In the opening sequence of Bryan Singer's X-Men as the young Jewish Eric (later Magneto) is unceremoniously separated from his parents, his pain manifests in revelatory mutant abilities. Warping steel, rain pouring down and the defiant outstretched arm contrasts the inhumanity of the Nazi antagonists; that single sublime moment heralded the arrival of a grown-up comic book cinema. The Wolverine begins with a suitably cataclysmic moment as Japanese solider Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee) is rescued from the Nagasaki atomic blast by a special prisoner of war. Moving away from the iconically U.S landscape and toward the brutal, loneliness of the character shreds away the stain of Wolverine Origins & The Last Stand and gives our favourite adamantium skeleton-ed mutant the film that he and we deserve.
It's been five years since the events of X-Men: The Last Stand and Logan/The Wolverine's (Jackman) extinguished the torch of the Dark Phoenix (Famke Janssen), the twisted evil that his love Jean Grey had become. When a figure from Logan's past requests his presence beside his deathbed, he's plucked from his intentional exile in the Canadian wilderness and dropped into Japan to contend with the buzzards swarming around his terminal friend. His presence and healing powers gain the interest of mysterious scientist (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
Amidst the assault of reboots and sequels, two films stand out for me as exemplary franchise 'resets'; Skyfall and Iron Man 3. When you look at Quantum of Solace or Iron Man 2, you're looking at franchise missteps. In comparison to their predecessors Casino Royale or Iron Man (near perfect films) they're vastly inferior. The success of the reset though is in part of an implicit acknowledgement of the mistakes of those sequels and fundamentally understanding why/how the perennial characters work. Ratner well and truly 'ratner-ed' The Last Stand and Origins diluted what should have been a stand-alone, focused prelude to the character by trying to retread X-Men, only darker. This is finally a film about the Wolverine (and just the Wolverine). His near immortality is a gateway to great stories throughout the ages, and his warrior impulse draws him to humanity's defining moments. Screen-writers Mark Bomback, Scott Frank and Christopher McQuarrie bring us to a warrior at the end of this tether. His final sacrifice play in The Last Stand, taking down his love for the sake of humanity has left him broken. He's suppressing all of his natural inclinations to get back into the fray. They do a great job of beginning as a shell of the once iconic character before shucking it.
Just as Stan Lee's little cameo said at the end of The Avengers, "superheroes in New York, give me a break." It's been a relentless showcase of Marvel characters originating from New York (or the greater U.S), so there's something exceptionally fresh about the unfamiliar Japanese setting. Director James Mangold's resume (Knight and Day, 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) demonstrates his ability to helm big projects and equally big egos but make them feel focused and intimate. The action is bone-jarringly fierce, with the main highlight being Logan going katana to claw with Hiroyuki Sanada's Shingen Yashida; but Mangold breaks your brain with the mind blowing recreation of the Nagasaki atomic explosion.
Jackman has never been better as Logan. His age is the unquantifiable element that weathers and humanises the long living, warrior. And in a story that strips away his invulnerability, Jackman plays the awakening to pain as a reawakening to humanity. Rila Fukushima's pre-cog Yukio does good side-kick/guide into this unfamiliar world.
There's a few fleeting characters that flesh out some of the conspiratorial elements surrounding his old friend's passing that are there to progress the main plot and nothing more. Jackman could read the phone book as this character so any time you're not with him, you're yearning for him to be back on screen.
The Wolverine earns its 'self-title' and following X-Men First Class, proves that 20th Century Fox's own phase two is ready to bear it's boney claws and tangle with Marvel.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Mark Bomback and Scott Frank & Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, Famke Janssen and Hiroyuki Sanada
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Released on 25 July 2013