Review by Paul Bowler
The Wolverine claws his way back onto the screen as Hugh Jackman returns to the role of the adamantium clawed mutant, in director James Mangold’s exceptional film that draws its inspiration from the classic 1982 comic book mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. After the critical mauling that greeted Wolverine’s previous solo film, the dire X-Men: Origins (2009), the series was left in serious need of a healing factor. The success of Matthew Vaughan’s X-Men First Class in 2011 (which included a scene stealing cameo by Jackman) revived the film series, and with Bryan Singer also returning to the X-Men franchise to helm the eagerly anticipated Days of Future Past, its now time for Logan to return in director James Mangold’s film: The Wolverine.
The Wolverine opens with a flashback to 1945 in Nagasaki where Logan (Hugh Jackman) is being held prisoner by the Japanese. He manages to escape as the atomic bomb is detonated, and protects one of the Japanese soldiers by shielding him from the blast with his own body. The man called Yashida watches in awe as Logan’s mutant healing factor allows him to regenerate almost instantly from the effects of the explosion.
Years later we rejoin Logan in the present day, a broken man after the death of Jean Grey, he is now living a solitary existence in the wilderness. Haunted by the ghost of Jean Grey, the woman he loved but was tragically forced to kill, life no longer has any meaning for him. When the flame haired assassin Yukio (Rila Fukushima) tracks Logan down, she persuades him to return with her to Japan for a meeting with the elderly Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who is now an extremely rich and powerful man – and it appears that the old debt from Logan’s past can finally be settled when the ailing Yashida offers Logan the opportunity to be free of his immortality.
Soon afterwards, Logan finds that he has been stripped of his mutant healing powers. He is then faced with the task of protecting the heiress to Yashida’s dynasty, his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okomoto), as the Yazuka attempt to kidnap her. Hunted by a gang of deadly assassins led by the sinister Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), Logan must face up to his innermost demons as his relationship with Mariko develops, with the sword wielding Yukio as his only ally, he will have to unleash the full fury of his adamantium claws to defeat Viper and the Silver Samurai.
While it may not match the visual spectacle of The Avengers or the brooding legacy of The Dark Knight trilogy, The Wolverine shifts the focus away from the city levelling format of recent blockbusters such as Man of Steel to offer a more complex, and character driven film. With influences ranging from epic Samurai dramas, Westerns, and even subtle hints of film noir, The Wolverine takes us to the menacing neon-lit streets of Tokyo and plunges us right at the heart of a power struggle within the criminal underworld.
The Wolverine is a stylishly crafted film from Walk The Line and 3:10 to Yuma director James Mangold, who perfectly balances the films more serious moments with occasional flourishes of humour and exhilarating action sequences. The first half of the film sets up the story perfectly, introducing characters and exciting set-pieces, before Wolverine’s powers are taken and he begins to grow close to Mariko. The events of X-Men Last Stand (2006) continue to be felt, as visions of Jean Grey continues to haunt Logan’s nightmares, and the film skilfully addresses his inner turmoil as Logan finally begins come to terms with his guilt over his role in her death.
Hugh Jackman is fantastic as Wolverine; he rightfully takes centre stage here, bringing an added depth to the character as he embarks on his quest of self-discovery. Tao Okomoto also acquits herself well as Logan’s love interest, Mariko, but it is Rila Fukushima’s excellent performance as Yukio that really steals the show. The red haired assassin, who has the ability to foretell death, proves to be a great sidekick for Logan, and her acrobatic fighting skills are an awesome sight to behold. Hirokyuki Sanda is also excellent as Shingen Yashida, Mariko’s father, a man driven by his lust for power. Svetlana Khodchenkova plays the sleazy Viper, a venomous snake tongued villainess, but the characters full potential is not really explored, and subsequently feels a little undeveloped as a result. The mysterious archer Harada (Will Yun Lee) gets some good scenes, the Silver Samurai is also impressive, and has a great battle with Wolverine.
The Wolverine does have a few pacing issues, particularly in the middle section where the plot begins to drag a little, but fans of the comic books are sure to appreciate the more layered approach to the story and the development of Logan’s character. There are plenty of action scenes as well: with a beautifully orchestrated attack at a funeral, a spectacular assault by ninjas on the snowbound streets, Wolverine’s impressive confrontation with the Silver Samurai, and a stunning high-octane fight on the top of a bullet train.
By taking Wolverine out of familiar territory and placing him in Japan, director James Mangold exceeds all expectations, along with screenwriters Mark Bomback, Scott Frank, and Christopher McQuarrie, to create a modern-day setting full of deadly adversaries and brutal violence while seizing the opportunity to explore Logan’s character in greater depth.
With a plot full of twists and turns, there is plenty to recommend here, it is only during the final act where things begin to unravel a little as the somewhat chaotic finale does seem to undermine the exquisite care and attention to detail lavished on the earlier scenes in the film. It may not be quite the Wolverine film we were all hoping for, but it comes pretty damn close, and be sure to sick around for a great little scene in the end credits.