The first attempt at a standalone X-men film focusing on just one character is widely remembered as a total disaster. Over long, over populated and overly reliant on fanboy nostalgia, Wolverine: X-Men Origins crammed thirty-five years worth of character development into a paltry one-hundred and ten minutes. Far too much exposition and back-story, far too many moments of mishandled pathos, not enough action, too many characters that are given too little time and are deprived of any meaningful impact on the narrative. Origins was so concerned with cramming itself with answers to the questions that not even the most obsessive of comic fans was asking, it forgot to be an entertaining and fun film.
The Wolverine on the other hand is a very fun and entertaining film indeed. It begins while Logan is off in the Canadian wilderness living like a nomad in his native country. He is given a sword by a Japanese teenager named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) but is told that to keep it he must travel to Japan to attend a ceremony hosted by a former Japanese officer he saved from the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. There he finds himself up to his neck in political intrigue and mob dealings.
The Wolverine’s first advantage over its predecessor is that it allows its protagonist a sense of humour. Instead of leaving the one-liners up to its supporting cast The Wolverine gives the dry humour duties to the man himself, freeing him from the overly stoic and stuffy persona he’s been burdened with in the past. It makes him more a more likable and relatable hero so our interest in his plight is increased strengthening the storytelling. It’s one of a number of smart moves that makes a film starring the big man a more worthwhile prospect.
Another one of those smart ideas is the plot twist that allows Logan an aspect of vulnerability. Infected by a mysterious poison that strips him of his healing ability, he is no longer impervious to harm making the bad guys more of a threat and introducing the serious possibility of an eventual fatality. It’s a great move that enhances your involvement and makes the action sequences the movies greatest strength. Even without it though the action scenes are dramatic, fast paced and spectacularly audacious. James Mangold has the comic book style down and makes it one of most aesthetically faithful comic book adaptions since Spiderman 2. Even with the continued lack of yellow spandex.
It’s a shame though that all of the best fights before the climax are against armies of faceless and nameless henchmen. One of the delights of Fox bringing us a mutant movie is they can have the pick of all the Marvel Superheros who come categorized under that label. Its seems a waste to only have a couple of other named mutants in the film one of which only has the power of psychic foresight. Not exactly a riveting gimmick in a fight. The film at times seems that it could have been made to star any generic action hero armed with a pair of Jamadhar Katars (hand claws).
The other problem is that the franchise is still too concerned with Logan’s tragic past. James Mangold, it seems, is not the man going to crack the secret code that makes Wolfy’s inner turmoil interesting. They mostly involve an ethereal Jean Grey floating in and out of his consciousness, in a creepy Marion Cotillard from Inception kind of way. Tonally it’s completely out of place and as an aspect of character development it just doesn’t do anything substantial, except for undermining his aggressive determination.
The Wolverine is a flawed comic book movie, but a credible action blockbuster. What it lacks in humanity it makes up for in bombasity. A rollercoaster of a movie that should serve to whet the appetite for that other mutant movie coming out in 2014.