Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada
Length: 126 Minutes
After the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine, our favourite clawed hero really needed revitalising. This project originally had Darren Aronofsky at the helm, but when he dropped out James Mangold, acclaimed director of Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, decided to take it up and what he’s come up with is a quite enjoyable rollick, even if it succumbs to stereotypical cheesiness in its final half.
Hugh Jackman is still eminently watchable as the lead character, and there’s an interesting edge to him in this film. While the introduction of a softer side is a common way of getting an audience to connect with a hard-as-nails (or rather, Adamantium) character, it feels genuine here as Logan struggles with his immortality while beating up some Yakuza henchmen.
Indeed, the Japanese setting is a fun gimmick, even if it descends in to a pretty generic fight-fest with a new, almost sandboxed background. This film’s damsel in distress, played by Tao Okamoto, also has a pretty standard backstory, but she’s just about interesting enough to remain watchable and has genuine chemistry with Jackman, which is nice to see.
While the film brings up every Japanese stereotype from past and present, from a powerful technology mogul to ninja warriors and fights on top of bullet trains, the spectacle of it all is well-directed, and it becomes easier to accept these pretty ridiculous plot devices in recognition of a much simpler and effective story than the disastrous Origins, and one that doesn’t lose sight of itself.
New mutant villain, Viper, is pretty rubbish however. Despite some promising opening sections where she kills off some henchmen with her very dangerous tongue she regularly blows her own trumpet while actually succeeding in very little, with her plans scuppered fairly quickly, despite much foreboding from every character around. Indeed, one scene, professed to be dramatic and perhaps a major turning point is extremely anti-climactic and then casually brushed away with a smile before we return to relentless gangster-beating.
Indeed, the conflicting parts of the story are pretty jarring, as the film battles between being a film where Wolverine discovers more about himself and tries to find purpose, and a rollicking ride around the Japanese cityscape with grunted one-liners and lots of swords and punching. Everything is sufficiently well directed, but Mangold could have benefited from making a choice about the angle of the film, as it is clearly a sort of middle ground to please both hardcore Marvel fans and the more casual cinema-goer, keen for a blockbuster that can excite them for two hours. This is a difficult balancing act, but perhaps a bit more bravery and the film could well have been a much more fulfilling one.
Ultimately, Jackman’s consummate performance still feels lost in a sea of ideas that don’t quite fit and jarring sections that mean that his character doesn’t quite live up to his full potential. It is certainly a step in the right direction however, and with a little more bravery the film could be a lot more than an enjoyable and pretty regular superhero film and could step in to a realm where Wolverine can really be examined more than just physically, which the film does in both action scenes and a couple of mildly revealing shots of Jackman’s highly toned, muscular physique, and properly delve in to the character beyond the odd flashback of Jean Grey and furrowed brow.