The Wolverine (2013)

Wolverine poster

The Marvel character known as Logan may be cool and popular, but he is not the most relatable of heroes, being a cold, hard shell of a man who is impervious to just about everything. To make him a resonant figure would require taking away many of his defining qualities – a bold move this picture is willing to undertake, and does so solidly.

Still grieving the loss of his beloved Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), a forlorn Logan (Hugh Jackman) has sought a nomadic lifestyle in the forests of Canada, having vowed never to hurt another person ever again. Just when the former hero’s life is seemingly at its lowest, he is approached by a katana-wielding mutant named Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who has been instructed by elderly businessman Ichiro Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) to summon Wolverine to Japan.

Logan has no memory of meeting said businessman, but Yashida recalls the mutant vividly – it was during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 that Logan, whose body is able to heal from any injury, saved Yashida by shielding him from the nuclear blast. An eternally grateful Yashida wishes to repay the favour by offering Logan the gift of mortality, viewing it as “equal” to the life he was given. Logan refuses the offer, and Yashida passes away the next day.

At the funeral that follows, Logan saves Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from being abducted by the Yakuza, and is badly wounded in the process. His mutant powers would usually allow him to recover in a matter of seconds, but on this occasion, his wounds do not mend, thus leaving him weak and in pain. While waiting for his injuries to recover, he and Mariko go into hiding, all the while continuing to battle his inner-demons.

With Wolverine’s popularity constantly eclipsing that of his mutant brethren, it was only inevitable that he would receive a standalone, feature-length blockbuster. The first such movie – X-Men Origins: Wolverine – appeared in 2009, and was promptly ridiculed by both critics and fans for its terrible effects, poor writing and deviation from X-Men­ lore. This movie addresses, and rectifies, all three of those criticisms, whilst also being an interesting film in its own right.

The Wolverine is set apart from the other instalments in the X-Men­ series by the vulnerability of the titular protagonist, both physically and emotionally. Before now, Logan was a near-invincible character who could be hurt without consequences, whereas with this story, he feels an immense, elongated pain – due as much to Jean’s death as to his lesions. This deeply personal conflict placed Wolverine in a fraught territory with high stakes, and helped pave the way for a similar struggle in 2017’s Logan.

Pleasingly, although the hero is experiencing something of an identity crisis – at film’s beginning, he refuses to call himself, or be called “Wolverine” – he has not been completely deprived of his much-admired character traits. Logan’s iconic look has been largely unchanged, with his muscular build, spiky hair, sideburns and adamantium claws all accounted for, alongside his gruff temperament, gravelly voice, primitive yell and savage fighting style.

Much of Wolverine’s aggressive nature is seen during the numerous action scenes, which range from serviceable to satisfying. Examples of the latter category include the thrilling climax, which involves bows, arrows and swords, and the showstopping bullet train sequence, where fighting first takes place in the carriages, before moving to the rooftop exterior. Every one of these moments are perfectly aided by the soundtrack, which has been composed by Marco Beltrami, a frequent collaborator of director James Mangold.

The Wolverine is a well-crafted movie, and certainly a lot more polished than Origins, but it’s not without drawbacks of its own. The plot is rather predictable, offering very few surprises with which to engage the viewer; the antagonists have been poorly developed, with their motivations opaque, confusing and non-sensical; and aside from Logan, there are no characters that leave a lasting impression – his allies aren’t quite charming enough, while his foes are burdened by a lack of personality.

These issues aside, The Wolverine is a thoroughly entertaining package that will especially appease fans of the eponymous hero. Mangold’s movie has a quality comparative to the original ­X-Men­ trilogy, making it a worthy sequel to those three films; yet equally, the blockbuster works effectively as a standalone action flick.

3.5 stars

 

 

This film was previously reviewed for YO Bendigo on September 16th, 2013.

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