Review: The Wolverine (2013)

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Director: James Mangold
Screenwriter: Mark Bomback & Scott Frank
Based on Wolverine by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi & Famke Janssen
Runtime: 126 min // Certificate: 12A

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7kdUy5_WlI]

The X-Men movies have a tendency to either be great (a la First Class and X2) or terrible (a la X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Last Stand), though with such a wealth of material to choose from as your inspiration, a few duds are to be expected. Alas, though the latest adventure for the most famous of all the X-Men, Wolverine (Jackman), is a stark improvement on Origins, for me it fits firmly into the latter category, though I have to give it some props for at least trying to take the character down a different path.

The problem I have with Wolverine and – to a lesser extent – with Jackman’s portrayal of the character, is that his cinematic outings haven’t exactly won me over to his cause. As the most famous / most popular of the mutant heroes, you might expect him to be a complex individual, which he is in the comics, but in the films he is invariably presented as gruff, tough and irritatingly mardy. He’s one-dimensional and closed and, as such, one finds it difficult to sympathise with his plight. The portrayal of the character in The Wolverine is no different, and though this is perhaps the deepest insight into Wolverine’s beliefs and background to date (at least on screen), the film meanders between aimless and boring, with only a few admittedly thrilling action set-pieces to glue the whole affair together.

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The Wolverine begins in Nagasaki in 1945. Logan (Wolverine’s real name) rescues a Japanese officer – Yashida (Yamanouchi) – from the nuclear blast and then heals himself, much to the man’s shock. Almost 70 years later, Logan is living in Canada and still attempting to get over the death of Jean Grey (Janssen), who occasionally appears to him in dreams to give him little nuggets of advice despite him killing her at the end of The Last Stand. He is soon confronted by a mutant named Yukio (Fukushima), who summons him to Japan to see Yashida before he dies. Whilst there, Logan discovers that Yashida plots to rob him of his immortality and must help protect the man’s granddaughter – Mariko (Okamoto) – from those who wish her harm.

It’s difficult to judge The Wolverine in relation to the other X-Men movies because, to its credit, it’s a totally different beast entirely. The plot is much more intimate, the character motivations are unique from the other films in the franchise (it’s not all “oh look, mutants vs. humans, cure blah blah blah” for a change) and the utilisation of the Japanese setting is almost pitch-perfect. Nevertheless, the film suffers for one crucial reason; it’s dull. The potential for brilliance is there, no doubt about it, but the film beats along at such a laborious pace that I’d given up caring long before the first act was through.

Primarily this is an issue with the villains; they’re wholly uninteresting, and no amount of exquisite choreography in the battle sequences can change that. I’ve only just finished the film and I can’t name the main villains, nor can I really explain what it is they wanted. I had a great time watching them get thrown out of trains moving at 300mph, and I thought the Real Steel rip-off in the final battle was quite enjoyable but ask me who they were or what they were doing and you’ll draw a blank because I just don’t know. It is, to an extent, a narrative problem, but it’s also a character one; with the exception of Wolverine, who at least has something resembling a personality in this film, they’re all really fucking boring.

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However, The Wolverine does succeed in three key areas, though none of these are enough to sufficiently salvage things. The first is the aforementioned choreography, which is spectacular. The bullet train sequence is an utter thrill, though to be fair all of the battle sequences are solidly executed. Secondly, the film embraces its Japanese setting to great effect. The culture is respected, not parodied, and the use of subtitles and actual Japanese actors grants the film some much-needed authenticity. Similarly, the performances are all decent – not least from Jackman, who turns in his best portrayal of Wolverine to date. Alas, all of these positives are wasted on a film that is, for the most part, tedious and uninspired.

Ultimately, I found The Wolverine to be a massive disappointment. It’s obviously nowhere near as bad as Origins or The Last Stand but, save for the action sequences, I found the whole thing a complete chore to sit through. It’s a shame to see such an iconic so consistently mishandled by filmmakers who don’t seem to know what to do with him, though the audience’s obsession with the character is just as much to blame. Let’s have a film about some of the other X-Men and put Wolverine out to pasture for a bit instead of raking through the same old history again and again. Besides, Jackman could probably do with a rest because he’s looking a bit disinterested in the whole mutant thing these days anyway.

Or, if all else fails, let’s pool our resources together to get this inevitable masterpiece made…

★★

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