The Wolverine (dir. James Mangold, 2013) – A friend from the past forces Logan out of isolation and embroils him in a larger conflict.
Easily surpassing Origins, The Wolverine begins as a promising character study that ultimately falls prey to genre conventions.
Another year, another superhero film. We are not complaining. As the Marvel-Fox cinematic universe continues to grow, we have come to expect some bigger and bolder ideas, with possible crossovers to revel in. So it is a welcome surprise to see The Wolverine take an intimate approach in a true solo outing.
Explosions are scarce and cameos are far from the guest list. Director James Mangold risks a clear tonal shift from its franchise siblings that we have grown used to. His blockbuster is like few we have seen before, endowed with rare reflective quietude. Of eternity’s curse, the dark story behind Logan’s immortality grounds itself in moody realism.
Minimising the mutant presence turns out to be a good move. All focus falls on the titular character, whose eternal lifetime of torment burdens his fight. His past acquaintance Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) offers him a solution – to give up his healing abilities and hence, his immortality. After Wolverine declines the man in extremis, he is forced into a confrontation against the Yakuza.
By now, we can all agree that Hugh Jackman embodies Wolverine like no other can. His portrayal makes every step of his journey compelling, though the story on its own is less so. Barely grazing the character’s potential, a lacklustre screenplay tells more than it shows. Exploration of the lead mutant’s struggles remains superficial and never gets far. Contrite romance then sees the late Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) enter Logan’s dream as an expository device.
Feebly-established nemeses soon descend into familiar comic territory. Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) and the Silver Samurai make for poor villains, seemingly shoehorned in a plot for the sole sake of a bloodless conflict. The barely developed characters hardly stand out from the assorted Yakuza members. When Wolverine faces the pair, the finale falls flat with little pay-off.
The Japanese ladies serve as saving grace. Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and precognitive assassin Yukio (Rila Fukushima) put up a good fight alongside as allies. It is great fun to watch women who know to throw more than a good punch.
With the wisecracking hero trading his jokes for two hours of brooding, we savour every bit of fun battle sequences. That is even if it is daft to see the two men leap like grasshoppers on a bullet train. (Not all Asians know kung-fu… or do we?)
Be sure to stay for the mid-credit stinger. The brief scene sets up for the upcoming timey-wimey X-Men: Days of Future Past, where two humongous casts meet. Fox, you tease.