Separating Hugh Jackman from his feral haired, metal boned alter ego is not an easy task. Hollywood’s nicest man by this point had played the bristly mutant four times over three X-Men movies and one poorly recieved origin story (actually five if you count his foul mouthed cameo in First Class) and he had even added Producer to his list of talents thereby proving his enduring love for the character. And yet his last couple of appearances hadn’t exactly made the grade; X-Men: The Last Stand was financially successful but slight on plot and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was basically a cluttered mess, could Jackman and co. add a healing factor to the quality of the flagging film series with a more mature approach?
After the explodey events of X-Men: The Last Stand left flame haired love Jean Grey utterly brown bread by his own claws, Wolverine has decided to do the most mature and sensible thing he can think of: live like a fucking hobo in the Canadian wilderness. His exile is blissfully uneventful – despite the odd territorial dispute with an old Grizzly and frequent bouts of guilt based nightmares – and not much occurs to interfere with his drinking, until a young, sword wielding Japanese girl going by the name Yukio turns up searching for him. Turns out in the past Wolverine was a POW in a Japanese internment camp not far off from ground zero of the atomic strike that levelled Nagasaki in 1945 and during the blast he saved a young officer called Yashima from certain death. Since then Yashima has become a prospering philanthropist in Japan but the ravages of age are draining the life from him so he’s summoned Wolverine to repay him for saving his life – by helping the mutant finally die and taking his healing factor in order to continue trying to make the world a better place. Wolverine, being Wolverine, refuses but instead finds himself drawn to Yashima’s granddaughter, Makiro who is in a power struggle with her father for the future of the company.
After a kidnapping attempt results with Wolverine unable to heal, he and Makiro go on the run and trying to stay ahead of a conspiracy that threatens to consume them both.
Writer/ director James Mangold and Jackman try hard to craft an actual story here, a retired, grizzled, gunslinger story grafted onto Japanese culture shock, a fish-out-of-water eastern-western if you will, and for the first two thirds of The Wolverine they succeed quite nicely keeping the tone as level as they can. The drama is strong and peppered with large, rousing, tent pole action sequences such as Logan slicing his way through attackers at a funeral, a Mission: Impossible style brawl on the top of a speeding bullet train and, on the directors cut blu ray, Wolverine wading through a gaggle of ninjas armed only with a cigar, his adimantium blades and a freaking snow plow.
However, it all unravels at the final hurdle with an incredibly derivative finale that’s just one continuous blue light in the sky short of compiling every single comic book movie staple in the genre, and all the character work the filmmakers tried so hard to stick to is thrown out just so Hugh Jackman can fight with a giant robot samurai while his sidekick tussles with a skin shedding mutant snake lady.
It all ends on rather an unsatisfactory note which is a shame considering that all involved were obviously trying to put out something different and a little more mature (refreshingly, the majority of the characters speak in their native tongue and are subtitled) but still had to pander to it’s rating.
Thankfully the team of Mangold and Jackman eventually nailed this formula in the far superior Logan, but The Wolverine remains a flawed, if honorable prototype to a far better idea than the finished product turned out to be. Wolverine going East, ironically ends up going South.