Principal Cast : Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee, Famke Janssen.
Synopsis: Summoned to Japan so a life debt can be repaid, Logan finds himself embroiled in a bitter dispute over a large corporate empire, and one old man’s desire to steal his mutant healing ability.
Outcast. Outnumbered. Outmatched. Sounds fair.
For a film set in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise, The Wolverine feels less like it belongs than any of those which came before. Even the dire X-Men Origins: Wolverine at least shoehorned in a bunch of garish other mutants for Logan to battle – here, there’ just Wolvie, some bad girl named Viper, and a Japanese precognitive, and that’s it. Hugh Jackman’s right at home in the limelight of this film, as Logan, aka Wolverine, now isolated and alone after the events of the first three X-Men films, which saw both Professor Xavier, and Logan’s romantic interest Jean Grey, killed. Now, I’m no great font of Marvel hero knowledge, but apparently the popular Wolverine comics arc in which Logan spend time in Japan formed the basis for this particular cinematic outing, which sees Logan travel to that country and find himself conflicted by his desires: his desire to no longer remain immortal, and his desire to do good even if he doesn’t admit it. A lot is riding on this film, at least in terms of the character, after Origin’s disastrous performance and the fact that the main X-Men franchise continued quite nicely without the character in Matthew Vaughn’s First Class outing. Helmed by 3:10 To Yuma director James Mangold, and written by Mark Bomback (hmm) and Scott Frank (yay!), The Wolverine had plenty going for it in terms of behind-the-camera quality; now it was up to the story to deliver something worthy of the mantle. The question remained, though: would The Wolverine stack up to the best of the X-Men films, or would it once again resemble Origins in being a solo-feature disaster for our favourite mutant?
Logan (Hugh Jackman) now lives as a hermit in the Yukon, seeking refuge from society – he wakes each morning from a dream in which former love interest, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) exhorts him that everyone he loves dies, while he himself goes on living. After being tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a precognitive mutant working for the giant Yashida Corporation, Logan is taken upon request to meet the man after whom the corporation is named, in order for a life debt to be repaid. Near the end of the Second World War, Logan saved a young soldier by the name of Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) from certain death during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and now that soldier is dying of inoperable cancer. When Logan arrives in Japan, Yashida makes an offer to the mutant: give up his ability to live forever, transfer that power to Yashida, and Logan can have a peaceful life (and death) as a normal human, while Yashida can live forever. Refusing, Logan becomes involved with the Yashida clan when the old man’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) stands to inherit control of the entire corporation when Yashida dies. Yashida’s son, the arrogant Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), wants the control for himself, and begins proceedings to wrest control through assassination, ninjas and a grand plan to kill Mariko – Logan, forming a bond with the young woman, becomes her protector. Not only that, but another mutant, Yashida’s one-time oncologist, Dr Green, aka Viper, wants Logan captured for her own nefarious ends. However, it’s the late Yashida’s grand plan for immortality that still lingers, as a secret facility in the mountains becomes the focus of Logan and Mariko’s story.
The Wolverine really doesn’t feel like an X-Men movie. I know, it exists in the same universe and all, but somehow, it feels more earthy, more grounded. Rather than the histrionic posturing and CG-overkill of Origins, which obliterated sense and eschewed rationality, The Wolverine comes off as the saner older brother that film could have been. The Wolverine’s action aesthetic is more realistic (relatively speaking), is almost style-less in many ways, but it does the job it needs to without frills or ostentation. Mangold’s sure-handed direction delivers a film that covers the required beats of a franchise film – the emotional journey of the lead character, the semi-apocalyptic plot climax at films end, some terrific action set pieces, and throws in some new characters that bring a rich texture to what had – until now – been something of a hodgepodge of ideas and concepts all vying for attention in Logan’s world. The reality with which he places Wolverine in the film, and in doing so, us as well, adds a level of comfort for the audience, in that this is the kind of film which could happen (albeit, somewhat fancifully) in real life. It’s less a comic-book movie and more a straight-up action/drama with mutants as a sidebar.
Performance wise, the cast all do solid jobs with their material. Jackman looks like he could swallow a small child whole, he’s so huge. Apparently he snagged some tips off Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on building body mass, and all I can say is that it worked, and worked well. Jackman can command the screen like a seasoned pro, and he’s effortless to watch in both dramatic and action-packed sequences. I’m not sure how anyone is going to top his portrayal of Wolverine in subsequent films should he step aside (although I guess somebody probably said the same when Connery stopped being Bond) but they’re damn big shoes to fill. Jackman’s main co-stars here are Rila Fukushima, as the martial-art-expert precognitive Yujio, and Tao Okamoto as the gorgeous Mariko. Fukushima’s frame belies her inner strength – she holds her own in the fight scenes, and delivers a strong dramatic turn when required by the script. So too Okamoto, although the actress isn’t required to kick or punch anything, she provides the romantic soul of the film in many ways, and does a great job. The Bad Guys, who number a good four or five here, all lack genuine motivational depth, thanks to the Logan-centric script, and they become something of a flash-card parade of grimacing, yelling and scowling, often in that order. However, femme-fatale Viper, a mutant with an immunity to every known toxin on Earth, and somebody with an innate sense of poisons, is given Euro-trash life by Svetlana Khodchenkova; although her “powers” are less of a physical match for Logan’s, her wily ways and feminine charms allow for a more subtle approach, and she provides a solid enemy for Wolvie to combat.
The film’s graceful lensing, by DP Ross Emery, gives things a postcard look, especially during the daylight sequences, and even the action sequences (particularly one set on the outside of one of Japan’s famous bullet trains) look brilliant. If I have a particular complaint about the action sequences, though, it’s with their at-times confusing alacrity. I know Mangold was probably favoring the raw brutal strength of Logan’s street fighting style, and refusing to cut to wide-shots makes the brawling Logan engages in all that more toughened, but it did become a little hard to figure out exactly what was going on, who was doing what with whom, and it took me out of the film a little. A minor complaint, considering how badly the character has been treated in the past, but a complaint nonetheless. Editing is generally great, though, giving the film a sturdy pacing and methodical, technically excellent ebb and flow. The story moves fairly rapidly, and one might have expected Mangold and editor Michael McCusker (who chopped films like Independence Day, Kate & Leopold and Identity, as well as Mangold’s 3:10 To Yuma) to ramp things up a bit in the cutting, but they renege on this to deliver a balanced, effortlessly watchable story about loss, love and regret. Marco Beltrami, a composer of generally consistent quality, delivers a score I’d describe as “adequate”; not entirely memorable yet doing the job when required. Don’t ask me to hum any, though, because I’d be unable.
The Wolverine isn’t a film you’ll rave about to your friends. It’s not a showy, action-packed mutant-themed mega-film like the main X-Men movies or an Avengers. Instead, it’s a surprisingly solid, really well made and entertaining comic-book entry that moves Logan’s story along, sets up Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past (this film has easily one of Marvel’s best mid-credits stinger yet!), and closes off some dangling story threads from previous films. I think casual fans will find plenty to enjoy (a finale involving a giant Adamantium-constructed Silver Samurai, which is apparently a comic-book mainstay, is particularly cool, if somewhat perfunctory and cheesy) and the hardcore fanboys will be thankful the whole thing isn’t an Origins-level disaster. The Wolverine provides some nice twists, nice action and gives us a Wolverine solo-film to recommend.