It’s a worrying development when even I, Bleeding Cool’s resident comic book movie fanatic, confess to a certain superhero fatigue. Now we’ve all been spoiled by Joss Whedon’s triumphant take on The Avengers, seeing just one guy reluctantly pull on his super-suit to dispense summary justice to yet another identikit CGI hulk’o’lizard or giant robot seems, well, a bit …meh.
It looks as if the same thought has occurred to Lauren Shuler Donner, the production brains behind Fox’s suite of X-Men films. Fox hired James Mangold, best known for Walk The Line and 3:10 To Yuma, to craft something a little different this time.
When it works, it really works. But for my money the pace is a shade uneven. Turning over the final act to an (admittedly thrilling) standard CGI smackdown of just the kind that the film has been skilfully avoiding for the past hour seems like a cop-out. The Wolverine promises much. And gives you just enough to let you realise what you’re missing.
Because for its first hour The Wolverine is barely a superhero movie at all. It’s a noirish mystery, with a flavour of 1974 Robert Mitchum thriller The Yakuza. Unless you’ve never seen a film before you’ll have a pretty good idea of who’s pulling the strings from early on: but those strings are so tangled and knotted that they have a pretty good story of their own.
Will Yun Lee, veteran of a million police procedurals, is the knottiest of those threads. Of Korean heritage, as far as Hollywood’s concerned he’s Japanese enough to play a character billed as The Silver Samurai. His character, Kenuichio Harada, isn’t exactly the Silver Samurai you’d expect from the comics. He’s the cool, conflicted leader of a team of ninjas who turn up periodically through the film to do cool, cinematic, beautifully choreographed ninjtsu stuff.
Rila Fukushima plays a more straightforward character. The Batman was softened and humanised when he got a sidekick. The Wolverine doesn’t seem like the kind of character you give a sidekick to. Jubilee notwithstanding. And, in fairness, Yukio is not just a sidekick. But if she went on to have more adventures with Logan, I’d be fine with that. She has a good mix of mutant abilities and martial arts chops, and a dynamite hairdo.
But of course this is Hugh Jackman’s film. Second only to Robert Downey Jr. he’s the most charismatic actor currently playing a Marvel Comics superhero. Second to no-one he’s the nicest movie superstar operating right now. And he’s got abs you could grate parmesan on. If you’re a Jackman fan, you won’t be disappointed here.
If you’ve been studying the film’s IMDB page your interest might have been piqued by Famke Janssen’s presence on the cast list. Especially since this film is set after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. In which, you may recall, she end up on the business end of an adamantium tummy-tuck.
Here Jean Grey has gone from Dark Phoenix to Angel Of Death. She represents Logan’s inner desire to give up the Wolverine mantle and embrace mortality. And, in The Wolverine, he comes a good deal closer than you might expect to getting his wish.
Something happens early in this film to compromise Logan’s healing factor. It’s not altogether clear if it’s removed altogether: he’s still pretty durable, but we’re talking James Bond / John McClane levels of durability rather than the usual ‘getting shot in the head and walking it off’ level.
That makes for a more perilous set of adventures for Wolverine as he tries to work out who is trying to kidnap an industrialist’s daughter, who is trying to steal his DNA, and what kind of underwear Viper wears underneath that frankly indecent costume.
There’s a superb fight in and around a bullet train with some seamless CGI. There’s a beautiful multi-archer takedown. And an atomic bomb goes off. In the first five minutes.
This is a good film. It’s not quite as good as it wants to be. But it ain’t just another superhero flick, and you’ve got to reward that ambition. Besides; it’s a whole lot better than the first Wolverine solo joint.
The 3D’s not terrible, but not essential either.
And I have a question: After the Wolverine takes a lot of damage, his hair grows back in that style. So given that he starts the movie in full Grizzly Adams mode, how does he ever have a haircut?
Oh, and stick around as the credits roll. There’s something you’ll want to see.