In a way, The Wolverine follows in the steps of Iron Man 3: A superhero movie that removes the “super” part of the equation and forces the hero to go back to basics. Wolverine is never reduced to the bare-bones essentials of Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 but still…
Logan (Hugh Jackman, in his sixth outing as the character) begins the movie as a recluse in the mountains, hiding from the world and haunted by nightmares of his past and of Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen). He encounters Yukio (Fukushima Rila), who is sent to bring him to her boss, Yashida, in Tokyo. Yashida is dying and wishes to see Logan before he dies. Once in Tokyo, Logan finds out that Yashida wants more than a simple “goodbye”, and he ends up as protector of Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Okamoto Tao), and faces off against a variety of Japanese baddies as well as a sinister mutant called Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
Let’s get this out of the way first: the plot is more than a little convoluted. It is easy to follow, but still a little too complicated. It is burdened, I think, by its identity as a “comic book movie.” It tries to be character drama and action movie and all-out superhero movie at the same time. People die yet don’t die, a woman supposedly in love with one man but affianced to another falls in love with the protagonist, the protagonist pines for the woman he was forced to kill but then promptly falls for another one, etc.
The movie spends a fair amount of time in Logan’s head with flashes of the past and visions of Jean, who can’t seem to do without Logan in the afterlife. This is both good and bad. At its best, it helps provide a glimpse of what it might be like to be superhuman and immortal but not selectively amnesiac, and thus to live forever with the memories of all the things you’ve ever done. Logan is an aimless wanderer at the start – a ronin, a masterless samurai, as Yashida calls him – who drags around the baggage of his life with him, but (of course) is revitalised by the end, learning to let go and having a new sense of purpose in life.
On the flip side, Jean Grey’s constant appearances are a little bit disruptive. At one point it almost felt like Logan was spending a quarter of the movie dreaming. If this was Inception, that would be fine. But it’s not Inception and so the wallowing in dreams (or nightmares) felt overdone and forced after a while.
Balancing out the quiet moments in Logan’s dreams were the frenzied action sequences – so frenzied that they were often tricky to follow. If the aim was to have fight sequences that delivered a sense of frantic chaos, then they succeeded admirably. The fights in The Wolverine included pretty much every sort of standard movie fight mode – guns, swords, some martial arts, and some plain ol’ brawling. Oh, there was some archery too. Samurai and ninjas and yakuza and even a giant robot also featured in the movie. I know the story is set in Japan, but that all seemed a bit much. (Did they really need to include the ninjas, for instance?) But the most impressive fight scene in the movie was probably the crazy set-piece atop a bullet train, with the combatants jumping and ducking and struggling to keep themselves atop the high-speed train. That was no typical spaghetti western train fight sequence, for sure.
This being a comic book movie means that logic goes out the window fairly often, such as in that bullet train sequence. Even the main point of the movie – the potential removal and transference of Logan’s regenerative powers – is just weird. Aren’t mutants genetically born that way? Does that mean they planned to take out his DNA and transplant it? Oh well. Just shrug and ignore it. That would be my advice.
Anyway, it was interesting to contemplate how effective Wolverine might be without his regenerative powers, and it was interesting to get a glimpse beyond Logan’s surly demeanour, but the movie seemed to lack a certain something that would make it great. It didn’t have the snap of X-Men: First Class, nor did it have the warmth of Captain America, nor the entertainment level of The Avengers. However, that end credits scene was quite intriguing…
The Wolverine: ★★★
[My star ratings guide]