Starring: Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee (Die Another Day), Svetlana Khodchenkova (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Famke Janssen (Goldeneye)
Director: James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma)
Writers: Mark Bomback (Die Hard 4.0) and Scott Frank (Minority Report)
Runtime: 2 hours 6 minutes
Release Date: 25 July (UK), 26 July (US)
I am a big fan of the first two X-Men films, particularly of Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine. Despite initial fan issues, Jackman turned the role into one of the most iconic characters of this generation and jumpstarted his career to Hollywood superstardom. But after the misfires of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Jackman took a break and was relegated to a cameo in X-Men: First Class, which helped to rejuvenate the struggling franchise. Now back in centre stage, does The Wolverine help the character gain back his former glory, or is this just a further descent into mediocrity?
Picking up some time after the events of The Last Stand, The Wolverine is very much a character piece. Whilst occasional references to the events of the previous movies are made, this is a stand-alone tale. There are very few other mutants in the film, and I personally think this is a good thing. One of the reasons Origins didn’t work was because there were too many other characters distracting from what is supposed to be the main attraction. Here, we are given plenty of time to delve in Wolverine’s psyche and emotions. Logan is an even more damaged character this time around, and now he is at his most vulnerable. The decision to take away Wolverine’s healing abilities for most of the movie is a genius move, as it not only ups the stakes and the challenge, it also makes every fight seem that much more dangerous. Even when he has all his powers, the movie always makes sure he is evenly matched, avoiding the dull monotony that plagued Origins. The focus on character also means that the film is much slower, giving time to develop Logan and the supporting cast. This all makes the film feel less like a superhero-action film and more like a classic samurai or western, and the change of pace is refreshing. In a world where every superhero movie has to be either The Dark Knight or Iron Man, it’s nice to see one that tries to do its own thing and succeed. Whilst the film does fall back into more traditional comic book fare for the climax, it didn’t bother me too much and didn’t make the first two thirds of the film any less weak. Oh, and make sure to stay through the credits for some foreshadowing of things to come.
Hugh Jackman has played this character so much now that it is hard to separate the two, but he is as good as ever. His portrayal of Logan here is probably the most human he has ever seemed, but also gives him plenty of opportunity to go bezerk. The supporting cast is good too, mostly made up of relatively unknown Japanese actors. Tao Okamoto is an effective love interest at Mariko, being vulnerable enough to feel danger for her but not helpless enough to seem like a complete damsel-in-distress. The badass female role is left to Rila Fukushima as Yukio, and she is suitably dangerous and fun. Where the film falters slightly is in the villains. Whilst Svetlana Khodchenkova (boy, that’s a mouthful) is effectively menacing as the slivery scheming Viper, the rest of the main bad guys aren’t that interesting; mostly just a bunch of Japanese guys going on about honour and respect. Whilst the final battle between Wolverine and Silver Samurai is a good physical match, I felt a film with this much focus on character would have a good psychological match for our protagonist too.
Despite the focus on character, there is still plenty of action in the film and a lot of it is really fun to watch. Particular standouts include a thrilling battle atop a bullet train, and a standoff between Wolverine and a s***load of ninjas. For those worrying about the PG-13/12A rating, don’t fret too much; this is as violent and bloody as a movie can get without falling into R territory. Whilst occasional wonky camera work and editing can ruin the experience, the technical presentation is generally well executed. The visual effects, whilst not outstanding, are decent enough and a big improvement over the amateurish quality they were in Origins, and the score by Marco Beltrami combines east and west vibes to good effect.
The Wolverine is one of the best surprises of the summer. Whilst not a perfect film, it is the Wolverine movie I think fans have been waiting for and washes away the bad tastes of Origins for good. Much like how Iron Man 3 did, this is a film that lets the character control the story and reminds you why you fell in love with him in the first place. The X-Men franchise is back on track, and I can’t wait to see what happens when Bryan Singer returns to the franchise next summer with Days of Future Past.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10