Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima
You may like this if you like: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Gavin Hood, 2009), The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman, 2002), Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005)
Set after the events of The Last Stand Logan (Jackman) now lives a solitary life haunted by subconscious conversations with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) who is both the love of his life and the woman he was forced to kill. He then meets Yukio (Fukushima) who has been trying to find him for a long time to tell him that her dying employer requests that Logan comes to Japan to say goodbye. That man is named Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) who Logan once saved from a nuclear bomb in the Second World War who has grown up to become Japan’s most wealthy and powerful businessmen. Logan reluctantly accepts and once there is unwittingly caught up in a battle between his dying past acquaintance, that man’s granddaughter, the warring ninja and Yakuza tribes and a deadly mutant known as Viper (Svetlana Kodchenkova). Logan is forced not to only confront his own personal demons, but placed in a much more vulnerable position than ever, his immortality which will either destroy him or allow him to become stronger than ever.
Or something like that anyway.
So here we have yet another X-Men film and another attempt to focus solely on Hugh Jackman’s snarling Wolverine. This time they have taken the character to Japan and only actually have two other mutants in the entire story, showing perhaps an attempt at a solely protagonist driven piece. This is a complete change of direction from Origins which was very silly and forgettable but I must confess on repeat viewings that I do find it very watchable (though I will never ever forgive what this franchise has done with the character of Gambit!) and certainly went for mutant character overkill.
As we get plenty of alone time with Logan we of course therefore get plenty of soul searching and pondering of the meanings of immortality and whether it is a curse or a gift (yawn). Mark my words; this is a film that predominantly takes itself very seriously. There is some of Logan’s trademark dry humour, but laughs are very few and far between.
Unfortunately throughout the narrative I just found it hard to actually care about anything. There is no denying that Wolverine is a great film character with so many potential arcs, and Hugh Jackman is of course as likeable and dedicated as ever. The opening sequence of the Nagasaki bombing is a spectacular opening scene but after that it is very much a stop/start affair. Overall I found The Wolverine to be an extremely overlong, ponderous, boring and slightly empty experience. I am all for scenes with some serious soul searching dialogue, but the talky scenes seem to be overlong and achieve nothing in terms of character development. Throughout I found the story hard to get into and indeed hard to care about any of the characters that Logan comes across, and especially his love life. In fact, Logan’s reasons for going to Japan at all are more plot convenient than particularly compelling.
James Mangold is a director that in my view consistently produces solid (though with the exception of Identity rarely spectacular) films and after the slightly more unique Darren Aronofsky jumped ship the studio obviously wanted the franchise in sturdy and experienced hands. Mangold’s contribution to the X-franchise obviously wants to distinguish itself from the rest in a film that I am reliably informed is very close to the comics this particular story is based on. That may please the fan boys but for the rest of us the distinctive lack of other mutants and quite a shoddy script in this one risks any real lack of involvement in a market full of single protagonist driven super hero films. The only two mutants we have here are Rila Fukushima’s Yukio who can (sort of) see the future and Svetlana Kodchenkova’s Viper, who is a potentially very interesting character. Viper can spit poisonous venom, is a genius scientist that finds a w ay to ‘cure’ Logan and completely shed her skin. Despite being an obviously very powerful mutant she is very underdeveloped and pretty much a token bad guy, well woman. As is the norm with Marvel films now, wait for a post credit sequence for a couple of old favourites to turn up in a tantalising set up for next year’s Days of Future Past.
One thing Mangold does handle well in my view is the action. As it is just Wolverine this enables the action to be more brutal and physical like the character himself. No silly super powers like controlling the weather, or the more fantastical ones, just Logan and mortal Japanese warriors having good old fashioned fisticuffs. Logan himself is more vulnerable than ever and this can be genuinely felt. Yes of course in the same way that us English are either posh or cockneys; the Japanese are all samurai sword wielding, honour seeking warriors. But this is Hollywood. However, Japan does prove an effect setting and the fight sequences are handled extremely well and genuinely thrilling. The scene on top of a 300mph bullet train is a particular highlight.
As the narrative reaches its conclusion things do get genuinely interesting until a few slightly anti climactic developments inevitably leave a feeling of disappointment. This once again only shows that perhaps Mark Bomback and Scott Frank’s screenplay could have done with some tweaking and a little more imagination. Overall, The Wolverine is a solid enough addition to the franchise but a bit of pruning with the script and shaving off at least twenty minutes would have benefitted it all no end. There is no denying that the 126 minutes requires effort and not a repeat viewing anytime soon.
Taking the X-franchise east with a completely different shift of tone had potential and does merit admiration; however The Wolverine is a solid but very forgettable effort. Thrilling action sequences make up for the ponderous and rather empty talking in-between to produce a very stop/start experience and a case of wasted potential.