The latest attempt by 20th Century Fox to cash in on the most popular of Marvel’s X-Men, The Wolverine wastes what (in capable hands) would have otherwise been a fascinating and philosophical lost chapter of a beloved character’s life story. Director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) essentially paint-by-numbers his way through the movie, perfunctorily aligning the requisite action set pieces without a coherent vision or semblance of emotion. The script is Frankensteined together, composed of contributions from screenwriters Scott Frank, Mark Bomback and Christopher McQuarrie – and who knows how many others – none of whom are able to make the plot workable or at all interesting. Instead, we get a dull, overthought story that never raises the audience’s pulse above a resting heart rate.
Falling vaguely between the events of X-Men: The Last Stand and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past – and touching on some specifics from X-Men Origins: Wolverine without acknowledgement – The Wolverine has a tone of “I guess we’re doing this” at the start and it just gets worse from there. At the start of the film, Logan (Hugh Jackman) has exiled himself to the wilderness, no longer able to deal with what he’s done which, if you haven’t seen The Last Stand, will be a complete mystery to you. His John Rambo-esque living arrangements are disrupted when a mysterious young woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) tracks him down and tells him he must come to Japan for a reason that is unclear because Fukushima speaks like she has a mouth full of marbles.
Logan goes along with Yukio (because he is usually so acquiescent) and when they get to Tokyo he realizes he is there to say goodbye to a dying man named Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) whom he saved from the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War Two. Again, if you haven’t seen the previous films, you might think Logan was a vampire, but in fact, he is simply a mutant with incredible regenerative healing abilities. Mangold and his screenwriters have no time to give X-Men 101 lessons to their audience – despite that being extremely necessary in order to set up the film’s mythology – so they carry on as if everyone is familiar with Logan’s entire history.
Anyway. As a thank you for saving his life, Yashida claims he can make Logan mortal, thus ending the eternal torture of watching those around him die. Logan is skeptical, but after Yashida dies, Logan notices that he is no longer healing the way he used to and realizes Yashida was right. Despite this, Logan decides to protect Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), from the Yakuza gang that is trying to abduct her and the two go off into hiding. Of course, the Yakuza are not the only ones trying to find them and they soon discover there was more to Yashida than just a vast corporate empire.
It is difficult to convey the terribleness of The Wolverine without a string of expletives. The movie fails on every level, from its asinine dialogue (see the trailer for evidence) to Fox’s shameless attempt to compete with Iron Man via a giant robot called the Silver Samurai which bears no resemblance to the villain from the comic books. Mangold is incapable of effectively filming action sequences which is unfortunate for us since the movie is essentially one obligatory set piece after another inundating the viewer. The rapid fire editing mixed with Mangold’s clumsy staging makes for a dizzying experience.
Possibly the biggest let down of the film is Jackman who, in Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000), blew away every other actor on screen; Jackman was Wolverine. Here, he is a watered down version of the angry-but-loyal tough guy we’ve come to love. Logan is given no real motivation for his actions, especially those involving Mariko. He speaks in clipped sentences because the screenwriters can’t think of anything particularly witty or insightful for him to say. Focusing too much on Logan’s physical appearance, which is impressive, Jackman essentially sleeps his way through the film.
The Wolverine is a catastrophe from start to finish save a pretty exciting post-credit sequence that sets up Days of Future Past. The four-minute scene is the only time I wasn’t squirming in my seat and wishing for the pain to stop.