When Wolverine got his own installment in 2009 the movie world was pretty excited. The trailer went down a treat, looking like a film with stunning action and great superhero drama, whilst also featuring Logan at his ‘coolest’. Sadly though the film didn’t work, with Gavin Hood’s direction falling flat and the film as a whole being a rather bland and familiar experience. Now Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine gets another shot, this time taking Wolverine’s most celebrated comic arc and planting a competent filmmaker, in James Mangold, at the helm. Does The Wolverine nail the hype and potential this time around or is this yet another poor outing for everybody’s favourite clawed hero?
During WW2 Logan saves the life of a Japanese man, Yashida, who’s city has just been bombed. Now in the present, Logan is asked to come to Japan to see Yashida who is close to death so he can repay Logan for saving him. Yashida tells Logan that he isn’t ready to die and offers Logan mortality in return for his immortality. Logan refuses, but before he can leave Japan he is sucked into a cat-and-mouse chase film where he must protect Yashida’s granddaughter from rival gangsters. For Logan to save the day though, he must first over come a virus which is halting his healing ability, presenting audiences with the most vulnerable Wolverine yet.
The Wolverine is slowed down and stripped back. Gone are the large scale action sequences riddled with destruction and mayhem, and gone are the needless supporting characters and pointless cameos. The Wolverine is just Wolverine, a troubled soul who must overcome his demons and illness to become a hero that appreciates the gift he has been given. This is a great positive, especially after a season full of explosions and crumbling buildings. The Wolverine operates first and foremost as a drama. Whilst the action is frequent, it is on the lower end of the action spectrum, mostly being one-on-one claws-to-swords combat instead of the aforementioned larger scale action.
James Mangold handles this mixture of action and drama comfortably, whilst perhaps never taking it to its full potential. He knows this a low-key superhero film and as such his direction is restrained and focused. But it sadly lacks the darker elements that could have pushed this to another level. Logan’s struggle with himself has always been interesting, and this provided potentially the best vehicle to explore it in. Mangold though takes his foot off the accelerator in the final act and doesn’t deliver on the promise. It essentially goes soft and limp, afraid to go for jugular and bring it home in a stronger and ballsier fashion.
Hugh Jackman is, and always will be, Wolverine. This film gives him his best chance to stretch and he takes the opportunity with both hands. He is darker and more gruff than any previous X-Men film and the extra vulnerable makes for some interesting character growth. However he is out-shone by the female supports. Rila Fukushima is excellent as Yukio, she is strong, independent and really well-developed. She is also capable of affecting the audience and becomes the films greatest asset, her final scene with Logan is wonderful and made me yearn for more adventures with these two. Tao Okamoto as Yashida’s granddaughter also gives a solid and touching performance, even if she does come across as a little weak.
After a season of non-stop explosions and destruction, it was nice to settle in for a big-budget low-key superhero film. The action sequences are small but involving, the bullet train scene is no doubt the season’s best and the martial arts fights are well choreographed. Hugh Jackman delivers another great performance as Wolverine and the strong female supports are a refreshing change from a boring boy-filled blockbuster season. James Mangold does a good job, but never takes the film to the next level which halts the film from becoming the quintessential Wolverine. It is a nice change of pace and a good finale to a blockbuster season riddled with monotonous action extravaganzas.