The sixth instalment in the X-Men franchise, and the second to focus squarely on the eponymous clawed mutant hero, The Wolverine sees director James Mangold assume the reigns and deliver a decidedly more muted and classically-styled film. It’s a brave move that results in a more relatable story, yet one that’s ultimately let down by the unconvincing amalgamation of styles, questionable performances and an all-too stretched run time.
With the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) still haunting him, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has found solace as a hermit living in the mountains of Canada. Real life catches up on him, however, when he’s tracked down by red-haired assassin (Rila Fukushima) and brought to Japan to settle an old debt with a former acquaintance. Here, he finds himself embroiled in a long-running feud and is once more forced on the run.
Based in part on Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s 1982 comic book arc, The Wolverine adopts an intimate narrative that sees our hero forced to look into himself and find a sense of peace after the nightmarish events of X-Men: The Last Stand have left him internally scarred and in doubt of his self and his powers. This creates an almost retrained, character-driven feel that’s refreshing in the world of big-scale, explosive comic book adaptations.
This soon becomes comprised, however, after the first act when the action takes over and other plot threads cause the narrative to expand and veer off into less interesting territory (Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper is perhaps the most uninteresting villain ever). What starts out as a piece about a man’s inner struggles, descends quickly into the very thing it seems to what to avoid becoming: a standard, run-of-the-mill Hollywood blockbuster with a clunky script and silly, unnecessary action.
It’s a film that struggles to know what it wants to be, and ultimately ruins itself trying to determine its place. Mangold, a director whose achieved both successes and disappointments in his varied career, blends several styles and tones together – from contemplative samurai film to full-on suspense thriller and everything in between – to dizzying effect, and creates something disorientating and distracting, rather than something that’s unique.
Luckily, all is not completely lost, and The Wolverine is saved by some inspired early scenes and a compelling performance from Jackman, who has never been so strong, able and in the zone as Wolverine as he is here. It’s a role he’s matured with, and the narrative seems a good fit in bringing out Jackman and the characters strength, which only makes the fact that it’s so inconsistent and, after all has been said and done, stale.