The Wolverine - Review
X-Men movies don't seem to do things lightly. They either manage to be very good examples of the superhero genre done right (X-Men, X-Men 2, X-Men: First Class) or really terrible (X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Fortunately, The Wolverine is, for the most, a good outing for the X-Men franchise even if it does have a few problems.
I say X-Men, but as the title suggests this is a film about Wolverine; a personal journey of one of Marvel's most popular characters. Rather commendably, The Wolverine actually builds on the ending to X-Men: The Last Stand, rather than ignoring it, or retconning it entirely. Wolverine is struggling to come to terms with the death of Jean Grey and so now lives life as an outcast, distancing himself from society. If the imagery wasn't obvious enough, there's a funny sequence where he casually walks alongside a grizzly bear as they acknowledge each other: Wolverine is as much animal as he is human.
Needless to say, he doesn't remain there long and is soon whisked off to Tokyo to pay his respects to a Japanese solider, Yashida, who he saved during World War 2. The film wastes no time in setting itself up and the focus is solely on Logan, who he is and what he's about. While the Brian Singer films cast Wolverine as the main character, they still had to provide screen time to all of the other mutants, and there were a lot of them. Here though, there's no need, and so all of our attention is on Logan, digging himself out from his lowest point.
Director James Mangold makes terrific use of the Japanese setting. Everything that could possibly be associated with Japan: ninjas, samurai, psychic girls, Mangold even manages to get a passing shot of a Maneki-Neko, just to make sure he's ticked all of the boxes. The highlights typically come from the action sequences, whilst Wolverine's fight aboard a bullet train is possibly the most spectacular, there's plenty of others, and the film even makes sure to show off Japan's rooftops during a chase through Tokyo.
Of course, this wouldn't be all that exciting if Wolverine was, well, Wolverine. The plot hinges on his inability to rapidly heal, after an encounter with Viper, the film's main villain. Suddenly, Wolverine finds himself physically vulnerable for the first time. If anything, the film fails to exploit this enough. Moving into film's climax he's quickly able to solve the problem behind his sudden loss of mutant powers and reverts back to being virtually indestructible. It would have been much more interesting to have had him take down the bad guys just using say, a katana, which is funny because the film seems to foreshadow this and then not deliver. Instead we get hokey CGI robot-samurai which fails to live up to the rest of the film's action.
Also, Viper doesn't make for much of an interesting antagonist. Granted, this is mostly due to the fact that the film is so focused on exploring Wolverine, his origins, and who he is following the events of the X-Men trilogy. However, it would have been great had they managed to tie the villain in with all this. Instead she's just...there...being all evil simply for the sake of it: she's a plot device and comes across as very little else.
Despite all of the action though, Mangold also handles the downtime with confidence. The dialogue is snappy and well executed and, despite not having much time to pull it off, Logan's romance with Yashida's granddaughter, Mariko, manages to not feel too forced or rushed. Their conversations sometimes hint atthe wider political context between America and Japan, and there's some reflection on that relationship post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As with the action, the climax feels weak compared to what we've already experienced and there's not the same level of emotional investment. Having said that, it's nice to see an action movie that isn't afraid to tone down the bombast yet still manage to remain effortlessly sleek for the most part.
With X-Men: Days of Future Past already billed for next year, and hinted at in The Wolverine during a post-credit sequence, things are certainly heading in the right direction. The challenge is going to be whether or not the film can still deliver the same solid characterization when it has a lot more characters to handle. With Brian Singer back at the helm though, things would appear to be in safe hands.
The Wolverine was released in theatres on July 24th.
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