Early on in The Wolverine, we watch an unshaven, disheveled Logan staked out in the wilderness, somewhere in a snowy part of North America, leading a quiet existence surrounded by nature, and haunted by the loss of his beloved girlfriend Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whom he previously killed. He appears to have an unspoken understanding with the wild beasts he lives amidst, and contempt for most humans.
Hugh Jackman’s sixth outing as Marvel’s clawed superhero may be a definite improvement on its direct predecessor, 2009’s X-Men: Origins: Wolverine. But it doesn’t have the heft of Bryan Singer’s X2 or the sheer inventiveness of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class.
His nature-loving credentials firmly established, Logan, aka Wolverine, heads to Japan with a mysterious redhead on the urging of her boss, Yashida, whom Wolverine had rescued from a nuclear bomb during World War II. Now a rich business magnate on his death bad, Yashida offers Wolverine the opportunity to trade his immortality with him, so that our tormented protagonist can find the death he craves.
So far, so good. But The Wolverine, directed by James Mangold, quickly becomes a bland love story between Logan and Yashida’s granddaughter whom he must protect from an assortment of villains. Expectedly, there’s a string of action set-pieces including a night-time ninja attack, a face-off with a samurai warrior, and a particularly thrilling squabble on the roof of a bullet train. The film’s climax, which involves Wolverine in a battle against a giant robot samurai feels silly, but let’s face it – at least it doesn’t feature the wholesale destruction of an entire city, as was the case in every other action blockbuster this year.
To be honest, the Japan-set storyline, and the absence of enough mutants gives this film a feel far removed from the typical X-Men movie. Also it’s considerably darker than most blockbuster films, both in terms of the violence and the mature themes it explores. If you don’t go in expecting the lightness of an X-Men film, chances are you’ll come away entertained.
Jackman himself, who’s played Wolverine more times than any other actor has played any superhero, lets his experience with the character show. He delivers a solid performance that is all flared nostrils and pumped chest, then nicely melts into an emotionally and physically vulnerable wreck when the plot demands. For his compelling performance alone, The Wolverine may be worth a watch.
I’m going with a generous three out of five. Don’t forget to stay in your seat for an exciting post-credits sequence that sets up next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past that’ll likely give die-hard fans more of the stuff they expect from an X-Men movie…the stuff that’s missing here.