Of all the comic-book characters available for big screen treatment – which includes a fair number if you take into account both Marvel and DC Comics’ back catalogue – the lycanthropic Wolverine has featured relatively little apart from appearing in films starring various characters under the collective grouping of the X-Men. As a result The Wolverine, 20th Century Fox’s new superhero outing directed by James Mangold, is interesting as it gives him a chance to flex his talons alone.
Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a haunted man. Plagued by nightmares of his dead girlfriend Jean (Famke Janssen) and an incident during World War II where he (as his mutant alter-ego Wolverine) saved Yashida (Ken Yamamura) a young Japanese army officer from the bombing of Nagasaki, Logan has withdrawn from society, and is living the life of a hermit in the wilds of the American outback. Only when the mysterious Yukio (Rila Fukushima) appears, claiming to have been ordered by her aged employer, the now dying Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), to bring Logan to him to pay his last respects, does the troubled superhero realise he must face his destiny if he is to have any chance of living at peace with what and who he is.
Like so many films involving superheroes the makers behind The Wolverine clearly expect viewers to be familiar with the character’s backstory. Giving no explanation to how Logan became what he is means that the resulting film could be somewhat limited in its appeal. Taking into account that the majority of people watching it are probably of the teenage / geek fan grouping, this probably wouldn’t matter greatly. The surprising thing however is that, unlike a lot of those derived from the comic-book arena, a lack of knowledge of the central character doesn’t actually detract from this particular film’s enjoyment. Admittedly you may get more from it if you are an avid fan of Logan and his razor taloned other-half, but you’ll equally enjoy it if you just take it at face value as a quickly forgettable, two hour romp.
The Wolverine is not the film to watch if you are looking for an upbeat, feel good, adventure. Following the same path as the recent characterisation of Batman and Superman, Logan has a dark personality given to long bouts of introspective reflection, as seen through his imaginary communications with the dead Jean who he uses as a moral sounding-board. The swarthy and rugged looking Jackman – with a gym toned body which he and the filmmakers assure us is all his own work – is perfectly suited in a role which requires the creation of an air of menace more through appearance than verbal verbosity. The rest of the cast, one feels, is merely there to support the film’s namesake and as a result are barely memorable after the closing credits.
Two of the film’s more puzzling aspects are its bloodlessness, and the apparent ‘immortality’ of Wolverine, and as a result Logan. For such a potentially violent story – you can’t help feeling that the set-pieces are simply an excuse for yet another samurai / ninja’esque fight – there is surprisingly little blood or gore. This is likely done in order to cater to a wider audience, which the film will potentially achieve through its 12A certificate. However the resulting last minute cutaways, when an endless stream of victims are despatched at the hands of Wolverine and his adversaries, lend the fight sequences a cartoonish approach which detracts from the underlying seriousness which Mangold is clearly trying to convey.
As for the hero’s invulnerability, though this is a characteristic which generally goes with the job of superhero (particularly for those of the mutant X-Men breed), it nevertheless dilutes the edginess of a character if you know that there’s probably little you can do to them that will cause real or lasting damage. A few twists in the story allow for possible chinks in Wolverine’s armour, but in the end these amount to nothing, leading to a predictable outcome and the inevitable opportunity to revisit the legend in the years to come.
Despite the protestations of the stars and producers of such films as The Wolverine to the contrary, touting the depth and seriousness of the characters and story-lines, the truth is that they are really nothing more than glossy, kick-ass adventures. Taken on this level The Wolverine will likely provide an enjoyable, if ultimately forgettable, evening of entertainment. If however you are looking for any deeper meaning you will likely feel disappointed.
The Wolverine is in cinemas 25th July 2013.
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
STARS: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Tao Okamoto, Famke Janssen
RUNTIME: 126 MINS