Suicide is painless – The Wolverine review

The Wolverine

By Simon Miraudo
July 22, 2013

When director James Mangold Tweeted the ten films that inspired The Wolverine, he dropped titles that would undeniably send shivers of excitement down the spines of his cineaste followers. They included Wong Kar Wai‘s Chungking Express, Roman Polanski‘s Chinatown, as well as westerns The Outlaw Josey Wales and Shane, among others. This, for his movie about an immortal mutant with a murderous appetite and killer sideburns. I don’t recall seeing one of those in Powell and Pressburger‘s nunnery drama Black Narcissus (also namechecked). Even if his inspirations were authentic, would they really pierce the veneer of a studio-sanctioned, $125 million tentpole? At the time, I was dubious there’d be any evidence of those classic influences in the final product. Having now actually seen his Wolverine, I’m pleased to have been proven wrong.

The Wolverine sees Hugh Jackman return for the sixth time as the title character (informally referred to as ‘Logan’), this time living off the land in the Alaskan wilderness. He’s scouted by the beguiling Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and summoned to Japan, where her dying employer, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), wishes to say farewell. Turns out Logan – back when he was a POW – saved him from the atom bomb. Almost sixty years later, Yashida wants to offer him something in return. Just as he was gifted with life during World War 2, he’d like to reward Wolverine with what he seeks most: death. The elderly Japanese mogul proposes Logan transfer his mutant powers over to him, so that he can live in perpetuity and continue to run his corporation, and Wolverine can finally pass away and be reunited with his late love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). An honourable death. That’s something Logan – and, until now, the X-Men franchise – could have only dreamed of.

The Wolverine

Jackman wanders the streets of Tokyo dressed in a plain black shirt, black pants, and sensible shoes, as if he were the befuddled lead character in Oldboy rather than a legendary Marvel comic hero. From the opening moments to the last, he dreams of the sweet release of death. The possibility of suicide is floated by several of the protagonists. A contemplative trip to the site of the 1945 Nagasaki atomic bombing is a reminder to Logan that, “Everything finds peace.” This picture’s predecessor – X-Men Origins: Wolverine ­– had an extended, wacky, interminable sequence in which he was forced to box The Blob for reasons I do not recall (nor do I care to Google). Things have certainly changed.

The Wolverine is by far the best of the series; a compliment that comes with a massive caveat: I’m not a fan of what’s come before. Nonetheless, not only does this work as an X-Men movie, but it also works as a movie all on its lonesome. Assisted by an almost-entirely Japanese cast, and flanked by particularly strong performances from both Fukushima and Tao Okamoto (as Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko), the talented Jackman finally has a legitimately compelling character arc to sink his claws into. It’s telling that this is the first superhero flick to be penned by screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback, and Scott Frank, so willing are they to indulge and investigate the darkest, most self-destructive impulses of their fascinating subject. Even Mangold, a once-promising indie filmmaker turned studio ringer, seems revitalised by this project. Though not much of a personal stamp has been left here (certainly not as prominent as what Darren Aronofsky, who abandoned ship back in 2011, would have imprinted), it’s an entertaining vehicle with plenty of deft, emotional beats.

The Wolverine

Prepare for a quiet, thoughtful affair. Sure, there’s one very amusing stop-start fight scene set atop a bullet train, and a late, stunningly staged samurai sword fight, but this is primarily an internal struggle for Logan. The last act makes way for a predictable and unimaginative denouement, at the kind of generic laboratory where we’ve seen so many of these things wrap-up. Yet, it can’t undo the good that comes before. Besides the inclusion of Svetlana Khodchenkova‘s Viper – a Poison Ivy-esque villainess who only comes into play in the unfortunate finale – The Wolverine makes few missteps.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

The Wolverine arrives in Australian cinemas July 24, 2013.

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