Big in Japan – ★★★
James Mangold’s The Wolverine tells the story of Logan’s trip to Japan which comes after the death of Jean Grey, which film fans saw back in 2006’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand. The story for this film is based on the critically-acclaimed first volume of the “Wolverine” comic book series (trivia: drawn by Frank Miller of Sin City, 300 and The Dark Knight Returns fame) from back in the early 1980’s. It’s tough to keep track of chronology and you may need to step back and question whether the two most recent X-Men films (the appalling X-Men Origins: Wolverine prequel and much better X-Men: First Class) hold any relevance to proceedings. Spoiler: they don’t.
This is the sixth time we’ll have seen Hugh Jackman’s Logan on the big screen and as you settle into the first few minutes of The Wolverine you start to remember the cool comfort that surrounds the character who led the line in the first X-Men film back in 2000 and effectively got us started with this whole superhero franchise quagmire we now find ourselves in (only 690 days until Batman/Superman folks!!!!). When comparing him to the other defining superhero actors we came to know and love you very quickly remember that i) he’s not as annoying as RDJ’s Iron Man, ii) he’s so much more bad-ass than Christian Bale’s Batman and iii) 100 times cooler than Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man.
What Mangold has done is create a completely standalone story that doesn’t (until the inevitable post-credits sequence) feature any cameos or familiar faces other than Logan and a series of dream-appearances from the dearly departed Famke Janssen (Jean Grey). It’s a pretty brave move but the film almost pitches itself as a bit of an outsider’s story, having been in the works for four years and seen a number of delays due to earthquakes and directorial changes – on that note let’s not even indulge ourselves and consider what Darren Aronofsky’s version of this story would have been like, with the director backing out after a few months and the realisation that he’d have to move to Japan for close to a year.
Bringing the story to the land of the rising sun and introducing us to new characters and cities works brilliantly and makes the story feel fresh, something that was sorely missing in X-3 and the Wolverine prequel. Fans of Japanese culture have already been spoilt this month with the geek-pleasing Pacific Rim and are now going to be in heaven with references to love hotels, samurai, ronin, ninjas and nuclear bombs. Add in subtle and measured use of CGI and you get a brilliant sense of place from Mangold and his Iranian Director of Photography Amir Mokri.
Unfortunately that attention to detail isn’t as evident with the film’s pacing or villains which are sub B-movie at best. After a gripping intro, incredible action sequence on a bullet train and the introduction of some brilliant characters the film suddenly loses quite a lot of steam. Jackman does his very best and keeps things watchable until the big finale but you really do start to feel the film’s two hour run-time. It’s also worth focusing on one of the worst baddies of recent times, Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper is so dull and unthreatening that she is rendered instantly forgettable. The fact she gets limited screen-time suggests Mangold copped on to her stagnancy during the edit and figured more shots of Jackman’s abs would fill the void. It’s in stark contrast to the brilliantly subtle supporting work from Tao Okamoto as Mariko and Rila Fukushima as Yukio.
With the aforementioned post-credits scene featuring a few luminaries from the series we’re really setting up Bryan Singer’s return to the series with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. It feels like The Wolverine was allowed as a fun little aside while we wait for the real saga to continue next summer.
Released in Ireland nationwide on July 25th