Hugh Jackman wears the character of Wolverine like a comfortable coat and slashes his way into another convoluted entry of the X-Men franchise.
The X-Men franchise is a very inconsistent series that went off the rails with the third entry, continued to wander around in a daze with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, then somehow managed to claw back some quality with Matthew Vaughn’s First Class. By now the timeline is a complete mess with plot holes all over the place, ironically reflecting the comic book source material I guess.
Refusing to opt for a complete reboot (strange for Hollywood!) this new outing for the man who likes to snikt his way through appendages is another attempt at legitimising the outlandish universe with a serious reflection on the consequences of weird superpowers, but ultimately struggles to rise above the comic book medium’s penchant for mindless action.
There’s an effective flashback prologue showing Wolverine crossing paths with a Japanese soldier at the end of WWII, and saving his life. This will naturally come back to bite him in the butt, when the man now much older calls for him via a cute messenger, called Yukio, played by the tomboy-ish and charming Rila Fukushima. She finds Logan, as he now refers to himself, in the Canadian wilderness getting revenge for bears (don’t ask), and the action moves to Japan for an hour or so of character development.
This is desirable, I like to think audiences are savvy enough to realise crap blowing up for two hours is not enough to justify going to the movies. Pacific Rim’s underwhelming box office intake is hopefully a reflection of this. The Wolverine is concerned with Logan’s emotional mind-state, considering everyone he loves will die horribly by association or quite simply die of old age as he continues to live on thanks to his immortality.
The depiction of Japan is also well-thought out with a lot of the conversation by Japanese characters not translated into English, helping non-Japanese-speaking viewers feel immersed in another culture just as Logan is.
The film features Logan crossing paths with two other women, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), helping to shatter the infamous Bechdel test. For a summer blockbuster movie, it’s astonishing to be honest, and very much appreciated. The problem is that while the movie goes to great efforts to chart the political intrigue of a Japanese corporation at odds with Yakuza and corrupt government officials; a family’s dynasty and Logan getting over Jean Grey’s death, the whole thing just feels so rote and by-the-numbers, it undermines James Mangold’s attempt to not provide another action-fest.
When the action does come, it’s shot relatively well, despite the fact that for a film featuring a man with adamantine claws tearing people to pieces is quite blood-less thanks to the annoying PG-13 rating. A fight atop a bullet train is as ludicrous as it sounds, but quite fun. The film uses action quite sparingly, but this restraint goes out the window in the third act which descends into a CGI-ridden melee where any interest I had in the narrative fell away as I drowned underneath pointless spectacle. It would have been forgiven if Wolverine were battling compelling or even interesting villains but unfortunately the bad guys in this film are quite lame.
Not going into spoilers, but suffice to say one is predictable and his get-up is ridiculous, the other is one-note and lacking depth, and the other is horrendously bad at acting (it sounded like their voice was dubbed!?); has a pointless unexplained mutant power and just sucks the life out of the frame whenever they appear.
For all its faults, The Wolverine at least attempts to tell a story and spend time on developing characters beyond archetypes, though unfortunately at the end of the day, they are still only archetypes painted with broad-strokes.
The mid-credits sequence will give X-Men fans something to hyperventilate about to prepare everyone for the next group outing, whereby Bryan Singer will somehow make sense of the insanely complicated timeline. Here’s hoping Wolverine survives it to return again in a stand-alone film. Jackman has never been better as the character and there are plenty of stories left to tell under the vision of different directors.