This second outing for everyone’s favourite Canadian with claws, after the horrible misfire of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009, takes an altogether different tack; it aims for (and largely succeeds in presenting) a grittier, more realistic tone. Well, as realistic as a film that has a mutant with adamantium claws fighting Yakusa on the top of a bullet train can be.
Set a few years after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, still brilliant in the role even on the sixth time round) is living as a near hermit in the Canadian wilderness, haunted by his past and having taken a vow of non violence. He is tracked down by an employee (Rila Fukushima) of a man he saved from death during the bombing of Nagasaki, which forms the basis of the films stunning opening moments, nearly 70 years prior. Hopping on a plane to Japan to grant a dying man his last wish, Wolverine is offered the chance to have his healing ability and immortality taken away. Wolverine refuses, but when the old man dies, Wolverine has his powers neutered anyway, and becomes embroiled in a plot to kidnap the man’s granddaughter (Tao Okamoto, doubling up as both damsel in distress and love interest) who will become the sole owner of the man’s considerable business assets.
That last bit sounds more like the plot of a thriller rather than a superhero movie, and the biggest surprise is that it works. Giving Wolverine something real to work with rather than the usual ‘wiping out humankind’ plot, that has been done to death not least in all of the previous X-Men movies, makes it seem fresh. The film also plays as an epilogue to the previous film in the chronology, The Last Stand, and as such we’re seeing the character deal with issues never before presented; loss of self, self doubt, grief (manifesting here as oddly not annoying dream sequences with Famke Jansen’s Jean Grey) and the removal of his healing ability gives Jackman, an actor who can play all the facets of the character and play them well (see Les Mis for proof, although Wolverine doesn’t sing here. Unfortunately), a lot of different aspects to work with, and besides, it’s much more interesting to get inside the headspace of your lead than just throw dozens of mutants at us, as X-Men Origins: Wolverine did, and hope we’re too blinded by cool stuff to care that there’s no real story. This version of the character is given a much harder edge this time around, with a real take no prisoners attitude which is great to watch, and makes Wolverine seem like a force to be reckoned with again in a way he hasn’t been since he went all Berserker in X2. As a result the film comes off as the most accomplished and adult of the franchise. But if all of that doesn’t sound like much fun for what’s essentially a summer blockbuster, never fear! Because there’s plenty of ridiculously entertaining action in there as well.
The aforementioned bullet train fight is the standout and isn’t nearly as stupid as it looked in the trailer and actually quite morbidly funny; a scuffle during a funeral leading into a foot chase through the streets of Tokyo is fast paced and thrilling, involving gunfights, ninjas and archers of all things; and with Wolverine without his usual powers the fights have more tension to them, even though you’re still never convinced he’s going to die, and it makes the fact that these mere mortals who are holding their own against him a touch more believable. Being a 12A rated film the fights are all still (sadly) bloodless, but there’s enough implied bloodshed that you don’t come away feeling short changed. It’s suitably brutal in parts.
After doing so much good work in the first two acts, it’s a shame that it switches tone entirely and descends into standard blockbuster territory for the finale. With a silly revelation in the final moments and an equally silly final battle against a hulking robot man that resembles a bad video game boss fight, and while it doesn’t sink the movie at all, feels very out of place with what has come before it.
Finally, it’s very nice to have a film set in alien territory for a blockbuster and Japan looks beautiful and terrifying when the script requires it to. Even if we are only treated to various stunning locales and perhaps one or two stereotypical depictions of the country, the fact that this story doesn’t take place in the same cityscape every superhero film seems to take place in these days makes for a refreshing change.
A return to form for the mutton chopped mutant, and far better than it had any right to be after the previous travesty. It gives Wolverine his edge back, and most importantly never looks silly doing so. It might not be the type of film you’re expecting but in the best possible way. Also, stay for the mid-credits sequence which threatens to upstage the whole film.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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