"What they did to me… What I am, it can't be undone…"
Logan (Hugh Jackman)
2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine may have had a fair share of critical pummeling and bad word-of-mouth, but that didn't stop the film earning nearly $400million at the worldwide box office. Twentieth Century Fox clearly felt that there was still plenty of mileage in the character and The Wolverine has finally reached our cinemas after nearly 4 years away. It hasn't been plain sailing - original director Darren Aronofsky bowed out during pre-production and the studios decided to hold back principal photography after the 2011 Tōhoku
Earthquake and Tsunami. With James Mangold now at the helm, The Wolverine has much work to do to re-invigorate the franchise after the last solo project for the most popular X Man… Something that the film manages to do - for a good while, at least.
Based primarily on a popular story arc from the Wolverine comic series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the start of the film finds Logan suffering from nightmares of his lost love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, reprising her role from the first 3 X movies). Logan's withdrawal from the world that we are used to is a bold choice of opening, as for the first time we see our hero vulnerable, emotionally at least. When the scarlet-haired Yukio (Rila Fukushima) tracks him down in a bar as he is about to dispense some typical Wolverine justice, she interrupts the fight before it can even start. When most directors would have an almighty smack-down to get their audience pumped, Mangold chooses to keep the rage suppressed for the time being. This bold choice of direction pays off with a renewed focus on character as opposed to action - something distinctly lacking in the previous movie.
Hugh Jackman returns to the role that made him a Hollywood megastar after four movies and a cameo appearance in X-Men: First Class. It would not be unfair to question whether he could bring anything new to the table, but Jackman quashes those fears with perhaps the bravest interpretation of the character yet - an invincible superhero whose own inner demons may be his demise. Jackman shows an altogether more approachable and vulnerable Logan (at one point literally so, as his rejuvenating abilities are stripped from him early on). It is hard to imagine that he could find any new angles to the character, but he gets to apply his acting muscles around this new tormented side to Logan. The love story with Mariko Yashida (Tao Okamato) is handled delicately, with real chemistry between the actors. And it is really refreshing to finally have a Wolverine movie that remains focused on the lead character - unlike the previous movie which suffered from too-many-mutants syndrome.
However good things never last forever, and it is a real shame that the film makers did not have the courage to avoid a descent into bog standard comic book formula. The villains are not particularly much to talk about, with the introduction of Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) being the only one to get much screen time. The Silver Samurai will leave most comic fans with a sense of disappointment, and Will Yun Lee's warrior Harada is so conflicted you are never sure just who's side he is actually on. The action set pieces are a mix of inventive (a fight in and on top of a bullet train is the standout) and dull (the final confrontation has a strong whiff of seen-it-all-before staleness), but at least they are largely kept from going completely over the top by a smart script centered on the characters - action is not the primary focus here, and for that the film makers must be lauded.
The Wolverine is clearly one of the strongest movies in the X-Men canon, with another fantastic performance from Jackman and a proper focus on the adamantium-clawed anti-hero and what makes him tick. A bit more bravery in the home stretch would have made this film even better, but there is no denying that Jackman truly understands the character and proves once again to be one of the smartest bits of superhero casting since Christopher Reeve put on the red and blue tights of Superman. And don't forget to stick around after the first set of end credits - there is a fantastic introduction for the next X film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, that will have you psyched for more mutant mayhem.
At times inventive and at other times formulaic, The Wolverine is nonetheless a return to form for our favourite X-Man, with exotic surroundings and a depth of characterization not usually seen in a comic book movie. It is also proof once again that Hugh Jackman was born with adamantium molded to his bones.