Following in the footsteps of the critically mauled X-Men Origins: Wolverine was never going to be a tall order. You would have to put in a concerted effort to make an even worse film featuring the X-universe’s most famous elder statesman. The true challenge was in healing the damage done to the character by his shambling first solo outing, and luckily for us, Logan sort of has a thing for healing.
Boasting more dramatic credentials than superheroic ones, director James Mangold (Cop Land, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) was an unlikely pick for the spandex-, or in the X-Men movies’ case, leather-clad crowd, but this choice proves to be an inspired one. Mangold graduates Hugh Jackman’s Logan from the crayola comic book playground we’ve hitherto seen him slicing and dicing his way through, to a surprisingly mature, noir-ish world of tattooed yakuza and familial tragedy.
Once we’ve passed the film’s (pun fully intended) explosive intro – in which we witness Logan as a prisoner in a WWII camp in Nagasaki saving the life of one of the guards from the hellish fury of an atomic blast – The Wolverine decides that it doesn’t want to dress up like all the other cool kids at the party. So in a year filled with mega-budget blockbusters where entire cities get leveled like sandcastles before a bully, Mangold instead gives us a much more intimate and personal tale, where the stakes are much smaller, and thus contradictingly, also much more meaningful. And although edited to be a relatively bloodless affair, you can see the film’s yearning for a R-Rating shining through in the often stygian tone (perhaps too serious for younger viewers, I would think), and Logan’s total non-problem with dropping an F-bomb when the scene calls for it.
Writers Mark Bomback and Scott Franck’s screenplay, borrowing from Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s famed story arc, transplants Logan from the familiar silver corridors of the Xavier Institute to the rain soaked cityscapes of Tokyo, Japan, complete with its exotic customs (to Logan) and etegami styled locales. It weaves together an unexpectedly dramatic tale of family, tradition and honour, as a grizzly Logan, still haunted (literally) by his necessary killing of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), finds himself face to face with the now elderly and dying prison guard turned tech mogul, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who is seemingly offering the impossible: Logan’s death.
Stripped of his miraculous healing factor, Logan can finally be free of the curse of immortality: watching all he loves perish around him. Forced to accept his mortality like never before, this a is a different, more human Logan, than we’ve ever seen. In short, this is Wolverine rebourne.
And no, that wasn’t a typo, as The Wolverine initially plays out less like a comic book movie and more like one of the nail biting thrillers featuring Matt Damon’s amnesiac covert operative. Just with extra knuckle knives. The film’s first major action sequence culminates in a breathless battle in, on the side and on top of a speeding bullet train – not benefiting from or hampered by the film’s almost non-existent 3D – that would even leave Ethan Hunt with some bladder complications. And yet, that’s not even The Wolverine’s best sequence. That honour belongs to an emotionally fueled claw vs katana duel between Logan and a samurai warrior, that finally has us witnessing the berserker rage we’ve been promised ever since Wolverine first cut loose on some gunmen without a hall pass during X2.
With the exception of Robert Downey Jr’s turn as Tony Stark, there’s simply no other actor in any genre film who has so perfect a grasp of his/her character as Jackman has with Logan. Like his character growls in one of the film’s more memorable scenes: He is the Wolverine. And that includes more than just using the cutlery at the end of his arms to deal with his anger management problems, as this is also a love story: letting go of old love and finding new love in Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s granddaughter. The latter despite the murderous glares and marriage arrangements of her ambitious father, Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada).
Its also a film about finding companionship in the form of Yukio (Rila Fukushima), the manic pixie ninja girl with a gift/curse for foreseeing people’s deaths, sent by Yashida to find Logan and who then promptly declares herself his “bodyguard”. While Jackman is the tragic hero of this piece, the model turned first time actress is the harajuku heart of the film, brightening virtually every scene she’s in. I certainly wouldn’t be adverse to The Further Adventures of Logan and Yukio some time in the future.
And now that “but” that I know you’ve all been dreading. When the ghost of Jean Grey tells Logan early in the film that “This isn’t going to end well”, you would swear that she was the precognitive one. After spending the first 100 of its 120 minute running time showing us just how accomplished a Wolverine film can be when played with a straight face, it then promptly tosses a custard pie into that very same face and goes into full comic book mode, complete with a clumsy cascade of increasingly bad plot twists, cartoonishly out of place villains (in the form of Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper) and Logan fighting a robot. It’s a good fight, mind you, filled with a couple of real jaw droppers, but still, after the sublimely straight-edged previous 3/4 of a film, it’s Logan fighting a robot.
If only Mangold and his team were able to fully commit to the film they had been showing for the previous two acts, giving Wolverine’s strongest cinematic outing to date the finale it deserved, instead of stumbling right before the finish line. At least there’s a geektastic mid-credits scene that will help to salve those final act wounds.
Last Updated: July 24, 2013