The best thing about THE WOLVERINE is the minimalist teaser poster, with the outline of the titular mutant rendered in black ink. It promised reinvention. But how can you do that when Hugh Jackman is still in the part? The answer, my friends, is you cannot.
THE WOLVERINE, directed by James Mangold and written by Scott Frank and Mark Bomback, is basically John Logan (Jackman) in Japan. He is a prisoner in Nagasaki when the nuclear bomb is about to drop, freed by a humane soldier whom he then saves from committing seppuku. The soldier is touched by his kindness. ‘Take my sword,’ he tells Logan. Logan has three adamantine claws on each hand – why does he need the additional blade? So he asks the man to keep it for him.
Flash forward sixty odd years and Logan, who is picking fights with bear hunters (they are using illegally poisoned arrows), gets an invitation to return to the Land of the Rising Sun to say farewell to the man he rescued during the war. However, he crosses another mutant who French-kisses the immortality out of him. Now when he bleeds, his body does not cure itself. Wolverine finds himself in a struggle to take over a technology company, running into Yakuza gangs, facing an army of archers and, in the best sequence, doing battle with a knife man on the roof of a 300 mile an hour bullet train.
But wait a minute! Does this sound like an X-MAN film? What about all the stuff about outcasts and special abilities being a curse – is it right to be heroic when everyone hates you? THE WOLVERINE doesn’t feel like a movie; it is more like a two hour TV special. Hugh Jackman would have been better off handing over the dodgy sideburns to Tom Selleck (a bit old, I admit) or someone who needs them.
The problem with the movie is that Logan’s psychological crisis, missing the woman, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) whom he accidentally killed – I did not see X-MEN – THE LAST STAND, so don’t know the details - can’t sustain a drama. Janssen turns up in an extended cameo as an apparition calling Logan to give up life. You get a good sense of what it might be like to wake up next to Famke Janssen in a shampoo commercial kind of way, but surely the point is that for a while she quelled his raging spirit. Now he’s doing his best to avoid fighting.
Jackman barely musters much anger as the Wolverine. He spends much of his time guarding the old man’s (adult) granddaughter who is heir to his company. There’s the beginning of an amusing scene where they end up in a love hotel in a space age room and Logan gives her the bed while he stands in the rain. There is the beginning of humour as the doctor treating Logan’s wounds fears being scratched again. Tonally though, the film never feels right.
At its heart, THE WOLVERINE is an R-rated film stuck in the body of PG-13. The weapons the characters use lop limbs off or squelch through organs but we can never see it. This really ought to be a gore fest, but is compromised. Even when Logan performs surgery on himself, director Mangold is coy. We are promised ‘blood everywhere’; not in this movie.
Besides Logan, the only mutants are Viper with her lizard tongue and a Japanese girl in a red wig who sees people when they die ‘through a keyhole’. There is a visually striking moment when Logan becomes a human pin-cushion, struck by several arrows with ropes attached; he is felled like King Kong. Much of the film is just plain boring. Only at the end does Wolverine seem like himself, with the requisite amount of ‘don’t mess with me’ anger.
Sidelining Logan’s mutant status and refusing to acknowledge that he and his kind are treated ambivalently, is a mistake. It makes Wolverine seem like an ordinary superhero. Logan spends much of the time in the company of women but he is a surprisingly sexless presence, even though Jackson isn’t shy about showing off his physique. He’s like a James Bond who never unbuttons his tuxedo.
If I were writing a WOLVERINE IN JAPAN movie I would have essentially re-made KIKIJURO, that is have Logan struggle to protect a young boy and tell the story from the boy’s point of view. This would have been a better way to re-explore his mutant status from a fresh perspective and keep the novelty of the setting. From the production credits, it seems that much of it was shot in Australia. Kevin Rudd wants to turn back the immigrant boats but the Australian authorities have no problem recreating Asia on its own shores. The best bit is the mid-credit coda, set an airport two years later. But wait until it turns up on YouTube.
Reviewed at Cineworld Wood Green, Wednesday 31 July (15:15 screening) EE 2 for 1 Wednesday. My companions (Lady O, Kumar) also gave it the thumbs down.