Few actors in recent years have taken on a character as wholeheartedly as Hugh Jackman. In his latest X-Men related outing, the Australian veteran of one of Marvel’s most beloved and well-received franchises goes it alone as the cool, skull-cracking Logan aka Wolverine, minus his mutant cohorts. With the film seemingly distancing itself from the other installments of the series in terms of its style and approach, it’s definitely a bold move for the X-Men franchise, with the audience being forced to invest in one character rather than a team of their favourite comic book superheroes. Personally, I think what you have here is a unique story being told, with a familiar character but a completely different vibe to any other X-Men film to date. There could be reason too behind the fact that it’s an X-Men film that doesn’t carry the X-Men name in the title of the movie.
The action in The Wolverine film is centred on Japan (after last week’s Pacific Rim review it’s merely coincidence on my part I assure you). Following the events of ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’, Logan is brought before an old man whom he saved from the atomic bomb that leveled Nagasaki (where Jackman’s weathered character was being held as a Prisoner of War) in 1945 and offered the chance to become mortal in exchange for giving his ‘burden’ to Yashida, who is now dying. What ensures is a mix of as-expected spectacular action scenes, with some great choreography on display and visual effects that have become a staple in Marvel movies, and a moral story being played out by Logan as he examines whether he really does want to leave ‘the Wolverine’ behind.
Despite the fact that mutants are few and far between in this film, with only Logan and Viper representing the mutant community in the film (a stark difference from every other film in the collection), I don’t think it particularly takes away from the story. There are enough comic-book, Marvel-esque moments to keep you ticking over and as I’ve said before, it’s the risk that the writers and director has taken when they’re telling this particular story, adapted from the hugely successful 1982 comic book arc by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.
The action takes awhile to find its footing, with the audience being shown a vulnerable Logan, minus his adamantium advantages, for much of the first half of his screen-time. But when things really kick in, they don’t let up until the climactic showdown at the Yashida factory in the mountains of mainland Japan. With a giant robotic Samurai, explosions, poison arrows and a particularly crafty mutant who uses venomous toxins to take care of her prey, it’s one of the better X-Men final fights. What works well in this film for me is that every action scene, no matter how big, bad and bold it is, is done with storytelling in mind. They serve a purpose and are a tool for progressing forward in the film, something forgotten by a lot of Hollywood action blockbusters today, where it feels like these big orchestrated action moments are inserted because ‘we’re due one’.
In terms of the drama, I think it’s right on the button. Great moral dilemma for Logan in this film and you see Hugh Jackman trying to find that place in the character where he is unsure more than ever of purpose and reason. Tough aura to find when many people may be expecting an out-and-out fighting flick. Jackman, although not having much competition acting wise in this particular film, is on fire in a character that he inhabits so naturally that he probably finds it just as easy to slip into Wolverine as he does to slip on that trademark white vest. The supporting cast does a good job here, but there’s no real standout performances, save for maybe moments of chemistry onscreen with Will Yun Lee (Harada) and Rila Fukushima (Yukio).
If you’re expecting your generic Marvel/X-Men outing: The Wolverine may not be for you. The superhero genre has battered audiences worldwide for the last few years and I think the crowds are getting harder to please in general, and with a departure from the normal formulaic approach of many Marvel films, this may annoy some people. But if you’re looking for a great ‘character-driven’ film, then director James Mangold has done superbly. It’s a worthy addition to the X-Men franchise, even if from all signs within it, it’s trying to be as standalone as it can be.