The Wolverine (12A/PG-13, 126 mins)
Director: James Mangold
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Though it seemed to have run its course by the conclusion of The Last Stand in 2006, the X-Men series continues to rumble on through sequels, prequels and spin-offs.
Chronologically The Wolverine is set after all of the films that have come so far, which at least dispenses with the problem of prequelitis, the main reason the previous standalone in the franchise, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, didn’t really work.
But though a more worthwhile endeavour, and for all that Wolverine, or Logan to give him his Sunday name, is arguably the most popular and compelling of all the X-Men figures, this is the sixth time we’ve seen this character on the big screen, so perhaps he’s starting to lose his lustre.
As Origins demonstrated, this is a guy who has been around for a very long time. We first meet Logan here as a prisoner of war in Nagasaki just as the Bockscar flies into view, his healing powers and near indestructibility saving both himself and a Japanese soldier, Yashida (Ken Yamamura), from the atomic blast.
Then we head to the Yukon wilderness in the present day, where Logan is a wanderer and a tortured soul, a loner keen on justice. He’s also dreaming of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whose descent into dark and dangerous power forced him to kill her at the end of the third X-Men movie, The Last Stand.
That’s a gritty setup for a hero who has never exactly been defined by his sunny disposition. A no-nonsense title (certainly when compared to the clumsy X-Men Origins: Wolverine) promises much more than it delivers, but this is at least another successful attempt at portraying Logan as a prowling, rage-filled beast.
Maybe there’s something to be admired in a comic book movie that (for the most part, anyway) doesn’t follow the standard path of hero trying to foil super-villain, that does try to be more about character. But it’s a lot harder to actually turn this dark potential into a workable superhero tale which, let’s face it, is why we’re here. And what else is there to learn about this character that we haven’t already?
The other admirable aspect is the strong female characters, beginning with Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who tracks Logan down in Canada to persuade him to return to Japan at the request of the now very old and very ill Yashida. His old friend says he can make him mortal, which sets in motion a dense plot involving the Yakuza wanting to kill Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), power struggles and mysterious ninja protectors, and which ends up with Logan on the run with Mariko.
This exposes one of the major flaws at the heart of the entire enterprise; a plot that would be easier to justify if it were driven by Logan. But he is a passenger in his own story, a tag-along in this Japanese conspiracy plot and family saga, as allegiances switch at the swing of a sword, and who is on which side at any one time is anyone’s guess.
The rest is kinda tiresome, low on incident and long on intricate but largely unfathomable plotting. A few samey fights break up the tedium, as Logan’s claws clang against samurai sword. It’s the least X-Men-like of the movies so far, with barely another mutant to be seen save for Viper, whose encounter with Logan leaves his powers of healing on the wain, which at least gives some momentary interest when he isn’t indestructible.
A post-credit tease for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past is almost worth the wait, but until that point The Wolverine is boring and incomprehensible, and that’s the two worst things it could have been.