Comic fans can be a needlessly acerbic bunch at times; as can film fans. Put the two together and it’s almost insufferable: they can be a right bunch of nit-picky, gripey bastards. Before seeing The Wolverine, I wasn’t expecting much; I was told that it was over-long, dull and stupid by a number of reliable sources. No stranger to being a cynic myself I trusted in their opinion, but in the end was pleasantly surprised. So surprised in fact, that it drove me to write this in exasperated retaliation. Yes, the film has its flaws: notably the last 20 minutes or so is a bit far-fetched and predictable, and it has its fair share of clunky lines. However some folk have delighted in telling me how awful the film is based on a few tiny negligent details which they can’t seem to get over, like going to a restaurant and remembering how offensive the tablecloth was and it subsequently ruining their evening. As such, it has had a bit if an unfair ride, and I feel as though I should defend it as I would a younger, slightly irresponsible sibling. Of course there will be those who disagree, but there are many reasons why The Wolverine deserves your attention, and below are just a few. Mild spoilers ahead.
1. The Setting
The setting is, in some ways, The Wolverine‘s biggest strength. Set almost entirely in Japan over a variety of locations, it provides a refreshingly different backdrop for a Summer blockbuster, and it’s all the better for it. Contrasting Tokyo’s glitzy modern architecture with Nagasaki’s outlying rural villages, the setting becomes a neat mirror for Logan’s psychological state. Japanese film has been consistently torn between the new and the old, tradition and technology; the past and present.
Balancing the present with the past is something which Logan is constantly fighting, what with him being pretty much immortal and all. The narrative follows his attempts to make peace with his past in order to embrace his present, and the Japanese setting allows him to explore this in a way that fluidly links setting and character development.
The backdrop also allows for some originality, at least in terms of your average American blockbuster, and avoids many of the pitfalls involved with Western-meets-Asian cinema stereotypes. For one, Tokyo is actually shown to be a city that exists during the day, instead of being some post-Blade Runner rainy neon nightmare. There are also a lot of nods to the more alien aspects of Japanese culture, such as his visit to a hilariously bizarre themed love hotel. The use of samurai and the code of honour is one that is maybe a bit over egged (he is referred to as a ronin, which they constantly have to explain to its Western audience), but works quite nicely as an overall theme, and allows for some cool-looking action set-pieces involving samurai ninjas. SAMURAI NINJAS!
There are 4 important female characters in this film. FOUR!! And… you’ll never guess what. Two of them AREN’T EVEN WHITE! I know right?! I know! It’s incredible – and not all of them are love interests! Part of the reason why X-Men is the strongest superhero franchise is that everyone gets a fairly equal shot, with tonnes of female characters with interesting stories to tell (Storm, Rogue, Jean Grey and Mystique, just to name a few). So it comes as no surprise then that we get an (almost) equal ratio of men to women here, which feels refreshing after summer full of macho superheroes.
Granted love interest Mariko is somewhat dull, but she still feels different to the impossibly attractive women we’ve come to expect. Jean Grey acts as Logan’s sub-concious, and as such we see her as he does: at times subdued and loving, other times unpredictable with flashes of the Phoenix about her. As well as guiding him, she’s also a burden: baggage from his past that he can’t quite shake away, and so it’s only when he says goodbye to her that he can fully move on. They are both love interests then, but they are not there for the sake of a love scene: they are there to help Logan develop as a character, and as such enable the plot to move forward. It shouldn’t be too much of a demand to to see a female character having purpose instead of merely being window dressing, and yet it feels different and is welcomed. Adding to that we have Yukio, who instigates his visit to Japan, and the mysterious Viper, who serves as the only other mutant in the film, allowing her to have more screen time than some other mutants in previous instalments.
3. Narrative & Pacing
Whereas Origins was sprawling, uneven and directionless, The Wolverine for the most part feels smaller, and all the more compelling for it. The pacing is refreshingly slow, as it takes its time to tell an effective and mature story. The action itself is entertaining, but the areas in-between feel intimate and are occasionally genuinely affecting. The initial opening in Nagasaki is surely one of the bleakest openings in a superhero film, with sirens blaring as Japanese soldiers ritually commit suicide and we see the bomb silently fall to the ground as observed by an (initially) unknown character. It’s an opening that sets the precedent for the rest of the film: it’s clearly not afraid to appeal to an older audience and address adult themes. After Nagasaki we jump forward to the present, where Logan is living a nomadic lifestyle in the wilderness with only a wireless and bottle of scotch for company. Plagued by his past, he suffers debilitating nightmares punctuated by his old flame Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whom he killed at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand after she became Dark Phoenix. At times it’s actually reminiscent of Joe Carnahan’s The Grey; last year’s existentialist survival odyssey, which balanced tension and brutal realism with moments of unexpected tenderness and pensivity. Like The Grey, the recurring dreams is a motif that’s revisited throughout and provides a strong emotional core that’s tangible and puts all of Logan’s actions into some kind of context.
He doesn’t simply commit mindless violence, instead each act is motivated by something other than blind rage; without his ability to re-generate, he can’t run head first into conflict. He’s fallible and weak, which allows for a significant amount of character development, and creates an effective narrative bridge between The Last Stand and Days of Future Past. It’s a film that really could have benefited from a 15 rating, as at times it is clearly suffocating with its imposed 12A burden. The kids might get a bit bored, but with everything marketed to the under-15 crowd just now it’s time that a blockbuster didn’t treat its audience like children. Did you guys hear about how Robocop is going to be a 12A? Yeah. Boak.
4. Hugh Jackman
Good old Shug. Who doesn’t love Hugh Jackman? Being a fan of his since the early noughties, I feel like a proud parent watching his career blossom. He’s been in a lot of dongers, to be sure, and been unlucky in his choice of blockbuster ventures outside of X-Men (Van Helsing, anyone?), but he’s been a consistently likeable leading man. I remember seeing him for the first time in a little Australian comedy called Paperback Hero back in 2000 (*high fives thin air*), and have followed him closely ever since. In fact, he even worked with The Wolverine‘s director James Mangold previously on the romantic comedy Kate and Leopold, for which Jackman recieved a golden globe nomination. No really.
The Wolverine sees him embodying Logan in a unique way: the only other film where he was elevated to leading character was Origins, and that turned out to be (mostly) a disaster, although through no fault of Jackman’s. The intimate nature of the film really puts him in the spotlight, and he revels in it. For a guy who looks like he eats 20 chickens a day and does press-ups in his sleep, he seems surprisingly fragile: he embodies the character both physically and emotionally, and after six films he fits the character like James Bond does a tux. However he still has the ability to surprise us, and in The Wolverine he’s given a lot more to do: being fallible allows Jackman to give him a vulnerability we’ve not seen before, and there are some surprisingly tender and funny moments too. Most importantly, there’s a lot faith gone into his ability to play Logan by the film-makers, and as such it’s as much Jackman’s as it is Wolverine’s movie.
Also, taps aff. So much taps aff. No-one channels topless rage quite like Jackman.
5. The Mid-Credit Sequence
After what is admittedly a disappointing denouement, the mid-credit sequence more than makes up for it. Neatly tying together the plot strands between The Last Stand and the next installment, it’ll get you more than a little excited for what’s to come. It provides the first proper glimpse into Days of Future Past: a venture that has been super secretive up until now. The only thing we know is that most of the original cast members (including those from First Class) are set to star, and that Peter Dinklage will be in it. Cue fainting. I don’t want to give anything away, though. I let out a tiny little scream: luckily most of the crowd had filtered out by that point. One thing is for sure though: I’m going to be insufferable by the time Days of Future Past comes out.