The history of The Wolverine on the big screen has been a shaky one. He’s been in some great comic book movies, a not-so-great comic book movie and a dreadful standalone effort that should quickly be forgotten. However, this time, things are not so bleak and, while the Wolverine may not give us a great comic book movie, it presents us with a great story about the man behind the claws.
Hugh Jackman returns to the role of Logan – The Wolverine – for his sixth time since 2000′s X-Men, the beginning of the franchise’s foray into the world of cinema. Strangely enough, The Wolverine acts as a – sort of – sequel to one of the ‘original’ X-Men films (2006′s X-Men: The Last Stand) with Logan in a self-imposed exile, haunted by nightmares of the woman he loved but had to kill, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Logan is soon sought out by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who has been sent by an old friend, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), whom Logan once saved from the Nagasaki atomic attack. Yashida is dying but isn’t ready to let go of his privileged life, so presents Logan with something he thought impossible – death; Yashida wishes to transfer Logan’s immortality to himself. Our Wolverine refuses, chaos ensues.
What sets The Wolverine apart from other instalments in the X-Men series is that it does not concern itself with the plight of the mutant, this is only mentioned very briefly and in passing on a few occasions. It is very much a human story – highlighted by the fact that Logan spends much of the film without his power to heal – which focuses on the struggle of the titular character and whether or not to embrace death, bringing an end to watching the ones he loves die around him. This Wolverine story greatly benefits by freeing itself from the clutter of the mutant politics, instead telling us of one specific, concentrated story in the life of this particular X-Man.
That being said, it is not a flawless tale. Our villain, Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper, feels very much like a cartoon, comic book villain in a film that has distanced itself from these roots. Her character would have been at home in any other X-Men film but here, she is out of place and looks silly as a result. Additionally, the film is as cheesy as can be with some lines being utterly cringeworthy – ‘Don’t hurt my friends’ grumbles an angry Logan, at one point. Likewise, you’ll lose count of how many times Jackman turns around with a menacing look on his face as a newly-acquired cut seals itself for the camera.
At this point, Hugh Jackman IS The Wolverine. He had nailed the dark and brooding act films ago and looks appropriately furious/menacing during fight scenes. It’ll take one hell of a performance to beat Jackman should the role ever be recast, which it shouldn’t – for many years, at least – by the way. Rila Fukushima gives a great performance as Yukio, the slightly creepy, pseudo-sidekick with the unenviable ability to foresee people’s deaths; she’s oddly likeable and easy to root for. Svetlana Khodchenkova performs well enough and can be genuinely spine-chilling as the villain but she cannot save the character from standing out for the wrong reasons.
At the end of the day though, this is The Wolverine; story and acting will never be as important as the action and The Wolverine does not disappoint. There’s ninjas and plenty of ‘snikt’ action but it’s all about the bullet train sequence, it steals the show in a big way and puts cinema’s plethora of train-top actions scenes to shame. It is truly impressive. The rest of the film’s action is your standard Wolverine fare – slice this, slice that, jump here, jump there – but that is by no means a bad thing.
The Wolverine is a solid instalment in the X-Men franchise and corrects a lot of the wrongs from his first solo outing. This movie gives one the feeling that there could be many more Wolverine films, telling singular stories from the long, long life of the protagonist and I would welcome that. And one more thing, this is definitely the best superhero film of the summer; I much prefer the Man of Adamantium.