With the now-not-so-recent world domination of superhero movies, the X-Men franchise sits loftily atop the pile, as Bryan Singer’s initial X-Men outing was one of the first of what has become a very long queue of super-movies. The franchise has had its ups (X1, X2 and First Class) and its downs (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X3), and I think it’s safe to say that James Mangold’s newest addition can sit in the ‘ups’ pile. Much more interesting and stylish than Gavin Hood’s crap origins story, The Wolverine starts in Japan, 1945, where Logan is a Japanese prisoner of War near Nagasaki. When the B-52 bombers arrive to drop the infamous atomic bomb, Logan protects a Japanese officer named Yashida and saves his life, the effect of which will ripple out through Logan’s life. When years later he is finally summoned by an aged Yashida prior to his death, he is thrust into a race to save Mariko, Yashida’s granddaughter (who has been left all his wealth and fortune), from the clutches of various villains – Yakuza, Viper (a powerful mutant) and Mariko’s father, Shingen.
Threading Logan’s story with that of a wealthy Japanese family empire is certainly a clever stroke, giving us a full-fat plot and some interesting developments along the way – and thankfully, doesn’t overload us with mutants aplenty (the main problem from Origins). There’s no denying that Hugh Jackman was born to play the hairy hero, and he growls his lines just as a wolverine should. The main issue for Mangold is failing to deliver on what he already has. A Wolverine movie in Japan should have been plenty of gutsy fight scenes, and more specifically, could have seen some excellent footage of Wolverine being sliced and diced by Samurai swords, only to be healing mid-process and continuing the fight. The location and villains set up for an excellent environment in which to flourish – after all, Wolverine is an expert at hand-to-hand combat, and his adamantium claws would be a worthy adversary for the Samurai steel – so the ninjas or Yakuza versus Wolverine would have made for a very enjoyable film, but sadly, the film climaxes in the same ridiculous fashion as Origins: a mundane and predictable big-bad comes along with a twist. This is all the more frustrating given that only moments before the finale, we have a fantastic scene whereby Wolverine has to make his way through a small village in the mountains, inhabited by ninjas protecting the mysterious pagoda headquarters behind the village. It's great cinema, and each ninja fires a grappling rope onto Wolverine to hold him back, which sees a startling image of Wolverine, in carnal, animalistic form, being restrained from the shadows like some kind of monstrous puppet.
Wolverine is one of the few characters outside of Nolan’s Bat-universe which feels as though he could also wonder into Gotham without creating too much fuss or causing many ripples – he embodies that same tough, gritty element of realism as Batman, as though he too could have been a graduate from that mountain-side retreat of the League of Shadows. Unfortunately, The Wolverine is not the film we were all hoping for or looking forward to, and raised very little by way of insight into Logan’s backstory and continual narrative, and even through in year’s most pointless (and confusing) cameo. Mangold had all the ingredients to deliver, but he lost sight of the prize, churning out a more predictable and unimaginative Wolverine movie than we might have expected or hoped for. [3/5]