Why can’t Hollywood make a good Wolverine movie? He’s arguably the best character of the X-Men universe, so why are his solo outings so lackluster? This new installment replaces the silliness that X-Men Origins: Wolverine suffered from with an even worse offense… boredom. What you get in The Wolverine is an uninteresting dramatic character study of a tortured soul that just so happens to be interspersed in between a couple of adequate action sequences. The storyline is dour, dull, and dumb all at once. The self-seriousness of a superhero movie like The Dark Knight works because that film is immersed in realism. The Wolverine features mutants, robots, and immortality. Those aspects should create fun, not despair.
The Wolverine starts off promisingly enough, with a flashback to Nagasaki, Japan in 1945, featuring Logan a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) rescuing a young soldier from an atomic bomb. Yes, Wolverine figures out a way to save himself and a soldier from an atomic blast. In present time, he’s hiding out in a small town somewhere in Canada when he is approached by Yuki (Rila Fukushima), a young Japanese woman with psychic abilities. She informs Logan that her employer Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a former friend of his, is dying. Yashida’s last wish is to say farewell to his long lost friend, but obviously he has a hidden agenda.
The majority of the film takes place in Japan which gives the film a fish-out-of-water vibe, but unfortunately the filmmakers don’t take the opportunity to alleviate the drama with some culture clash humor. Instead, ‘Loganson’ learns the way of Samurai in a trite plot tactic that’s painfully overused, going all the way back to the original Karate Kid. Apparently it’s improper to hold a samurai sword with one hand. You have to use two. Who knew?
The filmmaker’s throw in two unnecessary romantic subplots, the first of which features Logan’s relationship with Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen) via night terrors. This one isn’t so egregious, but the second one with Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s granddaughter (and ‘damsel in distress’), accounts for the most tedious portions of the film. When Wolverine isn’t clawing away, the film is slow, meandering, and a borderline endurance test.
This is Hugh Jackman’s fifth outing as Wolverine, a role which he can do in his sleep and sometimes it feels like he is. No longer the wise cracking smart-ass from the previous X-Men installments, here he’s a total bummer. He’s not fun to be around and neither is the movie. The film is also surprising low on action sequences with only two that really stand out. James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) is a fine director and the film is well-made on a technical level; much more so than Origins. However, there’s only one great scene (at least there’s one), and it only lasts for about two minutes. It consists of an exciting fight on top of a speeding bullet train, with Wolverine and his opponent navigating their rooftop exploits through jumps and ducks as to not be crushed by the oncoming overhangs and tunnels. The adeptness of this scene is all the more frustrating as nothing else in the movie comes close to it. Wolverine has some ‘claw fights’ throughout, with various sword wielding enemies (including ninjas), but you’ve seen this before in previous installments and you’ve seen it done better.
For a film that’s attempting a different structure than your run-of-the-mill superhero movie, the last act falls into the same trap of a CGI’d infused finale. Wolverine battles a giant robot made out of adamantium, the same metal that Wolverine’s indestructible (or are they?) claws consist of. It’s a rather underwhelming battle and the type of scene that would occur halfway through an Iron Man movie, as opposed to a blockbusters ‘holy smokes!’ finale. Aside from the alloyed android, there’s no clear antagonist in the film. Arguably it’s Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) (the only other mutant in the movie), a ‘lizard lady’ who wouldn’t make the top ten list of villains among the superior X-Men films.
Aside from a couple of entertaining fight scenes, The Wolverine is a major disappointment, as I am in fact a fan of the X-Men series. With so many various mutants and their individual superpowers, there’s a fun dynamic employed when they all team up. These Wolverine solo outings don’t work. Perhaps he’s better suited when working with an ensemble. Or perhaps this movie just needed a better screenplay. Some of you may prefer the darker approach that this film takes, but it isn’t done well. Unless a comic book adaptation earns its tone by staying true to the world in which it’s set up; a superhero movie is better off having fun with what is inherently a goofy premise. The Wolverine is a downer. However, an end credits stinger (which I won’t ruin) sets up next summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, and has still managed to rouse my interest in the next installment despite the mediocrity of this spinoff. Hopefully when Wolverine reunites with the rest of the gang, they’ll cheer him up.