Sunday 28 July 2013

Film Review: The Wolverine

Logan's feeling kind of blue

Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Janssen
Running time: 136 minutes

Marvel's angst-ridden animal, The Wolverine is back for his second solo-outing. Set after the events of Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), this latest movie sees Logan (Hugh Jackman) heading to Japan to say goodbye to an old friend. So, how does it stack up? Here's my review of The Wolverine.

Whilst in actuality this is the second time Hugh Jackman's Wolverine has received his own solo movie, it may as well be the first. 2009's X-Men: Origins: Wolverine is generally considered to be a big-ass dud on account of its incoherent plot and poor fan-service. As a result, many fans choose to forget it ever happened.

Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine
So here we are; 2013 and The Wolverine is back. And this time, he means business.

This latest Wolverine adventure is set after the  devastating events of The Last Stand. Logan starts the film roaming the Canadian wilderness pining for his lost love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and generally being a hairy, moody 'ol hobo. But, when is escorted to Tokyo by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), he is made an offer he finds hard to refuse. A chance at mortality.

As it turns out, rich Japanese businessman Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) owes Logan a life debt for saving his during the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki - Yashida has something Logan wants (the ability to become mortal) and Logan has something Yashida wants (regenerative powers that save him from death).

Nothing however is as simple as it sounds; throw in a family power struggle between Yashida's son and his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) as well as vicious biochemist Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) and you've got a recipe for comic-book movie greatness. Director James Mangold does a great job of giving X-Men fans the Wolverine adventure that they want.

First off, it's worth noting this; I really liked the Japanese setting. It took something familiar (the character of Logan) and placed him within a new and fresh setting that opened up lots of possibilities. From the bright lights of Tokyo to the serene Nagasaki coastline, director James Mangold gets lots of brownie points for making the most of the gorgeous Japanese aesthetics. There's shoji screens, cherry blossom, ninjas and shining samurai swords. What more could you ask for?

The Viper is ready to attack
Hugh Jackman is once again fantastic as Logan. It's rare for a comic-book movie to be blessed with an actor who can find so much depth and emotion amidst the popcorn-munching action. Jackman manages to act the part brilliantly, effectively conveying his character's desire to be a soldier for the weak and at peace in a way that is genuinely heartfelt. Much like the original X-Men trilogy, Jackman gets inside the skin of the Wolverine and becomes the character. It is possibly his best portrayal of Wolverine yet, perhaps surpassing X-Men 2.

Logan's two female companions, Yukio and Mariko (Tao Okamoto,) were well acted and felt fleshed out, especially the latter. I also liked that Famke Janssen featured a lot more as Jean Grey than I had expected. She only appears in dream sequences or hallucinations but it was great how the film referred back to what made Logan as depressed and angst-ridden as he was.

One thing that I did find frustrating was the fast-paced and sometimes choppy editing. The Japanese setting really is beautiful and I found myself wanting Mangold to linger on the dark silhouettes of Wolverine and his foes longer without rapidly cutting away like he did. Some of the action sequences (most notably one on top of a bullet train) also contained quite a bit of shaky-cam. This wasn't the case throughout the whole movie however, just a few of the more frenetic action set-pieces.

I also didn't feel as though the villains were quite as memorable as other superhero films. Svetlana Khodchenkova's sultry and poisonous Viper had all the essential qualities to fulfil this department but somehow didn't pull it off; I thought she could have been given more depth and drive.

One thing that I did like about The Wolverine was the way in which Logan was rendered mortal. After seeing the first trailer I wasn't so sure of how they were going to do it, but there wasn't such confusion during the film. The way in which the edges of the screen blurred when Logan was injured made the action feel a lot more visceral and involving. Other more crucial developments nearer the end of the film might divide fans down the middle, a bit like Iron Man 3 - I won't spoil them here, you'll have to see for yourself.

Some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy but that didn't bother me much. Lines like "What kind of monster are you?" "The Wolverine" are just good fun and reflect the summer blockbuster tone of the film. Likewise, the action is full-on and defy's belief - the sequence set atop the bullet train is brilliantly over-the-top and fun. Logan's mortality made the action seem a lot more gripping and decisive.

On the whole, The Wolverine is one of the best all-round X-Men films and possibly one of the best blockbusters this year - Jackman brings his A-game whilst the action and effects are as outlandish and exciting as you can expect from a summer blockbuster. The script doesn't dazzle as much as Iron Man 3 and the stakes aren't as high as Man of Steel but this is a stripped-back and rawer take on a much loved character that has finally been done justice.

I give The Wolverine: 7/10

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