Oh cinema, how I have missed thou!
Feels good to be back at the movies after a lengthy hiatus of three weeks. For my triumphant return, I chose The Wolverine, the highly anticipated “sequel” to 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine but chronologically speaking it’s the film that comes immediately after 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand (the third film in the original trilogy).
The Wolverine received a lot of hype in Australia because a significant portion of the film was shot there, including at Sydney Olympic Park, Darling Harbour, Parramatta and Cockle Bay. And of course, Hugh Jackman had hyped it up more by admitting disappointment with X-Men Origins: Wolverine but boasting that The Wolverine had gotten it right as the type of Wolverine film he had wanted to make all along.
To be honest, I thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not as bad as it was made out to be — flawed but perfectly adequate. On the other hand, while The Wolverine is definitely a better film, I’m not sure it quite succeeded in living up to Jackman’s promise. It’s a more personal Wolverine film with more pain, emotions and depth, and the action is more varied and exciting — but at the same time it didn’t captivate me like the best X-Men films (such as 2011’s X-Men: First Class — review here) and was dragged down by a sluggish middle act.
The story for this film was apparently provided by one of the most popular arcs from the Wolverine comics. Our hero is battling demons from his relationship with his one true love, Jean Grey (a role reprised by Famke Janssen), and is living a meaningless existence until he runs into Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a mysterious Japanese sword-wielder who is on a mission to bring him to Japan to meet a dying man from his past. The dying dude happens to be a head of one of the largest companies in the world, and the Wolverine becomes caught up in the complex Japanese world of family politics, ninjas and yakuza henchmen (naturally, there are some obvious Japanese cliches littered throughout the film, but I don’t think any of them come across as culturally offensive). Oh, and of course a few mutants here and there.
There are some spectacular action sequences in this film thanks to the unique Japanese setting. One of my favourites takes place on a speeding Shinkansen (bullet train), and another involves the Wolverine taking on a whole clan of ninja assassins. There are a couple of others I can’t mention because of spoilers.
The film is driven by the performance of Hugh Jackman, who proves for the sixth time that he was born for the role. It’s not just the muscular, veiny appearance — you can actually sense the passion he has poured into the character in every movement on the screen. In the realm of movie superheroes, Jackman will rank right up there with Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr as actors who fit their “costumes” better than anyone else.
The supporting cast is also surprisingly good. Apart from the aforementioned Rila Fukushima, there is newcomer Tao Okamoto (a svelte Japanese model), The Last Samurai actor Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee (yeah Sleeping Dogs!) and Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova. None are exactly household names but there are no weak links as all hold their own in key roles.
On the whole, I enjoyed The Wolverine but was a little disappointed it wasn’t the superhero masterpiece I had hoped for. It’s a film I think hardcore Wolverine and comic fans will love for the attention to detail and truthfulness to the source material, but casual fans might struggle to remember or understand the convoluted backstory and appreciate the ties to rest of the X-Men universe.
3.5 stars out of 5
PS: Remember to stick around for a mid-credits scene that gives us a sneak peek into the next instalment of the X-Men franchise, next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is already shaping up to be one of the most epic superhero movies ever by combining all prequels and sequels and everything in between from the X-Men universe.
PPS: The film was directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma). He does a decent job, but I wonder how the film might have turned out had it not been turned down by Guillermo del Toro and Darren Aronofsky.