I think this might be the first time I’ve reviewed a new entry in a film series after having done a complete film season. Back when X-Men First Class was released I led up to it by reviewing all the X-Men films. Watching this series is much like being a gambling addict. You start of neutral and then your up, but before your know it your way down and you stay down but then your up again… but you know you could fall at any minute. The real danger comes when you keep getting up and keep feeling better, because after that come inevitable, crushing failure. The Wolverine manages to maintain the momentum started with X-Men First Class. This makes me worry about Days Of Future Past. But let us worry about that later. For now, click the link below to read what I thought of The Wolverine.
I feel like The Wolverine had two factors working against it prior to release. Firstly is the aforementioned roller-coaster of X-Men movie quality. Secondly is the protracted development cycle the film has had. We knew a sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine was being planned before that film had even “graced” our screens. During the film’s credits we even got a glimpse of Wolverine in Japan as a teaser for what was to come. The film was due 2 years after Origins and with Darren Aronofsky at the helm. God knows what that film would have turned out like. It certainly wouldn’t have had a CGI heavy fight on top of a bullet train. Probably would have had about 40 shots of Hugh Jackman’s back too. Darren left the film because he was worried about getting homesick or something. He used the same excuse on Robocop to. Filming was then put back to early 2011 and then postponed when the catastrophic Earthquake and Tsunami Japan. Eventually James Mangold was put at the helm and filming began late last year. There’s a lot of crap that got in the way of this film happening. It’s a good job then that it paid off.
In The Wolverine Logan (Hugh Jackman) has been hiding out in the woods for years being a dirty old grizzly man and vowing to never fight again. 10 minutes into the film he sticks a poison arrow in a guys hand and is ready to separate his head from his throat in 3 precision cuts. So we don’t get a massive amount of time with Wolverine being all broody and not wanting to be bothered before being convinced to go to Japan to visit an old friend on his death bed. Luckily this death bed isn’t the sort that eats people. The old friend is a Mr Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), owner of a totally not Sony/evil corporation. He offers Logan a chance at mortality by promising to take away his healing power and transfer it to himself so he may live forever. Logan refuses and when Yashida dies a whole load of familial troubles, Yakuza kidnappings and Ninja action kicks off. Logan, now minus the majority of his healing powers, takes it upon himself to protect Mr Yashida’s grand-daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto, making her début on film) as they go on the run from pretty much everyone.
Unlike pretty much all the X-Men films, The Wolverine is heavily focused on character and much less on action sequences. Well, apart from the bullet train nonsense and the fight against a giant robot. Other than those two sequences this very story focused. Well, there’s more action… lots of stabbing people with claws and stuff… But other than all of that The Wolverine is story focused. I sound mocking but it seriously is. When you’re dealing with a character trying to accept that he killed the woman he loved, thankfully the only reference to X-Men 3, you kinda need to follow a more introspective story. The romance element with Mariko is handled well enough, although maybe Logan should have banged her after judging her fiancé for having a sexy party with a couple of sluts. Double standard much. Logan’s conflict over what he had to do to Jean in order to save the day in X-Men 3 is largely told through dream sequences and his desire to keep Mariko safe. Even with all the action and that pesky character development that usually only real films have James Mangold still finds the time to slow the pace down. He even takes a moment to remind us all that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki where supremely messed up.
Whilst the film moves along at a decent pace and manages to avoid any slow moments it does have a few issues. Japan is depicted in one of 3 stock film views. Either rural and traditional, dirty and urban or ninja movie. Then they chuck a big secret lab at the end of it because you can’t end an X-Men film without one. To be fair they have shot Japan marvellously but they have failed to really show the variety of Japan with only the combination of tradition and modernism being shown through Yukio (Rila Fukushima). The film also has an issue with depicting any male Japanese men as being anything other that treacherous, evil or weak willed. One character gets a sort of redemptive moment but it’s all a little too late. What you end up with is a film that depicts the big strong western man, who even when weakened, is strong enough to protect not one, but two, Japanese women from the entire male populous of Japan. But hey, at least Wolverine doesn’t pretend it’s OK to slap a Jap. That’s Superman’s thing. That makes it OK right? The special effects are that usual not quite good enough FOX standard they’ve been using for years. It gets the job done but, just like with the previous films, seems a few years outdated. One other element that bugged me was the film’s score. Occasionally it will take advantage of the setting to provide a musical backdrop that invokes a little bit of Japan without feeling patronising. And then the horns come in and it veers dangerously close to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin.
Despite it’s flaws the story is solid, if a little convoluted in terms of the familial relationships and treachery. I enjoyed the various depictions of Wolverine over the course of the film and, for once, this felt like the Wolverine of the comics, and not the Wolverine of… what is a fashion company these days?… Um… Ralph Lauren? Hugh Jackman gets to do a little more of the surly ready to explode Wolverine in this film. There’s probably all of one moment of Wolverine feeling uncomfortable through domestication and it makes a change for him to not be babysitting a bunch of teenagers for once. The film could have done with more interaction between Logan and the film’s only other visually powered mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodhcenkova) but she is pretty much there to give the real villain what he wants and have someone for the only other mutant, Yukio, to fight. Yukio can see peoples deaths by the way. Handy skill for a film producers wallet that.
Overall The Wolverine is a hell of a step up from X-Men 3 and Origins. It’s not as much fun, in the traditional sense, as First Class but it is well made action flick none-the-less. It doesn’t feel stupid. The action is well put together and shot, yes… even the bullet train fight. Hell, I’d accept if people said it was their second favourite next to X-Men 2. But no-one should say it’s better than X-Men 2 because that would be stupid. The Wolverine stumbles from time to time and the final act started well but goes a little iffy when suddenly we’re in a fecking science lab again, but in the end, The Wolverine is satisfying and decent. You could do a lot worse this summer. For instance, did you know Grown Ups 2 was out. If you went to see that… kill yourself. Seriously… do it. You’re the reason Pacific Rim didn’t do as well as it should and I’ll probably blame you for the performance of Dredd too. Oh yeah, I started this review with a gambling metaphor. The Wolverine is a high point, will FOX’s gamble on the time travel heavy storyline for the next film pay off or will they lose it all? Find out next year!!!