SNIKT: No Spoilers.
Right, let’s get one thing absolutely clear: the first solo Wolverine film, or to give it its full title: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was terrible. Arguably, second only to X-Men 3 (or X-Men: The Last Stand, depending on what side of the Atlantic you’re on) as being the worst X-Men film to date and it was not going to take much to do better.
And yet, what with early dicking about on the director front (we’ll come back to this later) and one of Marvel’s most ferocious characters being restrained enough to fit under a 12A rating, I stepped into the cinema with a touch of concern. I’d read a few (but not many) reviews, and early signs were good(ish); with an open mind, I sat down for The Wolverine.
For those that haven’t been paying attention, Wolverine is one of my all time favourite comic book characters. Wolverine #90 (Google it) was the first comic book I ever owned, and ever since he’s been my mainstay and anchor to the Marvel Universe. Fans of the comic books will know that the character has deep links with Japan, both in story and mythology, and so it follows that the land of the rising sun is the back drop for Hugh Jackman’s latest outing as the adamantium-clawed X-Man.
About Mr Jackman…
The Wolverine marks the sixth time the Aussie has played Logan and he has never looked better. Since seeing the film I’ve been revisiting the earlier X-Men films and it is, quite frankly, incredible how much bigger he is. How much more Logan he is. Swagger, confidence, ‘Bub‘, it’s there. He has never been more Wolverine and this is best take on the character to date. I’ll say it again: he is HUGE, and it works.
– Wolverine from The Wolverine could eat two Wolverines from X-Men for breakfast –
Back to the film…
Directed by James Mangold, The Wolverine picks up with our eponymous hero dealing with the fallout of the events of X-Men 3 – hiding away from the world, and himself. However, when an old friend from Japan comes calling to repay a favour, things just go from bad to worse.
I mentioned earlier about the directorial ‘issues’ that faced the film. James Mangold is a competent director – I really enjoyed his take on 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line is pretty darn good too – but the problem, or what I thought would be a problem, is that he’s no Darren Aronofsky.
Indulge me for a second, a couple of years ago Aronofsky was signed onto direct The Wolverine. I wrote at the time (during my 1400 word love letter to his film-making) something like:
As a character, Logan deals with many, many problems within; memory loss, heartache, blood lust, a constant battle with the feral side of his nature that he keeps locked up and away from the human race, a healing factor that, while keeping long term injury at bay, does not shield him from any pain he might endure…
This is what excites me.
These themes, these issues if you will, in the hands of Aronofsky are all ripe for his visceral style of film-making. In the very first X-Men film, Rogue asks Logan [about his claws]: “When they come out, does it hurt?” Logan’s response is almost muted through the pain he is so numbed to by now; “Every time.”
That one response. Those simple two words. They – to me at least – signify everything that could be great about an Aronofsky take on this flawed, yet supremely (anti-)heroic comic book character. The pain. The anguish. The day to day struggle with the ‘red mist’…
It was set to be unlike any ‘comic book film’ you had ever seen. And I was busting a gut to see it.
As history now tells us, Aronofsky did six months work on the film, then pulled. Citing not wanting to be apart from his family as his reasons, rumours were afoot that it was in fact ‘creative differences’ that led him to part ways with FOX (reluctant to put an R/18 rating against their golden goose)- and Mangold was brought in in his place.
It was hard to watch a film, knowing what might’ve been BUT – and this is a huge BUT – there are still elements of Aronofsky there. Hugh Jackman was a big champion of Darren’s work (having worked with him previously on The Fountain) and worked solidly with him to deliver a worthy vision for the second Wolverine film (and genuinely wanted to make it up to the fans post Origins), so it is with thanks to the film’s star that the quality of that original vision remains at the core.
— Wolverine // Claremont & Miller, 1982 —
Where were we? That’s right – THE FILM.
The Wolverine is not your traditional comic book film. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that The Wolverine is an action film. It’s a character study, really, of our hero – what makes him tick, how he works and, ultimately, how he reacts under pressure. We’ve not seen this character in this situation before and, especially so far away from home, it makes for an enjoyable watch.
There are a few missteps, of course there are, but they can be forgiven as The Wolverine really does reward as the Wolverine film we have been all waiting for. Who cares if it’s lacking in mutants? Ghostly apparitions from previous films don’t bother me either. All I can say is, by the time the credits roll, you’ll be left feeling that you’ve actually been shown the level at which all future Wolverine films should be set. It’s just a shame that a) we had to sit through Origins to get here (that aside, the book is one of the best damn things I’ve ever read – so you should get that, like now) and b) we lost out on seeing the Aronofsky take.
Ah well, there’s always next time…
In closing, out of the six X-Men universe films to date, I would put The Wolverine in at a close number two (just under First Class). By that measurement, that means you should go and see it – right away. Right?
PS. The mid-credits teaser is a doozy, definitely stay for that.
PPS: If you’re new to the X-Men franchise, which my plus one was, I strongly recommend watching the video below. Hell, even if you’re not new to the franchise, it’s still worth a watch. It’s funny, and it’s a decent refresher too.