For a superhero that is apparently supposed to live forever, ‘The Wolverine’ (Hugh Jackman) is starting to look pretty haggard. It has been two years since Jackman reprised his role as the adamantium clawed renegade, but with at least five extra bags under his eyes and what is surely a CGI modified chest, it might as well have been a decade. Both Jackman and The Wolverine aren’t getting any younger. Director James Mangold (3:10 To Yuma) clearly understands this because his haphazard, hectic narrative plays like an action packed midlife crisis instead of a youthful summer blockbuster.
The saddest character in the X-Men Universe has gone through a lot since we last saw him in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” Internally, Logan is still emotionally distraught from killing his lost love interest Jean (Famke Janssen). On the outside, the character has relocated to the desolate American wilderness where hunting and hunters are the norm. Nothing about Logan’s past or current situation is very cheerful. His daily activities include hanging out with grizzly bears, lamenting his past mistakes during torrential downpours, and beating up local outdoorsmen.
Logan at his darkest ironically coincides with Mangold’s finest directing. Tapping back into the barren mind, body, and landscape that helped his “3:10 To Yuma” back in 2007, Mangold uses the bleak, twisted tundra to show Logan at his lowest state without burdening the audience with mindless exposition and backstory. When The Wolverine stabs a poisoned tip arrow through a drunk hunter, the audience cannot help but squirm with unexpected satisfaction. A traditional super-hero would never do that, but The Wolverine is far from traditional. The former X-Man is an unpredictable loose cannon, and when he is shown behaving as such, infuses the character with a human dynamic.
Unfortunately, The Wolverine doesn’t get to operate as a rogue hero for very long. After being tracked down and cajoled into visiting a long lost friend in Japan, Logan finds himself unintentionally put in charge of the safety of Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the heiress to the Yashida family fortune.
Whereas Logan had eternity to ponder each and every decision he made while being holed up in the woods, the superhero isn’t given time to process anything after landing in Japan. He runs, he fights, and due to an anti-mutant robot chip, he finally feels the crippling effects of exhaustion. While there are a few enjoyable action sequences, especially one that involves knives and a bullet train hurtling at over 300 mph, Mangold’s decision to limit the screen time given to Logan’s reflexive nature is a bad one. The audience doesn’t care that the robot chip in Logan’s heart now lets him feel the effects of a bullet. The mutant still has giant claws and a body full of metal. Internally, however, Logan isn’t so different from us. We feel bad about his past hardships and losses just like he does. Sadly, as the movie progresses, this human aspect is lost to the audience.
In its place, is a solid two hours of convoluted comic book gobbledygook. The third act is especially messy, with a never-ending collage of backstabbing, Iron Man suit rip-offs, and pointless plot twists.
Even at 45, Hugh Jackman can clearly still hold his own in a fight. The decision to tell a darker story taken from Chris Claremont’s 1980s Wolverine versus Yashida storyline is also a great decision. What doesn’t work, however, is the mindless buffet of comic book clichés “The Wolverine” subjects itself too as the narrative progresses. Just like an employee that never lives up to his or her potential, “The Wolverine” settles for middle-management mediocrity.
By David Morris