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Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Wolverine

Well, I Don't know if it's THE Wolverine but it's certainly a Wolverine.

Also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine's life of solitude and privacy is interrupted by an old acquaintance summoning him to his death bed in Japan. When he gets there, however, Wolverine finds more than he bargained for as the old man is now one of the most powerful and richest men in Japan and, in exchange for protecting his beloved granddaughter from Yukuza thugs, he offers Wolverine something he could only previously have dreamed of: an end to his tortured existence.

What we thought

Considering how weak Wolverine's last two proper cinematic adventures were – X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine – it was never going to take much effort to make his latest look good by comparison. And make no mistake, The Wolverine is a far better film than either of those clunkers. It's just a pity that it could have been so much better still.

When this latest entry into the X-Men was first announced, it came with Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) attached as director and the promise of something more adult, more stripped down and more unique than any previous X-Men film. And with Aronofsky on board it was easy to believe the hype. Aronofsky isn't simply a brilliant director, he's one with a very singular, very adult and very art-house style who could have really put a different spin on the now tried and tested superhero formula. Plus, the last film he made with Hugh Jackman was the brilliantly deranged The Fountain that, for all its flaws, is easily one of the most intriguing genre films released this century.

Sadly, Aronofsky left the project but all was not lost as he was replaced by another interesting director, James Mangold. Now, Mangold may have none of Aronofsky's idiosyncratic strangeness but as someone best known for directing the likes of Identity, Girl Interrupted and Walk the Line, he was certainly a more inspired choice than a hack like Brett Ratner. His resume isn't exactly free of misfires (I'm looking at you Knight and Day) but with Mangold at the helm, there was still a good chance that The Wolverine could have been something special.

It's kind of heartbreaking then to see just how safe and uninspired the film ultimately landed up being – especially because it does so often promise to be something different. The Wolverine is a basically enjoyable superhero film but is one that steadfastly lacks the courage of its own convictions, especially as it enters its particularly lame final act.

Drawing most from the classic 1982 Claremont/ Miller series, The Wolverine is, for most of its running time, fairly stripped down and it devotes about equal time to its crime-drama plot, to Wolverine's own inner plight and to a number of fairly well-handled action scenes that stresses martial arts and swordplay over CGI-heavy mutant shenanigans.

This alone puts it far above Wolvie's last solo movie but there is always a sense that the film is holding back, never wanting to upset the censors enough to get more than a fairly insipid PG13 rating. Nowhere is this more obvious than when the film is at its most violent as all the slicing and dicing is weirdly bloodless, but the choice to include just the right amount of swear words to get the film that PG13 shows just how coldly calculated the entire thing is.

Still, overly commercial or not, the first two thirds of the film is generally really nicely played, strongly written, quite well paced and allows Hugh Jackman to once again do a very fine job in the lead role. And his supporting cast of mostly novice, even first-time Japanese actors more than pull their weight too.
Sadly, all the good work is undone by most of the third act. The story itself becomes unhinged as the film's earlier strong characterization is constantly compromised by moronic plot twists, pat epiphanies and an overdose of fairly rubbish CGI action. It feels like a completely different film to what had come before – and a significantly worse one at that.

The film is never quite as gritty, as adult or as interesting as it promises to be at the outset but it's only once we enter the final moments of the film when The Wolverine's cowardly kowtowing to formula that the film reveals just how predictable and safe it really is.

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