Film review: ‘The Wolverine’ (spoiler free)

The clawed one is back and he’s hurting…

 

Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hal Yamanouchi

Directed by:  James Mangold / Written by:  Mark Bomback and Scott Frank / 126 minutes

What’s it about?

Living in isolation, a chance encounter leads to a grieving and haunted Wolverine travelling to Japan where an old acquaintance offers him the opportunity to become mortal…

In review

Hugh Jackman returns for his sixth outing as Logan/Wolverine and it’s evident that he relishes the role as much as ever, passionately conveying the complex layers of everyone’s favourite (Batman aside) gruff hero.  More significantly I’m happy to report that The Wolverine is shoulders above the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine, released back in 2009.

Following a short flashback to Nagasaki in 1945, The Wolverine sees Logan at rock bottom and living out a meagre – almost primal – existence up in the Canadian mountains.  He is tortured by persistent hallucinations of his beloved fellow mutant and late X-comrade Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who he was forced to kill for the greater good (see X-Men: The Last Stand).  Encountering the raven haired Yukio, he travels to Japan and is faced with the proposition of becoming mortal but soon finds himself becoming embroiled in a conflict between Japanese clans and the threat of a deadly foe, whilst falling for the enigmatic Mariko (Okamoto).

Although chronologically The Wolverine takes place after X-Men: The Last Stand, seeing the latter is not absolutely essential to give the former context (but, hey, no doubt you’ve probably seen all of the other X-Men films anyway) and nor does it (thankfully) rely on reference to the afore-mentioned X-Men Origins.  That’s the beauty of this film, although it is clearly linked to 20th Century Fox’s expanding X-Men cinematic universe (and those links will certainly deepen with next summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past – be sure to stay for the tantalising post credits scene) it firmly and capably stands on its own and gives us the Wolverine solo flick we should have had four years ago.  There’s a much stronger narrative that draws on the highly acclaimed Chris Claremont/Frank Miller comic book storyline of the 1980’s and explores one of the most interesting themes of the character, namely the pain that comes with immortality as Logan sees all those he dares to care for fade around him as time marches on.  It’s also a journey of rediscovery for Logan as tries to come to terms with who and what he is, although this has been explored countless times in comic books and their big screen counterparts (Spider-Man 2 – to offer a vague example) it’s a theme I personally never tire of as it allows for some deconstruction of the characters we become invested in.

The cast is fairly decent if – beyond Jackman – relatively unknown with more than adequate turns from Okamoto and Yamanouchi but it is newcomer Fukushima and the slightly underused Khodchenkova that stand out from the crowd as ‘sidekick’ Yukio and the sexy, fiendish villainess called Viper, respectively.  That they are the only other mutants in the film aside from Wolverine himself is a testament to righting the wrongs of Origins which relied too heavily on random mutant overload and video game pyrotechnics.

Those expecting all out action on the epic scale of Avengers Assemble or Man of Steel may be a tad disappointed (but in fairness would you really expect it from this particular film?).  Granted, there are a number of beautifully staged and thrilling action set pieces (highlights of which include a riveting roof top chase and the subsequent white-knuckle fight atop a speeding bullet train) and ninja duels but for the most part, The Wolverine is a drawn out character piece which although threatening to verge on sluggish around the middle act is non-the-less a reminder that the heroes are just as compelling as the heroics themselves.  This being said The Wolverine’s climax does descend into Iron Man-esque CGI chaos that although highly entertaining does feel a little at odds with the rest of the film.

All in all, Copland director James Mangold handles the drama and action with aplomb and The Wolverine never becomes muddled despite the switching of pace between those various scenes.

The 3D post-conversion is rather good, with a decent amount of depth that enhances the action scenes nicely and leaves you feeling like you are actually watching a 3D film without drawing you away.

The bottom line:  After navigating some rocky terrain, Wolverine is back with vigour and hopes for further solo outings.  Whilst it may not be the familiar summer superhero blockbuster, The Wolverine tells a good story with interesting characters whilst still providing some decent action thrills.

See it if you like… X-Men, X2

The Wolverine is in cinemas now.

 What do you think of The Wolverine?  Leave your spoiler-free comments below!

Hugh Jackman is back and better than ever as Logan/Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman is back and better than ever as Logan/Wolverine.

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