The X Men lost steam after the first two films when Brett Ratner desecrated the charm of the material with the third film. X Men Origins Wolverine turned out to be even worse and it looked like the franchise had been killed. Matthew Vaughn’s First Class brought a new shade to the series and Bryan Singer’s plans of Days of the Future Past meant that Hugh Jackman’s character would get one more movie. There’s good news - The Wolverine is significantly better than the previous installment, even though that’s a step up from a really low benchmark.
The Wolverine is based on Frank Miller’s limited series and setting the film in Japan was the best thing that could’ve happened to the franchise. The new setting gives viewers a break from the New York and European locales found in dozens and dozens of modern superhero films. Some may call it a display of Japanese exotica but director James Mangold does his best to make it not seem like a lame exotic pagoda Asia tour for American viewers. While the previous film was set in the 70’s, this one is set in the present where Logan is tired of being immortal and seeing his loved ones die. He’s bitter about the events the unfolded in X Men 3 and haunted by the ghost of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) wherever he goes. Shit gets real after Logan is summoned to the death bed of a rich business titan at his palatial house and his wish of forgoing immortality soon begins to come true.
The first thing you’ll notice about The Wolverine is its considerably bleaker and mature tone compared to Origins. This is a more character driven movie, more sure footed and self-assured, perhaps due to prior knowledge of the direction the franchise is taking in the future. Until the third act the film is pretty much a noir, focusing on the dual nature of its protagonist rather than throwing in as many cool looking mutants as possible the way the previous films did. The studio guys screwed up the last time and it is admirable that they understood their fans’ frustration and fixed a lot of their mistakes. Logan falls for a Japanese woman and feels guilty of betraying the deceased Jean, an emotional adult oriented theme rarely found in superhero films. Jackman once again runs the show single handedly, he’s an unstoppable monster in one scene and suddenly a compassionate tragic hero in the next, it is impossible to imagine anyone else playing the character. There’s also a geekgasmic post credits scene to please those looking forward to the big X Men ensemble that arrives next year.
Unfortunately The Wolverine keeps falling into the trapdoor of cartoonish violence that has so often plagued the series. Every heavy duty character moment is offset by some action scene hurriedly written in to keep ADD teenagers from falling asleep. While the ninja stuff is fun, the big action scenes have some over the top dodgy CGI which is made even worse by the abysmal 3D. Mangold stays quite faithful to the comics and Svetlana Khodchenkova's Viper is a sassy if one note nemesis. Fans of the Silver Samurai, however, will have a bone or two to pick with Mangold because he is shoved into the story the same way Deadpool was in the previous movie. It doesn’t matter because the film appeals to the casual viewer who isn’t very familiar with the comics, and it is a passably fun entertainer on that front, just not a memorable one. It's time to accept the fact that the X Men and the Avengers are fun only when they're together, their standalone films won't ever be as entertaining.
(First published in MiD Day)