You have to hand it to Hugh Jackman: he made the role of Logan/Wolverine his own back in Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000, and now, 13 years later, in his fifth appearance as the character (sixth if you include cameos), he’s still just as dedicated to the part. X-Men 2 has long been the high watermark in Fox’s X-Men series, based on the Marvel comic books, and it remains so by some distance, but that’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had in this sequel to the original trilogy.
New director James Mangold has wisely avoided most of the pitfalls that Wolverine’s previous solo outing fell into, stripping the mutant quotient down to just three (of which only Wolverine himself is really prominent), and moving the action to modern day Japan (via a flashback reconstruction of the Nagasaki atomic bombing). There’s an (almost) entirely new supporting cast, too; only Famke Jansen (as Jean Grey) reprises her role from the previous films in a few mercifully short dream sequences designed to give voice to Logan’s guilt following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand.
The story revolves around a dying Japanese businessman (whose life Logan saved in World War 2) getting back in touch, ostensibly to thank our hero for saving his life while he still has a chance. Things quickly get more complicated, and a touch contrived, after the setup. The plot is a bit choppy, but not uninteresting, and we follow Logan around Japan as he attempts to unravel a mystery surrounding a large corporation. Most of the time he’s accompanied by either Yoriko (Rila Fukushima), who becomes a bit of a sidekick, or new love interest Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who is tied to various plot threads.
The move to Japan brings a welcome change of aesthetic, if not pace, to proceedings, and while the changes are mostly cosmetic, most of the new supporting cast are welcome. Yoriko and Mariko are both pleasant company, vastly superior to any of the bland mutants in Origins, and give the film little flickers of life whenever it begins to get bogged down in plot machinations. Svetlana Khodchenkova, as poisonous mutant Viper, gets the toughest part, and is the least effective on the new roster, not least because she gets almost nothing to do until the film’s final act, which is when things get a bit silly and less focused. There’s another character tied to Viper that is also rather thinly drawn, and there are some plot revelations regarding them that fail to really ignite much interest, primarily because they’re left mostly off screen until right at the close.
If the film is a little unbalanced at times, the same cannot be said for Hugh Jackman’s performance as Logan. To an extent he’s re-treading old ground (albeit perfectly well), but that’s obviously part and parcel of doing a fifth starring performance as the same character. The film plays with the idea of Logan’s immortality, even stripping it away from him, and this is a sensible direction to take. It does create the unwanted side effect of making a fully powered-up Logan feel a bit like Superman at times, but the film concentrates on Logan’s internal struggle to compensate, with mostly effective results. Sure, the dream sequences are a bit heavy-handed, but they don’t stick around long enough to be a problem.
The action sequences are also pretty good. There are more humans on show here than we might expect from the franchise, so the spectacle is less fantastical (excepting the ending), but this is actually a plus. A bullet train sequence mid-way through is probably the standout, though there is also a nice sword fight while Logan is incapacitated.
So The Wolverine is uneven, and the plot doesn’t do enough with its villains to create much impact, but given how familiar we now are with the lead character, this is surprisingly easy to get along with. Jackman is still very much at home in the lead and refuses to sleepwalk throug h his scenes, and Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto are welcome additions to the cast. There’s an almighty tease mid-way through the credits, so Marvel fans will want to stick around.