently amazing script was subjected to a fair amount of tinkering, and finally, after a longer than anticipated wait, The Wolverine is here, not what was originally ordered but surely a marked improvement over Origins?
It starts off on the right foot, with a WW2 set sequence to set the plot in motion, before taking us into the 'present' where Logan has retreated from society, mourning Jean Grey's death at his hands, still haunted by her in his dreams. He's visited by the mysterious Yukio, who convinces him to travel to Japan to say goodbye to an old friend, and it's not long before he becomes embroiled in a violent struggle for power in the Yashida clan that sees the Yakuza, ninjas and other mutants all looking to take a piece of him, and with his healing factor suddenly acting up that's an easier task than it’s ever been before.
The Wolverine works best when it keeps itself small scale, focused on character and staying true to the source material, especially when it plays as an Asian crime flick that just happens to have a tortured superhero at its core. In comparison to some of the city-levelling blockbusters seen this year the film feels relatively quiet, and it's all the better for it. It really suffers when it drifts away from a grounded approach into more cartoonish antics, and the ending almost sees the whole enterprise capsize into silliness. It feels like Mangold and Jackman's intentions we're pure but they made a concessions to CGI spectacle when it wasn't really necessary.
Jackman acquits himself admirably, capturing Logan's existential battle between the honourable soldier and the feral beast – it’s the best he's been in the role since X2, and is certainly the first time he's really been able to really let rip since then. Of a mostly Japanese cast Rila Fukushima as Yuiriko makes a memorable impact, Tao Okamoto is fine as Mariko, but most of the others don’t veer too far from stereotypes, which is fine considering this isn't a setting really explored in the onscreen superhero genre before. Mangold makes great use of some vibrant Japanese locations, the cinematography from Ross Emery is strong, and the action is generally well-choreographed (the bullet train sequence being a highlight). Mangold stated that he used several classic films as a source of inspiration, notably High Plains Drifter, although that isn't entirely evident in the finished product. Surprisingly there are several noticeable nods (if you know what to look for) to the work of Yasujirô Ozu, which isn't something you'd normally expect to find in a superhero blockbuster!
Ultimately a disappointment, although not without merit, it fails because it can't decide whether it wants to be a Japanese gangster flick featuring a clawed mutant or a superhero action movie stocked up with Yakuza cannon fodder. Tellingly, the only scene to induce goosebumps is the mid-credits teaser for next year’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past, which bodes well for that film but also suggests this will be the last time we see Jackman as Wolverine outside of an ensemble environment. 6/10