IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 126 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Logan, aka Wolverine, saves an army officer called Yashida during the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Fast forward to the present day, and Logan has retreated to the Canadian wilderness following the death of his love Jean Grey, whom he was forced to kill, and the disbanding of the X-Men. He is located by Yukio, a woman with mutant powers enabling her to see people’s deaths, representing Yashida, now the CEO of a technology corporation. He is dying of cancer, and wants Logan to accompany Yukio to Japan where he can give him the mortality he has always craved. However, he soon finds himself having to deal with the Yakuza and the venomous Viper….
Be it because it told an origin story that didn’t really need to be told, the constant popping up of meaningless characters showing a lack of real interest in the title character, or the incoherently shot action scenes where it was very hard to make out what was going on, the first solo outing for the most popular of the X-Men missed the mark, and I certainly wasn’t enthused about a second movie. I’m one of those few people who thinks that Wolverine, however well played he may be by Hugh Jackman, is actually somewhat less interesting than Marvel think, and can think of several X-People I’d rather spend more time with. Nonetheless, we have a second movie, and I will admit I was briefly excited when both Darren Aronofsky and Guillermo Del Toro were going to direct it, but sadly that didn’t come to pass. Instead, James Mangold takes the director’s chair, while for some reason Christopher McQuarrie goes un-credited with the script even though he wrote the first version of it. Actually Mangold is hardly a poor director, but neither really was Gavin Hood – yet X-Men Origins: Wolverine still came out rather poorly.
Well, the good news is that this is a much better movie, clearly made with love for the character. I can’t tell you if it’s faithful to the version of this story that the comics tell, but it certainly feels right, at least for the most part. It’s mostly a very serious affair, if enlivened by the odd bit of restrained humour, and quite deliberately paced for the first two thirds. One of my major criticisms of all of these Marvel films is that, except for Captain America, Iron Man 3 and of course The Avengers, they just don’t have enough action, enough of its lead characters doing what they do best. Too much time is spent on either setting things up for this and that, or just marking time. The Wolverine isn’t really an action-packed film, but its leisurely movement seems fitting for the state of mind of Wolverine and its major setting. Japan has always been a great opportunity for a visually interesting setting for films, and so it is here, though the decision has been taken to have it almost constantly raining, helping to give some of the proceedings an almost film noir feel.
The film opens with the dropping of the second atomic bomb, and any picture that has the gall to do this is worthy of some respect. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other film that did this, Frankenstein Conquers The World, and that was a few more minutes into it. The brief lead-up to the atrocity is strikingly photographed by Ross Emery, though when the bomb hits the ground, weak CGI takes over and severely weakens the scene. Never mind, we flash then forward to the present day to find Wolverine living as a hermit in Canada, though we soon return to Japan. The story immediately has a strong emotional dimension, and if this sometimes gets lost amidst all the family squabbling, ninjas, yakuza and a samurai variant on Iron Man, the writers bravely keep the tale’s focus narrow. Not many lives are being threatened outside of the people in the story, while Wolverine is in nearly every scene. Unfortunately, the constantly scowling hero threatens to become slightly tedious company after a while, and his emotional journey is a thoroughly predictable one. I don’t think the unoriginal character is nearly as fascinating as the writers seem to think.
The writers avoid the temptation to pack The Wolverine full of mutants and only put one other in the film, the deadly Viper, who carries out an especially lethal variant of the French kiss. Jackman, who looks both more muscular than he has ever done before and is also starting to look rather like Clint Eastwood, is accompanied much of the time by two strong leading ladies who are virtual newcomers; the gorgeous Rila Okamoto, and Rila Fukushima, who shows adeptness at martial arts in a film which avoids the expected mutant battles and goes for a more realistic and very Asian style of action. The highlight action-wise is a fight on a train which plays like a more believable version of a scene from Spiderman 2. Though Wolverine gets to bloodlessly slice and dice more folk than normal throughout, considerable tension is derived by him actually able to bleed and get hurt for some of the time, though not enough time or significance is devoted to him losing some of his powers, even if we’ve all seen that happen to superheroes before. The action also gets increasingly predictable. Once again, we have our hero and his helper facing off against the two main baddies in different places. The potential hinted at by the early portion of the film isn’t really fulfilled, but then this is a Marvel film after all, not allowing for too much originality or deviation from formula.
Far worse than that though, Mangold has seen fit to film much of this action in the manner most filmmakers see fit to do these days. You know what I mean, lots of one-second cuts and shaking about of the camera. The editing is less random than in some films, but why in hell does Mangold decide that it’s a good idea for his cameraman to start shaking the camera about madly during a chase sequence? It just feels like the cameraman is running with the characters whilst having an epileptic fit. It doesn’t make the action edgy or realistic, it just creates frustration and nausea. It’s sad enough that most young directors feel this is the way to do it, but it’s truly, truly awful that experienced filmmakers, who were making films back when common filmmaking logic was actually being followed and basic filmmaking skill was also usually being followed, like Mangold and Gary Ross use this atrocious style. Is it too much to ask to want to see what is happening, to not get sore eyes and sometimes a bloody headache, when people on a cinema screen are engaging in action?
The Wolverine, despite taking its time, still feels a little rushed in sections. There is talk of a more violent version for home viewing [though even in its current form it pushes the boundaries of the 12A/PG-13 ratings with its self surgery scene], and I think the film will benefit from this. Still, The Wolverine is rather better than non-Marvel fans would expect. It’s made with some care and intelligence while still being entertaining, and Jackman gives probably his best performance as the character. 007 fans look out for a crib from Diamonds Are Forever.