The Wolverine, the latest instalment in the very lucrative X-Men franchise, provides pretty much what we have come to expect from the character. In the role with which is now most synonymous, Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) returns for his sixth screen outing as the mutton-chopped titular mutant, all brooding intensity and angst. With James Mangold (Girl Interrupted, Walk the Line) taking the helm as Director on this occasion, the film criss-crosses between the present day narrative, dream sequences and flashbacks to the nuclear attacks in Nagasaki in 1945.
The film opens with Logan (Wolverine) being held prisoner underground in a prison camp near Nagasaki as the city comes under attack. Japanese soldier Yashida frantically releases all the prisoners, including Logan, when it becomes evident that Nagaski is under nuclear attack. However, Logan refuses to flee and ultimately convinces Yashida to climb into the underground cell. Logan scrambles in after him and is severely burnt as he shields Yashida from the fireball that engulfs the pit. Of course, as is his wont, Logan heals almost instantly and we learn later that Yashida offers his sword as a token of his gratitude. Logan refuses the gesture and insists that Yashida retain the weapon, promising to collect it at a later date.
Following a dream sequence in which Logan has visions of Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) – a recurring theme throughout the film – we cut to the present day to discover Logan living a nomadic, isolated life in the woods. It’s not long before he is beating up rednecks in a local bar and linking up with Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young Japanese woman whose mission is to escort Logan to Tokyo at the behest of a near-death Yashida, whose body is ravaged with cancer. Not long after they arrive in Tokyo, the action amps up as Logan has to fight off a series of bad guys, including Yashida’s doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova), son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and, ultimately, the old man himself whose “funeral” proved the trigger for all the bloodshed in the first place. Throughout it all, Logan is charged with protecting Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and, as is to be expected, their initial disdain for each other blossoms into mutual respect and romance.
Also as expected, there is a wealth of spectacular action sequences, with none more thrilling than the fight atop a speeding bullet train. However this scene, like the movie itself, is a little too long. As fabulous as Famke Janssen is, the story could have been told just as effectively without any of the dream sequences involving Jean Gray. Yes, these moments are supposed to provide insight into the psyche of Wolverine, but when everything else is so lacking in gravitas, these sequences just seem out of place and are somewhat irrelevant to anybody who has not seen the previous films in the franchise. Most of the characters are somewhat clichéd – the greedy son, the mad doctor, the beautiful damsel in distress and the wealthy old businessman whose vanity is only outstripped by his insanity. Yukio is by far the most interesting of the supporting players, remaining loyal to Mariko and serving as an effective sidekick of sorts for Wolverine.
Perhaps most problematic is the fact that when a bit of self-surgery sees Logan remove a debilitating parasite that has been planted inside him by Yashida’s doctor (aka Viper), his return to an immortal state means that the ending cannot, and does not, bring any surprises. Having said that, Mangold has sought a more sophisticated look for the movie with some success; the Japanese setting adds atmosphere and an element of the exotic. Furthermore, the special effects and action sequences are well constructed and Jackman looks terrific with biceps bulging at every turn. Despite a few over-the-top moments, the film is much more restrained than most other films of this type and although the final showdown is a typical superhero smack down in many ways, it is on a much smaller scale than the likes of, say, Iron Man, which is a refreshing change.
Whilst the perpetually disaffected Logan/Wolverine is at odds with Jackman’s nice guy off-screen persona, the Australian actor brings the right balance to ensure that the character ultimately secures audience sympathies despite bouts of self-loathing. This is an enjoyable piece of escapist cinematic entertainment that, whilst far from being the best of the X-Men films, is certainly not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination.