Directed by James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, and Rila Fukushima
Within the X-Men universe Logan/Wolverine enjoys a privileged sort of position, comparable to that of Iron Man in The Avengers universe. After multiple X-Men movies with the whole cast, Hugh Jackman was itching to make a movie or two about Wolverine. On his own. And the promise, the potential, of grandeur was there. This potential has only been partly satisfied.
Jackman is a magnificent and versatile actor, who can, with the same aplomb, play Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, an unscrupulous magician in The Prestige, or a even a penguin in Happy Feet. With his incarnation as Wolverine he has created a truly iconic movie hero, dark and troubled, dangerous and unpredictable, ferocious and beautiful. I never knew the human forearm had so many veins until I saw him coming out of the water, adamantium claws out, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
For Wolverine, he returns four years later, again in top physical form, and with the same depth of character. But alas, the story fails around him, and his merits as an actor are not enough to save the movie in the end.
Even though the film starts during World War II, and includes multiple flashbacks of days past, The Wolverine takes place mostly after X-Men: The Last Stand had ended. Wolverine is tormented with nightmares about having killed his beloved Jean, and has secluded himself to a hermit’s life in the wilderness. He has also given up his identity as Wolverine. But an old friend from the Pacific War, now riddled with cancer, comes back to say goodbye. The man is so sick that Logan must travel to Tokyo in order to see him before he dies.
This trip triggers a narrative that is engaging and, for the most part, relatively plausible. For about an hour and a half, it unravels with a good mix of tension and action, including a fight sequence on top of a bullet train that is among the best action scenes I have seen in any X-Men movie. The story also sees Logan’s broken heart warming up to the young and innocent heir of Logan’s dying friend, Mariko — played by the beautiful Tao Okamoto. One of the film’s most moving moments comes when, after one of Logan’s recurrent nightmares, Mariko consoles him, unafraid of his claws, and compassionate of his wounds. It is a scene of deep tenderness, unusually authentic and free of clichés for a movie in this genre.
As the story approaches its climax, however, it starts to take a turn for the worse. An already flat villain character dressed in green spandex makes its appearance: the Snake Woman, eerily reminiscent of the similarly flat and green Poison Ivy of the ill-conceived Batman & Robin. An already bad turn becomes even worse when, at the height of the conflict, a development that is as ridiculous as it is unbelievable is presented to the audience as the capstone that is supposed to wrap the story together. Oh, the humanity! It fails miserably, and as the story collapses, sitting there in the middle of a theatre full of jeering and laughing moviegoers, one feels suddenly cheated out of two hours of life.
The Wolverine deserved a better story ending than this. Jackman deserved a better story ending than this. But this is the ending the writers chose. And no matter how much you like the actor, his charisma and muscles are not enough to rescue this story from its vapid and implausible ending. Go see this film if you want: go for Wolverine, for his claws and his rage; go for Jackman, for the veins in his arms and the darkness in his character. But prepare to be disappointed with the story at the end. For if you are not, you were likely paying more attention to the eye-candy that you were to the plot.