The summer wouldn’t be summer without an X-Men movie, and for 2013, we have The Wolverine. After the disappointing and rather languid X-Men Origins: Wolverine, James Mangold has been charged with bringing fresh impetus to a character that has some of the richest, most fascinating and indeed some of the most excitingly open (given the very handy fact that he is immortal) narratives that can be put to screen. Bringing Hugh Jackman back for his fourth movie as the Wolverine/Logan, Mangold has penned a post-X-Men 2 story that sees our troubled hero battle his inner-demons as well as some pretty nasty external battles too.
The story starts as Logan in a Japenese Prisoner of War camp in Nagasaki as the Americans drop the atom bomb. After out-running the blast for a time, he then saves the life of a young Japanese soldier called Yoshida by jumping on and shielding him from the explosion. Progressing to the present time, we are now presented with Logan living in a cave somewhere in a North American mountain range, looking wistfully and then scratching at trees in a seemingly vein attempt to be a recluse. Alas, he has been tracked down by a young red-haired Japanese girl who invites him to visit Tokyo, which is at the behest of Yoshida, now an old dying man. That solider has done pretty well for himself as he now owns a multi-billion dollar corporation, which, to the annoyance of his son, is being left to his granddaughter Mariko. This now makes her the target for the Yakusa, and she is the subject of a kidnap plot. Logan manages to foil the attempted kidnapping and he and Mariko go into hiding, were they strike up a relationship. All the while, there is a mutant femme fatale character (isn’t there always in an X-Men film?) who is hunting Logan for her own reasons, which soon transpire are linked to the conspiratorial nature of Yoshida’s trillion Yen empire. The film soon spirals into comic book adventure and mayhem, with a suitably apt final showdown.
The film really is of two halves. The first half is brooding and slow-paced in which we see Logan at his typically ruminating best. The opening scene in Nagasaki is done with a real sense of cultural sensitivity, with very little of the preposterousness one would expect from a Marvel film (that comes later). The film does a good job of building Logan’s internal conflicts initially, and upon arrival in Tokyo, develops these further with some engaging dialogue, some of which is actually conducted in Japanese, which was a welcome un-dumbed-down aspect to what is essentially a popcorn blockbuster. However, once Mariko is kidnapped, Logan’s justification for continuing to risk himself (in the face of what appears to be a renewed mortality) is never fully developed, in other words, you are left wondering why he just hasn’t turned around an gone home; the fact that he is a ˜solider’ just doesn’t seem to cut it. The way the ˜corporation’ has made him ˜mortal’ too is never fully explained either. All in all, there are too many gaps in the script that are just glossed over. The scenes in Tokyo and rural Japan too smack of an Orientalism (a la Blade Runner) that Hollywood too readily (and sloppily) continues to indulge in.
There comes a point though, and it is obvious when (with a Prometheus style shock scene), that the film descends to comic book absurdity. This, in itself, is not a problem; however what has preceded it has attempted to shy away from such tomfoolery, so to see it then ramped all the way up to 11 in the blink of an eye is disappointing and frustrating. The final scene is nothing short of forehead-slappingly ridiculous and ruins what has been, up to then, a relatively enjoyable, if a little, disjointed story. Even the rather fantastical fight scene atop a bullet train in the first part of the film is grounded in a thread of plausibility.
Overall then, The Wolverine is a decent attempt to rescue Logan from a poor previous outing. It promises much in this regard, but sadly then plunges into the clichÃ©d Marvel trope of comic book shenanigans that just feel tired and very predictable, and not done with any particular guile at all (at least Superman and Zod destroyed an entire city). The talk (from Jackman himself) during the production about the potential for an R-rated Wolverine film seems distant now, and the Hollywood machine has moulded what could have been a really good original Wolverine film, into a predictable summer blockbuster farce.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)