James Mangold’s new Logan tale THE WOLVERINE is a razor-sharp adventure.
Whoah! Director James Mangold has crafted, with screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, a really thrilling movie in THE WOLVERINE that delivers excitement and some pithy one-liners along the way. When I came out of the cinema, my first thought was that it was like watching Iron Man Three after The Avengers – going back to one character and focusing purely on them without referencing the other members of the Avengers team, or in this case the other X-Men and that’s what I found so satisfying about it.
Although X-Men Origins: Wolverine had some cool elements to it – namely a great nemesis in Liev Schreiber – I found it too expansive with too many other mutants all vying for attention and taking away the power from Logan’s story. Here, everything’s focused on him and by making it a solo tale, the character is given space to breathe – or as the twitter and by-line for the film state ‘he’s unleashed’. Also by placing Logan in an alien environment – most of the movie is set in Japan – with new adversaries and allies to meet, this adds up to a much more successful movie than its predecessor.
Opening with a startling sequence, no less brilliant than that of the very first X-Men movie, we then find Logan (Hugh Jackman as brilliantly visceral as always) in the Yukon. Here he’s living a solitary and tortured life following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, where he had to kill his beloved Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, still as deadly as she is striking). She haunts his dreams constantly, willing him to join her in the afterlife but he’s brought very much back to the land of the living with the arrival of Rila Fukishima‘s stunningly spirited Yukio, who’s at the end of year-long mission to find ‘the Wolverine’. He doesn’t exist any more he tells her but his curiosity in finding out what’s lead her to track him down, takes him to the east and there he discovers a possible way out of his torment.
Once in Japan, Logan meets the dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) now the most powerful man in the country but who years before as a young man, was saved by the Wolverine. And so by way of thanks, Yashida wants to offer him a gift that he knows will interest Logan in his present state: mortality. Logan would be vulnerable, able to live and die as a normal man and so potentially at peace and his regenerative powers would transfer to Yashida.
But luckily for us, it’s not a simple as that – Yashida didn’t get where he is without having an endgame to his plan and surely there’s also more to his quietly efficient doctor, who watches his every move, than meets the eye – especially as she’s played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, so great as the enigmatic femme fatale in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Then to complicate matters further, Logan meets Yashida’s beautiful grand-daughter Mariko (played with a delicacy that’s quite hypnotic to watch by Tao Okamoto) whom he immediately saves when grief-stricken at her grandfather’s impending death, she tries to throw herself off the nearest cliff.
Her father, the ruthless businessman Shingen (a fantastic Hiroyuki Sanada) and her dubious fiance Noburo (Brian Tee) seem none too worried. They have more on their minds with an empire almost within their grasp. So Logan can’t really leave Mariko at the mercy of these men and what’s more, perhaps he’s still not ready to give up on who he really is quite yet.
And so the stage is set for not only a nicely gripping narrative from this point on but also for some superb action sequences – an assassination attempt at a temple that introduces Mariko’s ex-lover Harada (Will Yun Lee) into the mix along with some brilliant martial arts fighting, that’s followed by a breakneck chase on a bullet train. Logan now finds himself in the middle of a battleground, where maybe the way of the Samurai will help him and also pave the way towards an epic finale.
Mangold orchestrates the action and the quieter, more dramatic moments in the movie with more success I thought than he did with his previous actioner Knight and Day – this is more like the darker action edge of 3:10 to Yuma – whilst also allowing Jackman to deliver his best performance as the adamantium-infused hero. The part that made him famous is still a draw, not only for the actor but also for the audience – a strong, honourable soldier, always striving (sometimes reluctantly) to do what’s right, whilst at the same time struggling with the choice that changed him forever. It’s such a great character.
With X-Men: Days of Future Past to come, let’s hope there could be another purely Logan focused adventure at some point ahead, as it seems on the strength of this, there’s more fun to be had when THE WOLVERINE is unleashed.