The Wolverine

If there is one character who has defined the X-Men movies, even more than the titular Professor Charles Xavier himself, it is Wolverine, the permanently bad tempered near indestructible former soldier who prefers to keep his own company. He has nightmares of war, nightmares of death, nightmares of Jean Grey, isolating himself because he can’t bear to hurt anyone else, yet as demonstrated by the brutal opening of this, his second semi-solo outing, even as a prisoner of war in an encampment near Nagasaki in the dying days of the second world war, he can’t help but be a hero.

Moving to the present, in the aftermath of X-Men: The Last Stand, events both he and the audience would prefer never to have happened, Logan is living a hermetic life in the Yukon when he is contacted by Yukio, a talented warrior with mild precognitive ability, who tells him that the only other survivor of the bombing is now dying, and wishes to thank him and say goodbye in person. Grudgingly flying to Japan, the meeting with Master Yashida does not go well, nor is Logan welcomed by the other members of the powerful family which extends beyond the technology corporation they own into politics.

When Yashida dies, Logan stays to pay his respects at the funeral, but an attack by Yakuza gangsters targets Mariko, set to inherit her grandfather’s empire, so Logan and Mariko flee south, back to Nagasaki where she believes they may hid, a breathless bullet train sequence, the brevity of the scene enhancing its urgency, but with his healing powers diminishing, Logan is aware that when they come for Mariko, the Wolverine may no longer be able to save her.

Based on a key run of the comic mythology penned by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the storyline is an obvious choice for adaptation, not only as a fan favourite but also a key market for the movie industry; consider how many other recent big budget films have scenes set in the far east, from The Dark Knight’s trip to Hong Kong to James Bond gambling in a Macau casino in Skyfall, so a superhero film almost entirely set in Japan is guaranteed huge overseas attention.

An director experienced in a broad range of genres, James Mangold balances the multiple strands of the film, weaving them into a tapestry which stands up to examination, largely due to the performances of all. Unlike so many we are told are deserving of the name, Hugh Jackman, who previously worked with Mangold on the romantic fantasy Kate and Leopold, is a movie star, his brooding presence colouring every moment of the film, but the supporting cast are equally deserving of praise, particularly Rila Fukushima as Yukio and Tao Okamoto as Mariko Yashida.

Unlike X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where a host of mutants were introduced to bolster the story, The Wolverine is not an X-Men film, with only peripheral links to the existing framework, and it is all the stronger for it, and in fact, it is when the film approaches the more traditional franchise territory that it is weakest.

The character of Viper serves no purpose other than to instigate plot developments and has no personality beyond Obviously Duplicitous Mutant, and while the majority of the action sequences involve physical stuntwork, albeit enhanced by special effects, the obligatory summer blockbuster final fight scene features an antagonist who exists nowhere outside of a computer, a shift of tone which only serves to emphasise how brilliant the film was until that point.

While mutant concerns drive the plot, they also throw up a curiosity at odds with the established history of the character. When Master Yashida says “What they did to you can be undone,” he refers to Logan’s immortality which he wishes to replicate, but while his enhanced adamantium skeleton was placed in him by the Weapon X programme, his healing power is his own, part of his mutated genetic heritage.

It is also interesting how, fifty years on from the release of You Only Live Twice, Hollywood still recreate scenes from the film which defined so much Western opinion of Japan, and while the villain’s secret base may not be located in a volcano, “the caveman scrubs up well” is one of the most entertaining moments of the film.

That sense of humour which runs through the film is a surprising asset, never seeming forced, always in keeping with the leading man’s cynical and contrary worldview, a man always wishing for peace yet perpetually caught in violence, a man who seeks solitude yet who is at his best when he is around people he can care for. His mutation may give him the powers, but it is the man who is the hero.

The Wolverine is now on general release in 2D and 3D



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