Review by Jeff Ames
The "X-Men" films follow an unfortunate trend: none of them know how to end.
Built more like dramas with heavy political commentary than comic book extravaganzas, the X-flicks featured plenty of show stopping moments (most in Bryan Singer's standout sequel, "X2: X-Men United"), but always felt lacking in terms of overall enjoyment.
Each film feels like a precursor to something grander, except they never reach the ultimate destination. (Imagine if "The Dark Knight" had simply followed in "Batman Begins'" footsteps and continued to tease the possibilities rather than explore the world Christopher Nolan created. Yeah, kinda like that.)
With "The Wolverine," director James Mangold demonstrates a surprising proficiency at handling one of Marvel’s most popular characters, and nearly pulls off what could easily have been the best “X-Men” film to date, but botches the ending so horribly you wonder if another director didn’t take his place for the final act.
Hugh Jackman returns as the titular hero, his first venture in the role after the disastrous “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (not counting his brief cameo in “X-Men: First Class”). The story follows the finale of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” following a grief stricken Logan who now roams the wilderness with bears. He mourns for Jean Gray (Famke Janssen), who he killed in the last go round and now haunts his dreams with lots of, ahem, cleavage.
Logan is tracked by a spunky, pink-haired teen named Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who drags him to Tokyo to meet with a man called Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), whose life Wolverine saved during the Nagasaki bombings at the end of World War II.
Yashida’s life is fading quickly. The old man needs Logan’s healing powers, and offers him a chance to give up the “curse” of immortality in exchange for a normal life.
It’s a unique concept, for sure. And the opportunity to see Logan sans his mutant-healing ability offers a welcome change of pace for the unstoppable hero. Mangold and Jackman have fun stretching Wolverine’s physical limits, never hesitating to blast his body full of holes – apparently Jackman’s face is off limits since the gun-toting baddies never aim higher than the chest – and even give the man a chance to sit down and catch his ****** (“I’m tired,” he says after performing some manual labor).
For the first two acts, which largely focus on Logan’s decent into mortality, “The Wolverine” offers a nifty examination of the man behind the claws, providing him an engaging love interest (the beautiful Tao Okamoto), and a healthy slew of slick set pieces.
Unfortunately, the last act reverses all that came before, filled to the brim with giant samurai robots, a bald chick, and gaps in logic. Where early action scenes featured Wolverine squaring off in realistic locations, the finale serves up an environment akin to those found in “X-Men Origins,” replete with goofy technology and forced circumstances.
It’s not enough to completely derail the production – believe me the film is worth checking out – but a film that displayed so much promise early on deserved a much grander conclusion. (Thankfully, a memorable post-credit scene rights the ship, sending viewers away on a positive note.)
Jackman continues to serve the Wolverine well, even if he has yet to truly personify the character’s spirit. His ripped-as-FUH body reveals a keen dedication to the role (his sixth outing), but, aside from “X2’s” famous mansion sequence, has yet to unleash the beast within.
No doubt the studio continues to dial the violence back in order to keep the character likeable. Wolverine is the face of the franchise after all.
Still, these are comic book adaptations. Where’s the excitement? The thrill of seeing Wolverine and the X-Men in combat?
We live in an age where a film adaptation of “The Avengers” exists; where Superman leveled cities; where Batman got his back snapped on a theater screen. At this point, there’s no excuse for any studio to unveil a lackluster comic book film. And yet, Twentieth Century Fox continues to offer up cheap productions more concerned with opening weekend box office than overall quality.
For that reason, I fear we may never see a truly great X-Men film so long as the rights remain out of Marvel’s grasp.
"The Wolverine" trailer is exclusive property of 20th Century Fox and is used purely for promotional purposes.