After Gavin Hood’s dismal X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009 — it’s no stretch to call it one of the worst films ever made — Marvel fans were disheartened but remained hopeful that star Hugh Jackman would continue on as the character and redeem himself. James Mangold (Knight and Day, 3:10 to Yuma) may not have created the home run audiences are waiting for but he definitely puts the character back on track.
Hugh Jackman enters for the sixth (!) time as Logan, aka Wolverine, in what is admittedly an iconic role at this point. There’s never been any question about his representation of the role and it is instead a matter of those around him creating a quality vehicle for the star and character. What Mangold and writers Chrstopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, and Scott Frank get right in this new chapter is creating a self-contained story. Of course a sequel, or another chapter, can and should be expected but what happens in The Wolverine stays in The Wolverine.
It picks up after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand and rightly ignores Logan’s previous origin story. Following Jean Grey’s death at the hands of Wolverine, Logan has shed his superhero persona and gone off the grid, living in a cave. His daily nightmares include a flashback to being a prisoner of war in Nagasaki during World War II, when he saved a soldier named Yashida from the destruction of the atom bomb. Coincidently, the now elderly, and dying, Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) has sent for him via Yukio (Rila Fukushima) a deadly assassin who can see into the future, and is also the best friend of Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). What Logan believes is just a goodbye is actually a desperate plea from Yashida, who has since built an empire in the technology sector, to transfer Logan’s healing power onto him.
It’s an interesting aspect as Yashida rightfully points out how much of a curse immortality is for Logan. It’s reflected through Logan’s recurring dreams (or nightmares) of Jean Grey imploring him to stay with her, presumably in the afterlife. While fans will surely welcome the return of Famke Janssen as Grey, and the feelings that her death arise in Logan, her constant persistence throughout the film becomes somewhat tiresome and even odd as she’s only ever seen in a nightgown, and the recurrence of the dream becomes stale without ever moving forward. That said, her fate does stir up mixed emotions in Logan and the yearning for death is one that Yashida rightfully fingers. But being the stubborn man he is, Logan refuses and becomes wrapped up in a story he doesn’t fully understand — one that involves him protecting Mariko, another dying request of Yashida’s.
It’s this duality — the internal struggle for Logan as well as the obvious external of protecting Mariko from Yakuza — that drives the film but is also its greatest liability. The darkness is a welcome aspect of Logan’s personality that seems to permeate throughout the film but Mangold isn’t quite able to reconcile it with wanting an all-out action film. Simply, he wants to have his cake and eat it too. The fight sequences aren’t terrible by any means but they sometimes feel forced into what should be a brooding and cerebral film.
The relationships Logan create with Yukio and Mariko are also a double edged sword. Yukio becomes something of an unwanted partner to Logan as Wolverine, but his relationship with Mariko becomes something deeper. While his relationship with Yukio feels natural and unpredictable, the one with Markio feels insincere and out of place in the otherwise gloomy story. But Yukio and Mariko are also two strong female characters, an aspect usually missing from similar stories.
All in all, it’s a mixed bag. Some will love the direction of Logan — and it is a great direction for the character — but as a film it’s mostly hit or miss. There are some big hits but also some very big misses, mostly in terms of character development and organic growth of story throughout the film. Mangold doesn’t craft the Wolverine story of the ages but he does present one of the better Marvel films in the series.
Rating: 3 out of 5