James Mangold’s “X-Men” spin-off, with its Japan-doused libretto and tales of multi-generational family war, could easily have been “Karate Kid II” but thanks to a swift crane kick that emerges near as soon as the Fox logo dissolves, the filmmaker gives us comic book cinema’s “Karate Kid”.
With it’s amazing production design, slick direction, and a return to form hairball front-and-center, the filmmaker sweeps the legs off any preconceived notion that we’ve enough ”X-Men Origins : Wolverine” (2009) on our hands, and fairly quickly.
Almost a do-over of the Wolverine solo story – brushing over much of the events in the snail-snow and atrociously hackneyed prequel – the tight, fun and tonally-rich actioner takes everyone’s favourite X-Man (Hugh Jackman, in what’s unarguably his most enthused and entertaining turn as Wolverine since the second ”X-Men” movie about a decade ago) to Tokyo, where he’s summoned to say ‘goodbye’ to an old friend he met in his War days.
Logan aka The Wolverine is in the harsh John Rambo-ready wilderness – teaching hunters a lesson – when the long-suffering muscular mutant is greeted by a funky-haired foreigner named Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who wants him to return to Japan with her so he can say goodbye to Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), the dying billionaire whose life Wolverine saved years before in the War.
When Wolverine arrives in Tokyo he’s confronted with a strange request from Yashida – he take Wolverine’s immortality and ‘curse’ off his hands – which sets a twisty, tense and sometimes affecting journey into motion that encompasses everything from multi-generational family clashes to a ‘Bodyguard’-esque subplot involving Yashida’s acquiescent granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).
Based on a celebrated comic book arc, this chapter of Wolverine’s story combines the world of the superhero avenger with a complex, fish-out-of-water yarn that results in a movie that’s much easier to compare to something like Ridley Scott’s “Black Rain” (with Wolverine the brooding, bad-ass Michael Douglas character who takes on the Yakuza solo) than it is fellow Summer superhero jaunt “Man of Steel”. But for the sake of answering what’s sure to be an often-asked question, yep, Wolverine’s second solo film is indeed better than the Superman comeback. But yes, it’s also “Black Rain”.
And look, it’s nowhere near as dark, nor is it as as good a film as any of the chapters in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, but “The Wolverine” strives to be the deepest, most faithful interpretation of the Marvel comics character to date. And with it’s very engaging storyline, Jackman’s immersive, fun turn as the character (some of his line delivery here is just gold!), and some amazingly choreographed stunt sequences (the ‘bullet train’ fight sequence is a sight to behold!) it near succeeds in its plight to be Logan’s finest, most captivating moment on film, too. While that honour might still belong to “X-Men” and its sequel “X2″, there’s more good than bad here – the finale, which resorts to something not only a bit silly but feels a little ‘seen it before… last Summer’, could’ve been better – and through their enthused efforts, Mangold (”3:10 to Yuma”, ”Copland”) and his team have breathed new life into the cinematic journals of a character some were ready to give up on after his last shitsnooze of a solo film.