The Wolverine (2013)
In his sixth big screen outing as the tenacious self-regenerating ‘Weapon X’ Hugh Jackman must be pondering the vagaries of fate, as this was never supposed to be his part. Through fortune and circumstance he speared the role when the schedule on 1999’s Mission Impossible 2 shoot was extended, meaning that the originally cast Dougray Scott couldn’t fulfil his commitment to Bryan Singers X-Men project, the roulette of show business handing Jackman an iconic role which he has come to own over a series of varying in quality movies, in which he always survives as a stirring embodiment the hugely popular comic-book character. Unfortunately the first iteration of standalone pictures X-Men Origins: Wolverine was as depressingly dire as its clumsy title, with only a few set-pieces and pugilistic contortions to spice up a throughly tedious and committee crafted comic book snorefest, so the news that Darren Aronofsky was stepping into the directors chair of raised expectations for the comic book aficionados as well as wider cinema fans – what could an innovative director of his calibre produce within the confines of the superhero genre? Expectations were reduced when he walked in early 2011 and the studio quickly established a shortlist of potential new helmers, with James Mangold cresting high on the $260 million spinning commercial success of his Knight & Day caper embezzling the project from the likes of Doug Liman, Antoine Fuqua and Mark Romanek.
Nagasaki, 1945, the dying gasps of the Second World War. After saving a young officer by shielding him from the scorching blast of the Fat Man our grizzled hero Logan (Jackman) secures a lifelong friend and benevolent benefactor in the form of Shingien Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada). Slash-cut to the present day, and beset by nightmares of his dear departed love of his life Jean Grey the hirsutely shaggy Logan has ensconced himself in the Yukon wilderness, locked away from the world and writhing in soul-searching agony. After some asshole hunters kill one of the local bears our hero is tempted back into the civilisation to avenge the death of the magnificent beast, coming to his aid in a hilariously one-sided barroom brawl is Yukio (Ria Fukushima) an asskicking ninjaette whom has been on the Wolverine’s trail for some months. As a senior assassin/advisor of the all-powerful Yashida clan she has come to convince our hero to travel to Toyko and finally receive his reward at the behest of her Shogunate, as in the intervening years the man he saved back in 1945 has built one of the most powerful corporate clans in modern Japan. Reluctantly honouring the blood-oath Wolverine is soon drawn into a nefarious turfwar between the corporate dojos and the embittered Yakuza, a deadly civil war with the serpentine Yashida clan and all resting on the fate of Shingen’s granddaughter Marika (Tao Okamoto) who is now the heir to one of the most powerful empires in contemporary Japan…
I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this film, it’s no classic to be sure but as a self-contained story it has flair and character, like an independent six issue run it breaks from the main mythology and carves up a occasionally exhilarating, competent couple of hours of super-entertainment. It was quite refreshing not to be beset with a gargantuan world threatening supervillain, with apocalyptic superweapons or to be subjected to yet another tearful intangible sacrifice which is always surpassed with a final resurrection, it’s a much more character based tale which scythes efficiently through its faintly exotic oriental environment. That said some reviewers have bemoaned the abrupt tonal shift from a surprisingly detailed character based criminal thriller into the usual final act pixel pulsing kinetics of 21st century tentpole product, I for one didn’t mind as when’s all said in done I did want to partake in some eviscerating antics, and the finale does remain fairly low-key and when compared to the holographic hallucinations of The Avengers or Iron Man 3. Jackman certainly brings his muscular, brooding intensity to the part, lingering on Logan’s spectres and his current struggle for redemption, rather than just which scythes these movies from one set-piece to another – it’s no Oliver or Brando performance but just enoigh to get you engaged in the story, and to see where his foray with the Japanese crime syndicates will cleave to next. Mangold and his crew have dropped the ball however with a lack of a credible nemesis for our muttonchopped bladesmith, as the slithering supervillan Viper – the scrabble bustingly named Svetlana Khodchenkova – her motivations and frankly her role in the whole movie is never clearly defined, a fault which much of the central portion of the films suffers with a veritable platoon of disgruntled ronin and seething Calvin Klien suited samurai in a rather confusing melange of snaky plots, schemes and Machiavellian corporate fecundity.
The set pieces are effective, clearly defined and pulse pounding – the bullet train scrap is probably the stand out from a simple CGI perspective – and the film has plenty of ninjas and who doesn’t love those swift-footed, silently shorn psychopaths? The Nagasaki detonation is appropriately horrific and apocalyptic in one of the ‘best’ nuke representations I’ve ever witnessed, with a truly disquieting sense of intense, end-of-days carnage which is oddly reverential for this kind of picture. It was quite interesting to see a funeral explode into a maelstrom of martial arts melees which subsequently spills out into the Shinjuku megalopolis in a broad coruscating daylight, as directors generally want to shoot such locations at night to make the most of the neon drenched atmosphere. – it also made me quite homesick for my Tokyo holiday from a few years back. The Wolverine is a solid example of screenwriters really laying the foundations of a potentially successful collaboration, as scribes Christopher McQuarrie has earned his kudos with the dexterous feint of The Usual Suspects and Scott Frank was engaged on the fondly regarded Elmore Leonard adaption Out Of Sight, both are regarded as character motivated genre technicians, rather than the incompetent Philistines behind the likes of the Fantastic Four pictures or (grimaces) the Daredevil and Elektra embarrassments where clearly the writers think that stringing ponderous action scenes with juvenile speechifying is all the depth that the material deserves. Inspiration could well have been provided by the Mitchum starring The Yakuza although officially the film is lifted from the highly regarded 1982 mini-series that Frank Miller and Chris Claremont brought to Marvel comics, whatever the genesis this is a fun couple of hours at the cinema and a superior self-contained genre picture, a solid late bloomer as summer season shadows begin to lengthen and Autumn peeks furtively round the corner. As you’d expect from the Marvel product yes there is a post primary credits sting which sets up the scenario for next years Days Of Future Past project, with Bryan Singer back on board anticipation is solidly building for that given the crossover with the successful X-Men: First Class franchise entry, I don’t know about you but I for one can feel my hackles expectantly rising;