2013’s Superhero Summer closes out with James Mangold’s The Wolverine, does this introspective story soothe the savage beast or is it a punch in the gut…with adamantium claws?
The X-Men franchise has endured since the year 2000; this can be largely attributed to Hugh Jackman’s all-around likeability and his iconic portrayal of Wolverine who is the only character to so far appear in his own solo adventures. Other characters have been considered but none have quite materialised as yet. The last Wolverine solo outing was met with disappointment by many so the pressure was on to do a good job this time around. The choice to adapt Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s 1982 Japanese arc seems a no brainer since that story was so well received by fans and critics alike.
The basic story follows on from X-Men: The Last Stand; taking the only real important event from that film which is the fact that Logan (Hugh Jackman) killed Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and exploring the consequences of that. At the beginning of the film Logan has isolated himself from everyone, sleeping out in the wilderness and generally being haunted by Jean Grey in his dreams.
He is forced back into civilisation when a bear is wrongfully poisoned by a hunter (forcing Logan to perform an adamantium rich mercy killing) causing Logan to track down this hunter and dispense his brand of justice, namely doing a lot of impaling. He is stopped by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who whisks him off to Tokyo on the insistence of Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) who wants to see the man who saved his life before he dies. This isn’t as simple as Logan would like it to be as he is drawn into an extensive family feud upon the apparent death of Yashida and finds himself compelled to protect Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).Through the machinations of the plot Logan finds his ability to heal hindered and that nothing is really as it seems regarding Yashida and his family.
The plot moves along at a decent enough pace and doesn’t ever feel like it drags too much. The characterisation is spot on. Logan facing his demons while being haunted by Jean Grey in his dreams is very effective in exploring who he is and what being immortal really means. I could have done without them hindering his abilities as it raises too many unnecessary questions such as “Why doesn’t he have constant bleeding holes in his hands when he extends his claws?” Generally making an invincible character lose that invincibility in an attempt to make them interesting is more of an annoyance but thankfully the film doesn’t dwell on Logan’s newfound mortality as it isn’t really important for the story. It is only really used as a vehicle to enable near death experiences that feature Jean Grey. These are great at showing the personified guilt and regret in Logan’s long life and really explore how tortured a character he is.
The casting – other than Jackman which frankly goes without saying – is mostly great. The authentic Japanese cast to go with the setting easily establishes that Logan is a stranger in a foreign land and they all do their jobs well, they won’t be very well known in Western countries I imagine but that is no bad thing. The only real weak link is Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper who is just a cheesy and unremarkable villain who didn’t necessarily need to be there to make the story work.
The action scenes are violent without stretching the rating to anything above a 12A and very cleverly done in places, the bullet train confrontation being a notable highlight. The only slouch in this department is Logan’s confrontation with the Silver Samurai which feels a little tacked on and doesn’t match the imagination or the emotional intensity of the rest of the film, providing one of the film’s weakest points. The subplot about Wolverine having a diminished ability to heal is also unnecessary and I don’t think that the character of Viper was really needed at all.
As it sits The Wolverine is an almost perfect story about this character but there are a few niggling things that let it down. It makes some brave choices and strays from the standard superhero formula which makes it better as a result. Stay for a mid-credit scene that will set up the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.