Mangold ("Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma") has named Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "Black Narcissus," William Friedkin's "The French Connection" and Yasujiro Ozu's "Floating Weeds" among his inspirations for making "The Wolverine." Our Comic-Con interview with him is here.
The Marvel team has recast the Incredible Hulk three times in recent years, but when it comes to their most popular hothead, Wolverine, there’s only one actor fit to wear the claws: Hugh Jackman returns for his sixth screen appearance as the adamantium-reinforced superhero in James Mangold’s smart, Japan-set “The Wolverine,” an entertaining and surprisingly existential digression from his usual X-Men exploits. Though Wolvie comes across a bit world-weary and battle-worn by now, Jackman is in top form, taking the opportunity to test the character’s physical and emotional extremes.
Director James Mangold brings a furrowed-brow solemnity to the comic-book world of The Wolverine, the sixth big-screen outing for Marvel’s blade-fisted antihero and one that scratches and claws against the law of diminishing returns always destined to beset the splintering X-Men franchise. As a follow-up of sorts to an origin story spun off from a trilogy, Fox’s 3D summer tentpole is, despite its obvious ambition, hardly a game-changer. Coming on the heels of the woebegone shambles that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which still managed to earn more than $373 million worldwide), it is, however, a step forward for Hugh Jackman’s scowly, mutton-chopped mutant, who here finds himself wrestling with his inner demons and a cavalcade of ninjas and inked-up yakuza in modern-day Japan.
We're now at a point where the franchise has been snicked into strands so twisted from each other that its getting tough to trace the genealogy. The flat hammerblows of The Wolverine bear little relation to the zing and pop of Matthew Vaughn's colourful treatment. Inconsistency is inevitable in a world that's constantly being dug up and done over, but it leaves us no time to fall in love with anything being flung at us. Heroes wander in, heroes wander out. Wolverine – the indestrucible centrepiece of the buffet's spread – isn't waning, but our interest is. Here a superhero strives to be ordinary. As Marvel continues to claw the character's mystique away, he's starting to get his wish.
Sadly, the embrace of Japanese culture feels often skin-deep, a superficial whisk through a checklist of clichés. There’s an (admittedly very funny) awkward visit to a love hotel with Mariko as they go on the run; Logan struggles to come to grips with chopsticks like a gaijin fool; and he keeps being told he’s a ronin, a samurai without a master. Yet there’s no sense his experiences have much of an impact — by the end he’s as authentically Japanese as YO! Sushi. Just a shame he doesn’t show up at a karaoke bar — we reckon Logan has serious pipes.
Sorry, but didn’t superhero films outgrow all of this five or so years ago? Where is the quicksilver wit and lightness of touch of the Avengers and Iron Man films, or the formal ambition of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy? The previous X-Men film, First Class, was secure enough in its own skin to embrace its comic side. Mangold’s picture affects a pubescent snarl instead: that’s the difference between comic and daft.
True, there’s probably one too many scenes of steel striking adamantium. But the 3D-assisted action is never less than spectacular, notably during a Kurosawa-flavoured ambush that sees Wolverine turned by arrows into a mutant pin-cushion. Another plus is Svetlana Khodchenkova (from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as a sexy vixen who spits venom, licks like a lizard and casually discards her skin like last season’s fashions.