The world of Marvel Comics movie adaptations is becoming increasingly confusing with the latest X-Men film entitled The Wolverine a reboot of the Wolverine character within a reboot of the X-Men franchise. Whether this attempt at reviving the series will succeed is a doubtful, though, as this film, while competently made and occasionally exciting, feels a little tired.
The Wolverine sees Hugh Jackman return for his sixth outing as the contemptuous, razor-clawed anti-hero. Wolverine or Logan as he’s known is, despite his superhuman abilities, a broken man traumatised by disturbing dreams of deceased former lover Dr Jean Grey (Famke Jansen) and by his non-acceptance from mutant society or the humans who he has repeatedly saved. For him, God-like immortality is a curse rather than a blessing. Just in case we weren’t sure that he is supposed to be a tortured Christ-like figure, he appears in the early part of the film with long scraggly hair and Jesus whiskers. Fans shouldn’t panic, though, as he does reclaim the rocker hairdo and the outrageous mutton chops. Unexpectedly summoned to Japan to visit a dying corporate mogul he once saved from (believe it or not) the Nagasaki bomb, Wolverine is offered the chance of mortality. Little does he realise that he is being suckered into a sinister and very convoluted plot involving corporate thievery, Yakuzas, Ninjas, dubious medical technology and a slinky, seductive snake-woman villain.
Virtually nothing in this ridiculous story makes sense even when we adjust for the fact that we’re watching a film about an indestructible, metal-clawed mutant. It’s also a surprisingly slow film with long stretches in which Wolverine simply kicks back in a Japanese robe or gets busy with love-interest Mariko (Tao Okamato). The slow pace seems to have been employed to give us time to learn about Wolverine’s character and back-story but as this is the sixth time we have seen him, the Wolverine history lesson isn’t necessary.
The main problem with this film, though, is that it downplays the quasi-magical mutant powers normally seen in the X-Men films in favour of meat and ‘taters martial arts action. The appeal of the X-Men franchise lay in seeing the characters display their bizarre superhuman abilities, not in watching Kung Fu battles and moronic bad guys lining up to have the snot beaten out of them.
Jackman has the physicality to make the fights vigorous and dynamic but (as I’m sure Bob Dylan once asked) how many times can we watch Wolverine impale hapless Ninjas on his metal talons. Also, how many times are we going to be subjected to films that feature fights with a giant robot? Also, if you’re going to have a lot of fight scenes they need to be visceral and bone crunchingly real. Here, unconvincing CGI and wire-work sees too many characters floating awkwardly through the air which kills any sense of realism.
The Japanese setting, which features technicolour, neon-flooded Tokyo streets and ancient fishing villages, is a bonus as it infuses the franchise with a fresh and exotic look. It also underscores Wolverines persona as a kind of modern day Ronin. The Japanese setting also recalls Bond films such as You Only Live Twice although the film actually lifts a gag directly from another Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.
Jackman does a fine job as the Wolverine mixing the taciturn grumpiness of Clint Eastwood with the physicality of early Stallone and a sliver of Sean Connery’s cheeky wit as Bond. He has also put in phenomenal hours in the gym in as he’s absolutely ripped and he of course finds every opportunity to tear his shirt off. The supporting cast are generally fine with Rila Fukushima as Yukio a strangely-coiffured female assassin who could have come straight from Kill Bill or a Hentai comic and Svetlana Khodchenkova as Wolverine’s sultry nemesis, the standouts.
If you’re after solid action fare with a hint of sci-fi, The Wolverine will probably satisfy but if you’re looking for something really inventive in superhero film adaptations or maybe just a film with a convincing and clearly defined plot, this film falls short of the mark.
Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.
Director(s): James Mangold.
Release date: 25 th July 2013
Running time: 126 mins.
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