Once again, 13 years after the emergence of this ever spanning new wave of superhero films and its inaugural film X-Men, we’re faced with another instalment in the mutant franchise.
Hugh Jackman reprises his role as the self-healing, adamantium clawed rogue for this second spin-off film, but this time set almost exclusively in modern day Japan following an iconic arc that featured in Wolverine comics during the 80s.
The Wolverine picks off some time after X-Men: Last Stand where Logan aka Wolverine, tormented by the horror of killing his love Jean Grey to save mutant kind, exists in perpetual isolation. A fellow mutant, Yukio, who predicts the future, engages with him in order to pay respects to an old friend whom he saved during the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. His friend, Yashida, is on his death bed and asks of Logan to submit his self-healing abilities to extend his life and to give Logan a mortal one. What emerges is a complex web and internal strife in the Yashida family and their Yakuza enemies that Logan finds himself tangled within.
The rest of the film is rooted in this new setting of Japan and makes for an interesting refreshing change – great effort is pumped into the production design garnering Eastern and at times noir aesthetics whilst also casting newcomer actors and actresses to establish this. The ensemble and even the plot in this film feels much more refined than previous films in the franchise and it’s a perfectly noble move, too long have superhero films drowned in their own overexposure of canonical characters. Here it focuses on the Wolverine character and manages to balance it with villain Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), love interest Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and side kick Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who all supplement a strong female cast. Saying that though, Viper descends into the typical manipulative female villain and Mariko doesn’t offer much apart from being a rudimentary love interest despite the effort to give her a redeeming role in the final act and Yukio seems to be excluded for the majority of the plot, leaving her feeling slightly irrelevant than as a last minute saviour.
Director James Mangold, best known for Walk the Line, but has recently contributed safely to action film in the past few years manages to to do the same here. This isn’t entirely surprising when compared to the film’s predecessor X-Men Origins: Wolverine which was unable to balance comic canon fidelity and action film tropes. Whilst the script seems reasonably solid, it falters towards the final act where the absurd on the comic book spectrum rears its head. The action set-pieces are actually well judged and whilst frequent, will satisfy the more action-heavy fans especially the sequence on top of a bullet train. Furthermore, in a world of comic book/super-hero movie saturation, these films need to try harder to stand out and innovate from their generic roots, something which original director of the project Darren Aronofsky would have brought in bucket loads, a prospect that refuses to soften the blow of this film as being a missed opportunity.
Whilst being leaps and bounds ahead of that abysmal prequel X-Men Origins, The Wolverine nonetheless suffers with a painful case of irrelevance. A lot of effort is made to deeply examine this immortal, tortured character and for the best part it is the most interesting aspect of the film. On the other hand, its part detachment from the franchise’s main canon just makes the whole thing seem unnecessary. It becomes completely apparent and familiar as to how well Hugh Jackman can play this role and whilst it shouldn’t be a criticism, it’s difficult to admire this too much when the character barely evolves. The only thing Logan seems to learn from the events in the film is to overcome grief through a brief showdown with mortality and to once again take the mantle of his role as the reluctant hero and considering we’re 7 years down the line from X-Men: Last Stand, it’s hard to imagine the interest in the character’s fate is still there.
Worth the price of admission alone, however, is the post credits sequence: a predictable staple of Marvel films now, which takes centre stage as a tantalising teaser for the imminent sequel/prequel hybrid X-Men: Days of Future Past. Some familiar faces re-appear that only leave a yearning for the sheer gravitas these roles and their actors inhabit and the longing that this film needed more of it and not a tedious continuation of Hugh Jackman as the brooding, hairy, angry anti-hero.
Watch the trailer here: