The Wolverine: Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
The last time Wolverine had a full cinematic outing was in the critically reviled X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie which took a set of poorly computer-generated claws to Logan’s genuinely interesting backstory and populated it with a rogue’s gallery of generic, uninteresting mutants and some genuinely nonsensical plot movements. By the low standards of that particular cinematic train-wreck, James Mangold had an easy job of creating a high-quality, crowd-pleasing Wolverine movie.
So the big question coming out of The Wolverine is a simple one: is it better than X-Men Origins?
The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is yes, but not by much. The Wolverine tells a tale that is likely to be fresher and less familiar with the casual viewer than his origin story, and steers clear of stuffing every scene with unnecessary mutant cameos. It also showcases the most faithful interpretation of Logan as a character of any of his cinematic outings, framing him as an enigmatic loner who has outlived everything he has ever really cared about, and Hugh Jackman gives his best performance of the character to date.
However, it is also wildly inconsistent in tone, unsure of whether it wants to be an atmospheric drama or a CGI-heavy blockbuster and veering from one to the other in an often-jarring manner. The first act of the movie tends towards the former, with a stunningly-shot and genuinely unsettling sequence on the outskirts of World War 2-era Nagasaki as the bomb is dropped: a young soldier hesitates in committing seppuku along with his comrades and is saved from the bomb’s blast by Logan. Thus, the film effectively and subtly establishes its loose central theme, of the inevitability of death and the power of the ability to choose death when it is right to do so.
The film’s opening act also gives us a glimpse of what Logan’s life has been like since the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. Turns out, he was as traumatised by that movie as the rest of us, and has spent the undisclosed period of time between that film and this one drifting, living in a cave and growing an impressive mane of hair; but he is brought back into reality by Rila Fukushima’s badass ninja-girl Yukio, who with her limited precognitive abilities (she is able to see when people are going to die and not much else) has the dubious honour of being the most interesting supporting character in the movie.
However, after Yukio takes Logan to Japan and he is offered a way to die by her mentor, who also happens to be the soldier Logan saved back in Nagasaki, the movie begins to falter. From this point, we descend into Japanese cliché (I don’t know much about the culture but I’m sure there’s more to it than family honour, ninjas, yakuza, bullet trains and sex hotels), clunky characterisation and poorly-executed action sequences with anonymous and unmemorable villains.
The action scenes scattered throughout the film alternate between messy, borderline indecipherable shaky-cam sequences and battles so saturated with CGI that they serve only to alienate the audience from the action on-screen. Although the much-advertised and frenetic fight on top of the bullet train has its fun moments, it is a rare break from the mediocrity of the remainder of the film’s set-pieces.
The offerings for interesting supporting characters are rather slight, as well. For example, love interest Mariko spends the film despising Logan for refusing to give his mutant healing factor to her father until she is suddenly madly in love with him, and is relegated to a rather predictable damsel-in-distress role even though her history as an athletic knife-throwing champion suggests she should be much more. Besides, Logan’s romantic interests are divided between Mariko and a version of Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey from the previous X-Men movies, who exists solely in his subconscious and whose tedious appearances scattered throughout the movie only go to show that Jackman and Janssen have virtually no on-screen chemistry together. These wouldn’t be such prominent issues if there wasn’t such a focus on Logan’s romantic life throughout the film, but unfortunately this element is prioritised above the more interesting concepts of death and eternal life hinted at in the earlier acts of the film.
The villains fare little better, with vague and generic motivations that render them largely uninteresting. Really the only antagonist who makes any impression is Svetlana Khodchenkova’s reptilian Viper, although she is memorable for all the wrong reasons: she is a campy anomaly in a film that overall takes itself far too seriously and is far too reminiscent of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy in Joel Schumacher’s terrible Batman and Robin. In fact, she is only saved from being the worst villain in the film by Logan’s opponent in the climactic battle, a poorly-conceived and even more poorly animated CGI monstrosity whose purpose is almost impenetrable until the final, somewhat idiotic twist.
It’s not all bad, though: as previously stated, Logan’s characterisation and Jackman’s performance as him are the best of the X-Men franchise, and there are some fun moments littered throughout the film. A brief sequence in which Logan and Mariko confront a corrupt politician is chuckle-worthy and another featuring a group of ninjas and their complete inability to defeat Logan is entertaining enough, if a little contracted. But these fleeting moments of quality are not enough to make up for what is overall a rather underwhelming cinematic experience.
It is telling that the best and most memorable sequence in The Wolverine occurs during the end credits (that’s my subtle way of telling you to stay in the cinema after the movie ends): the rest of the film has its moments, but never delivers on the potential of the premise, and in the current climate of superhero movies what The Wolverine offers is nowhere near enough.