In an era where almost every superhero film is trying to make itself look and feel like The Dark Knight, it’s refreshing (and a little odd) that The Wolverine is most reminiscent of a Bond film. Except it’s a Bond film where Bond seems to have stumbled into an already on-going story that has very little to do with him and very little for him to do in it. In a summer that’s already given us the self-indulgent but highly entertaining Iron Man 3 and the ambitious (and bloated) Man of Steel, where does The Wolverine fall? Well, it’s somewhere in the middle. And middling seems to be a word that sums up the entire film.Taking place sometime after the events of X3: The Last Stand, the film initially opens with a flashback to Logan (Huge Jackman) rescuing a soldier during the bombing of Nagasaki and after the first (of many) Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) dream-sequences, we finally arrive in the present. Taking on the required persona of the modern, franchise-weary hero just like Batman and Bond before him, Logan has isolated himself from the world, grown the required “I’m not a hero anymore” beard and vowed to give up the life of heroics. He is pulled back into the fight by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who informs him that the man he saved in Nagasaki is now the head of one of the largest corporations in Asia. He’s dying and wishes to thank Logan and say goodbye. So Logan travels to Japan and finds himself embroiled in a tale of honour, heirs, lizard women and giant Samurai robots. Eventually.
That earlier Bond comparison wasn’t made lightly. The prolonged chase sequence that makes up most of the first half of the film, which starts at a funeral, spills into a street chase then an attack on a train and eventually ends with an isolated romantic rendezvous, all feels like a condensed Bond story. Albeit one where Bond wasn’t really needed. The story of corporate espionage and crime gangs that fills out the main plot doesn’t really involve Logan. He’s merely a confused pawn in a larger game and while he is ultimately important to the villain’s (overly complex yet simultaneously nonsensical and idiotic) plan at the end, one can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a much simpler way to achieve his nefarious goals than involving a short-tempered immortal.This is not to say it can’t be enjoyable. The ridiculous fight on the roof of a speeding bullet-train is as dumb and entertaining as it looked in the trailer. Then there’s a very strong fight scene which takes place just before the film enters its final movement with a bloodied, angry Logan fighting one of the villains in a darkened Japanese mansion with both of them silhouetted against the beautiful Japanese architecture and holing nothing back with a myriad of meaty punches and stabbings. It’s one of the few fight scenes with real weight behind it and it’s a pity most of the others look so flat with henchmen being tossed around like weightless ragdolls. Speaking of the location, the film is at least visually refreshing. The Japanese aesthetic makes for a pleasant change in this genre, especially with how much time it spends in the countryside and less obvious parts of the cities. The use of Nagasaki is also interesting.
As I’ve said, the main plot doesn’t really involve Logan rather is acts as the framing device for his own redemption story as he tries to live with having killed Jean. The main redemption in question happens largely in Nagasaki. By starting the film with the city’s destruction and then subtly reintroducing us to present-day Nagasaki halfway through with its beautiful scenery and pleasant locals, it’s a clever little way to demonstrate the message that an unforgivable act (such as the murder of the woman he loved or America’s bombing) is not final and that lives (and entire cities) can be rebuilt.
While these attempts at a small amount of depth and nuance are appreciated, they come at the price of some merciless padding and a shoe-horned in romantic sub-plot which is almost entirely pointless and brings the middle of the film to a screeching halt. Although this would imply it ever really gains momentum. Sadly the film simply exists. There’s never any great sense of danger or a ticking-clock since the focus attempts to be on Logan’s redemption story rather than the main plot, simply drifting between set-pieces and constant Jean dream-sequences, which quickly lose their appeal once the novelty of her cameo wears off.
While the actors all acquit themselves well and the visuals can be very pleasant at times, it’s all ultimately in the service of very little. The action, aside from a couple of bright spots, never gets above adequate even in its big final battle, filled though it may be with acid-spitting lizard women and Adamantium mechs. On top of this it’s a largely humourless affair, lacking the wit of other Marvel releases to keep the slower moments moving. This is not to say it’s boring. It’s certainly less ponderous than Man of Steel and, unlike that film, the action scenes are good and tight and never overstay their welcome. But ultimately it comes down to this: even though you may find yourself enjoying the film, even if you’re not enthralled by it, when the mid-credits scene comes on to set up next year’s Days of Future Past and it’s more exciting than anything else in film despite just being three people talking, you realise just how lukewarm the experience has been.
12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Wolverine is released on 25th July 2013