Everyone’s favourite crime fighting transsexual is back for another solo outing, after 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. An isolated Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) travels to Japan to the deathbed of Japan’s most successful businessman, who he saved from the Hiroshima blast in 1945. All is not what it seems, however, when his ailing friend goes after his power to heal.
The Wolverine is strong, and an improvement on Logan’s origin tale. The fact it’s not a prequel makes it refreshingly unburdened compared to Origins, X-Men First Class, and indeed recent origin tales from other franchises like Man of Steel and particularly The Amazing Spider-Man.
The best thing about Origins was seeing the rich array of mutants the film brought to life use their powers in extraordinary ways. The X-Men universe has always allowed for a lot of incredibly cool fights and stunts, and seeing the rich array of powers play off against each other on-screen can be brilliant if done properly. The Wolverine doesn’t go down this route, however. There are only two mutants in the film besides Wolverine himself, one of which has only very minimal powers. Woverine’s powers are also weakened for much of the film, meaning that it can’t just fall back on another mutant face-off with Wolverine when things get dull.
This isn’t to say there’s any less action here, and there are some truly spectacular sequences. A fight on the top of a bullet train is breathtaking and particularly memorable. Director James Mangold clearly understands action, and that it’s not just a question of having more and bigger explosions, opting for well choreographed fights and impressive parkour instead.
The character of Wolverine has developed too. He’s back to being the lone asshole of X-Men with the rough edges well and truly back. If being one of Xavier’s team softened him up a bit, in the years since he’s returned to his old self and worse. They’ve done away with much of the comic relief too, like the scene in Origins when he inadvertently destroys a bathroom with his claws, although there is the most ridiculous “saving from a nuclear blast” scene since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
The Japanese setting is a welcome change, although the list of clichés is quickly exhausted, with scenes centred around chopsticks, samurai swords and ninjas. Also, did you know almost every Japanese person knows martial arts? But hey, at least they got their money’s worth from the plane ticket. Flying to Japan’s not cheap y’know.
The “losing powers” thing is dealt with far better than in, say, Spider-Man 2 or Iron Man 3. Instead of neutering the character by making him lose his powers at the wrong moment for dramatic effect, what comes about is a slow realisation, coupled with his increasingly wounded body. Huge Jackman is bigger than he’s ever been this time round and deserves praise for his commitment to the role. He knows Wolverine is his, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.
The Wolverine shows that there’s still plenty of life in Logan, and that you don’t need the most mutants or the biggest explosions possible to make a great action film. After the tired feel of Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel, The Wolverine at least feels like there’s a story to tell. An improvement on Origins, there’s plenty here to get your claws into.