DIRECTED BY: James Mangold
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Rila Fukushima
I feel you might be needing some good news, those of you who’ve been turning to this page in recent times with a terrible sense of foreboding.
Quite rightly, you fear that the world is going to end again this week and you haven’t even finished cleaning up after the last time. In fact, you still owe money to those people at After The Rapture Pet Care for taking in Fluffy six times already this summer and it would be kind of embarrassing to call them again. (Yes, this service does exist. Clearly some people are of the opinion that dogs do not in fact go to Heaven.)
Well, the good news is, there will be no Apocalypse this weekend. We do get a reminder of what it all might look like and, um, there might be a killer robot. But, honest to God, we’re perfectly safe. For now.
In a prelude to The Wolverine, our hairy, clawed friend Logan (Jackman) is a prisoner of war in Nagasaki. Not the best place to be in 1945, with the A-bomb about to be delivered. When it does drop, he escapes the devastation by jumping down a well, which I suppose is not as silly as, say, jumping in a fridge like some people. More importantly, he saves one of his captors.
Several decades down the road, Logan is roughing it in Canada, wandering the mountains with only a bear for company and nightmares of his old flame and fellow mutant Jean Grey (Janssen) to haunt him.
Now, the Wolverine (just don’t call him that) has tried this stuff before, hiding from the world for a bit of peace. So he should know that, eventually, someone will track him down. This time it’s a flame-haired Japanese lady named Yukio (Fukushima), an assassin with a nifty knack for the old swordplay.
She’s not here to kill the boy, though, or die trying as they tend to. In the grand old tradition, she will make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Her master (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) is Logan’s old well buddy from the war camp and he wishes to thank Logan for saving his skin back in the day. Now a frail but powerful old man, he’s offering to repay the debt by curing the Wolverine of his condition, making him a mere mortal again.
Here’s a question for the lads. If you had the face and body of Hugh Jackman, the power to beat the living bejaysus out of any living being (plus the power to heal yourself if, say, a mad elephant beat the bejaysus out of you) and if you knew you could never get sick or die – would you be saying to yourself, “Ah now here, I’m fed up of this crack. I’d like to go on kidney dialysis or something, maybe have a leg amputated in me old age. Feck it, I’d give anything for a heart attack or a stroke!”
No, I don’t think you’d be going down that road.
But Logan, well, he seems to fancy the idea. So off he goes to Tokyo, where the plan instantly goes down the jacks and he winds up in the middle of a violent mess involving Yakuza, ninjas and samurai – and a baddie named Viper (Sveltana Khodchenkova), a venomous mutant who likes to shed her skin and can kill with a kiss.
Which sounds a tad more intriguing than it is. As is the case with the average superhero nemesis these days, she’s not much of a villain, no more than Uma Thurman was as the similarly-gifted Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin.
But she’s a far more interesting character than Logan’s love interest, the old man’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). If she really had to be part of the story (no, I haven’t read the comics), did they really have to make this the most boring romance since that mopey young one fell for the dopey vampire? There’s no excuse for that.
All said, there’s not much call for this movie as a whole. It’s Jackman’s sixth outing as Wolverine and from where I’m sitting, that’s at least four too many.
In fairness to director James Mangold (Walk The Line, 3:10 To Yuma) and his writers (including Christopher McQuarrie), it’s nice to see someone take this genre down a few notches, make it smaller and at least try to make it more human. At times, The Wolverine can feel almost like a crime drama.
There are times, too, when the obligatory action is very fine indeed, most notably the fight on top of a speeding bullet train.
But mostly, the feeling The Wolverine leaves you with is fatigue. Jackman is a decent actor and he gives the role plenty of welly here but even he must be wondering how many times we have to see him do his three-step trick – look tortured, get mad, butcher someone.
Several more times, I fear. Stick around for the closing credits if you fancy those little teasers.