FILM REVIEW | Stuart Barr Jackman’s fifth outing as the most popular character of the Marvel X-Men universe (I’m not counting a cameo appearance in X-Men: First Class) has just one job to do – be better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Happily, despite being somewhat rough around the edges, it does this with some ease. Screenwriters Bomback, Frank and McQuarrie loosely adapt a celebrated 1982 miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller that was instrumental in turning Wolverine from a member of a team-based comic book into a viable solo character. The mini-series took the character to Japan and fused his anti-establishment nature to historical notions of Japanese feudal honour reconfiguring him as a "ronin", a masterless samurai.
Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film in 2000 really ushered in the superhero movie as the staple format for modern tentpole entertainments, and the opening scene of The Wolverine pleasingly brings the movies full circle. Singer opened X-Men with a startling scene in Auschwitz, and Mangold opens this latest entry in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Logan is trapped in a well that the Japanese are using as a "cooler" as B52 bombers fly overhead. A young officer, Yashida (Sanada), compassionately releases prisoners but Logan knows that no amount of running can escape the firestorm to come and he drags the soldier into the well and uses his body to shield him from a nuclear blast – the city across the water from the camp is Nagasaki.
Logan’s healing powers mean he survives his skin being turned to charcoal and both he and Yashida survive. Some 50 plus years later – following the events of the third full X-Men film 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand – Logan is somewhere in North America living in a cave and hanging out with a grizzly bear. Trumatised by the death of the great love of his life, Jean Grey, he has abandoned his fellow mutants and humanity at large. However he is tracked down by Yukio (the amazing-looking Fukushima), a red-haired ninja who whisks him to Japan where her employer has business to discuss. Of course, this is a new, elderly and frail Yashida who offers Logan the chance to give up his healing powers through a medical technology that will allow them to be passed on to the dying industrialist.
Logan is somewhat reluctant, but is intrigued by Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto), before he can make a definitive decision the old man dies. When his funeral is attacked by Yakuza killers, Logan goes on the run with Mariko, who has become a target in a plot that unravels over the course of the movie.
The Wolverine has already attracted a fair share of criticism, some of which is clearly superhero fatigue – let’s be honest, who isn’t feeling this right now? It is certainly true that the film is not on the scale of an Iron Man 3 or a Man of Steel; Mangold’s film (initially at least) adopts far more of a thriller tone, and quite an adult one at that. Problems arise later on because there is a tension between the dark detective movie it tries to be (Mangold cites the more noirish films of Akira Kurosawa as an influence) and the superhero nonsense it is forced to be (especially later on). The pacing of the film is slightly off, and the action is a too front-loaded – leading to a middle section that drags somewhat. The overall plot does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny, but the film just about gets away with that.
The Wolverine also scores solid hits in many areas. Jackman has overcome initial fanboy concerns (too tall, not hairy or Canadian enough) to become as comfortable a fit for the character as Connery was for James Bond. His physical presence and easy charm compensate for the more sombre tone of Mangold’s film, in which quips and wisecracks have had to be dialled back to a minimum. Jackman is the closest thing to prime Clint Eastwood that we have today, and this especially fits the snarling, grizzled character of The Wolverine who is closer to Harry Callahan than Clark Kent or Thor.
Despite the fact that this is a film based around an incredibly macho guy, it features three strong female characters, which is refreshing. Yukio is a formidable fighter and gets to kick a lot of Yakuza butt and likes to call herself Wolverine’s bodyguard. Non-mutant Mariko, who Logan must protect, is far from a wallflower either (there is a pleasing scene of her taking on some bad guys to show she is not helpless). Lastly there is a villainous mutant known as Viper (Khodchenkova), who is a little less successful as ironically the character is a bit too "comic book".
Sadly, as mentioned already, the story veers away from thriller into action movie territory complete with a shiny mountain base and a monologuing villain. There is also a reveal of sorts that is telegraphed so far in advance that it becomes obvious far too soon – and, while Wolverine is not Sherlock Holmes, he ought to have been able to figure it out. Things right themselves somewhat with a rousing final dust-up that leads to one of the most fist-in-the-air satisfying mid-credits extras that any Marvel movie has seen.
3D QUALITY ★★★★★ | Stuart O'Connor As with most great film directors who get their hands on the 3D technology – James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, Robert Rodriguez, Ang Lee, Baz Luhrmann, Sam Raimi, Joe Dante and Alfonso Cuaron – Del Toro has doen a wonderful job with the 3D here. The foreground, mid-ground and background are well defined and well used in almost every scene – whether thay are scenes of city-wide destruction, battles between the Kaiju and Jaeger warriors or deep inside the Hong Kong military base. And Del Toro doesn't use the "coming-at-you" technique overly much – just enough, in fact, to have the requisite impact. Pacific Rim really is a film made for the big screen, but it does stand up to viewing on the smaller flatscreen TV at home, and the 3D definitely adds to the overall experience.This is about as close as you're get to a 3D cinema experience at home, and is further proof that in the hands of a really, REALLY good filmmaker, 3D is a worthwhile feature.
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