29 July 2013


The minimum requirement for this X-Men spin-off was that it had to be better than the execrable X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And, probably, better than X-Men: The Last Stand. The Wolverine exceeds both of those films, but your mileage may vary on whether or not the whole of Hugh Jackman's sixth outing as Logan is anywhere near as good as his own performance in the lead role.

Set after The Last Stand, the film opens with Logan traipsing around the Canadian wilderness, grieving over Jean Grey and retreating from his super-friends in the hope of getting some peace and quiet. A mutant called Yukio tracks him down, and invites him to Tokyo on behalf of her ailing employer, Yashida. He has a tempting offer for Logan- to remove his regenerative powers and allow him to live out an ordinary life. Logan refuses, but soon becomes embroiled in a fight for his life, as he protects Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko, from assassination.

In contrast to the bangy-smashy of certain other summer tentpoles, The Wolverine has a reassuringly slow start. Jackman is closer to early-Valjean territory in these scenes than he is to the character we remember, and we find someone who's been emotionally broken. His initial vow of pacifism is never going to last, and sure enough, the slow death of his grizzly bear buddy (yep, really) at the hand of some cruel hunters almost sends him into a berserker rage. As the action moves to Japan, the slow burn continues- the filmmakers don't seem desperate to pepper the script with action beats.

This approach has both benefits and drawbacks, but one of the big advantages is that it opens up new territory for Jackman to explore, in a character that some actors might have felt they had played out by now. The result is that this is his best performance in the role to date- he's grumpy, sure, but he also operates with the kind of cheeky vindictive streak that characterises a James Bond more than an X-Man, to great effect throughout. Anyone with an eye on the future of the franchise shouldn't be too concerned when he becomes de-powered in the second act, but the film generally makes up in entertainment what it lacks in jeopardy.

That is, until a certain point, anyway. What the film really lacks is a convincing villain. There's a convoluted family feud providing the stage for Logan's most vulnerable hour, and there's certainly no shortage of antagonists, between the Yakuza, a group of ninjas and corrupt businessmen. Some have clearer motivations than others, but they all serve to strain credulity a little, in a film that is less overtly comic-book in tone than any X-Men film that has gone before. The film finally gives in to the strain about 20 minutes before the end, with a thumpingly dull and nonsensical action climax that actually unpicks a lot of the character-driven drama that precedes it.

And amongst all of those villains, the worst offender by far is Viper, who's essentially a Poison Ivy cosplayer. We're talking Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin, with Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova giving the film's most embarrassing performance. Even worse, you could airlift her character out of the script entirely, and hardly anything would change, save for an obligatory girl-fight with Yukio at the end. To come back around to the positives, Rila Fukushima makes Yukio into a sparky and likeable sidekick, leading a cast of Asian actors that is refreshingly different from the star parade that usually populates supporting roles in big movies, and also exemplifying the film's strong representation of women, (except for Viper).

But however different it may seem, The Wolverine still bears some marks of Fox's usual interference.on the X-franchise. Before real-life tragedies caused a delay in production, this was set to be directed by Darren Aronofsky, shooting a Christopher McQuarrie script. The finished film credits Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, two writers whose charge-sheets hold a number of crummy Fox flicks. The poor writing is a big part of why the climax is so unbearable, with dialogue like "We know the Viper woman is evil, but she is a means to an end", and "Now you die." To give credit where it's due, director James Mangold handles the whole affair well, throwing in some gorgeous shots and thrilling moments, even if some of us may wonder how Aronofsky might have done things differently.

The Wolverine makes up for certain past sins, even if it's less thrilling than the bold new direction promised in 2011's First Class. Next summer's big team-up movie, Days Of Future Past, looks set to carry on throwing away the new after the old, and as mentioned right at the top of this review, your mileage may vary on how good an idea that is. On its own merits, this one finds new depths to the title character while also keeping itself well above the depths of the previous Wolverine movie. Some will struggle to reconcile the majority of interesting parts with the deeply stupid climax, but this is about as interesting a Wolverine movie as we're ever likely to see.

The Wolverine is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Wolverine, why not share your comments below? As far as this year's best comic book movies go, I'd say it's Iron Man 3, Wolverine, Man of Steel- Kick-Ass and Thor are still to come...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

NerdyRachelMay said...

Going to see this tonight. I’m looking forward to it :-)

And as for Man of Steel as your least good Superhero movie of this year so far…