In the realm of superheroes Wolverine is one of the most humanly interesting, a man blessed with the power to heal but cursed with immortality – destined to outlive everyone he loves as he searches for meaning in an endless life. And this is the darkness ‘The Wolverine’ attempts to study, exploring his character and inner lament rather than telling some vast apocalyptic narrative. Following the events of ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a broken man living alone in the American wilderness – when he is unexpectedly visited by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and cajoled into journeying to Japan to bid farewell to Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), an elderly influential businessman whose life he saved during the Second World War. But Yashida’s ulterior motives, and a violent power struggle within the family, force Logan to become more entwined in these strangers’ lives than he imagined – driving him closer to Yashida’s granddaughter, the equally conflicted Mariko (Tao Okamoto).
In taking a more reflective approach to the genre this feels like a smaller, more personal film. With a small cast of characters and a focused linear narrative (which unfortunately ties itself in knots in the process), it keeps Logan as the centre and attempts to relate all events back to his personal trauma. This does occasionally become clunky, but plenty of touching moments intertwined with Japanese culture and mythology demonstrate there is at least something intellectual taking place.
This doesn’t have the big-budget gloss and finesse of the average summer blockbuster, but the exotic setting and the novelty of a familiar face adrift in a strange land does much to keep the experience compelling. A succession of expertly handled action scenes truly capitalise on Logan’s close-quarters, ragged fighting style, and refreshingly show him getting hurt and actually requiring time to recover instead of dusting himself off and springing back to action. A small detail but it adds weight to the action, and a palpable sense of threat.
‘The Wolverine’ is an admirable attempt to use a multi-million dollar blockbuster as a character study, but these two styles are constantly at odds and in the end prove mutually detrimental. With many moments to enjoy – not least a breathless, original example of a fight atop a train – it certainly isn’t a failure, but as the overblown climax draws to a close and you think back on the strength of its earlier movements it’s hard not to feel slightly dissatisfied.
[ 2013 — Dir: James Mangold — 126 mins — 12A cert — IMDb ]
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