The Wolverine ★★★★

James Mangold has been promoting his take on The Wolverine as something very different from the usual CBM, comparing it to classic movies as diverse and interesting as The Outlaw Josey Wales and Black Narcissus. He's promised us a unique superhero experience, hinting at inner turmoil and conflict as opposed to the usual "big bad" formula -- and, for the most part, that's what he's delivered.

The Wolverine does have some obvious connections to past (and future) X-Men movies but basically this is a standalone story. Based (at times very loosely) on Chris Claremont's "Japan Saga", we find Logan living in the Canadian mountains; a tortured, violent man still haunted by the death of his beloved Jean Grey. When a group of hunters leave an animal to die in pain he ventures back into civilization to take revenge, only to encounter Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who convinces him to travel to Japan to say goodbye to a man who's life he saved many years before. From here Logan becomes embroiled in the saga of the Yashida family, and all of the corruption and political intrigue that comes along with it.

It's been said before and I'll have to reiterate: This does play out very like a Bond movie; only if 007 was re-imagined as a tortured mutant killing machine with razor sharp claws. There are other mutants in the story, but this is pretty much an "ordinary" drama with an extraordinary character at its center. If that sounds in any way boring, trust me it is not! The action is obviously not on the same scale as something like The Avengers or Man Of Steel (and that's a welcome change) but by narrowing the scope it arguably becomes more exciting and involving -- in this one, you feel there are really things at stake. The Bullet Train scrap has been the focus of the marketing and while it is an awesome set piece, there is some equally incredible sword play; a highlight being a brutal battle between Logan and Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada).

Mangold directs with an assured hand, and some of his influences are brilliantly apparent -- listen out for the harmonica creeping into the soundtrack; surely a nod to Once Upon A Time In The West. He also infuses the plot with quite a bit (but crucially, never too much!) of unexpected humor, much of it stemming from some excellent one-liners from Logan. You might say Hugh Jackman could play this role in his sleep at this stage, but believe me this is his best outing as Wolverine yet, and he's got some fine support too. The standout is definitely the adorable Rila Fukushima as Yukio -- the closest thing Logan has had to a big screen sidekick so far. Will Yun Lee (Harada), Tao Okamoto (Mariko) and Hiroyuki Sanada all do good work but their roles are a little underwritten. If there's a weak link it has to be Svetlana Khodchenkova ..or rather her character, Viper. This hissing creature serves the story but otherwise seems dropped in from a different movie, and unfortunately the final act follows suit.

After such a great build up, The Wolverine does descend into the usual high-tech super-heroics with Logan and "The Silver Samurai" falling all over the place while hacking lumps out of each other. There's nothing necessarily WRONG with how any of this is shot or performed etc, it's just so jarring given the thoughtful, quieter movie that preceded it. Things do get back on track somewhat though, with a nice final shot and a doozy of a mid-credits sequence which you will not want to spoil for yourself.

Full of heart, grit and fun; The Wolverine is sure to delight fans of the character (particularity Jackman's take obviously!) and there are moments that will have them almost standing up to cheer. It's let down a bit by a lazy finale, but what does work works so well it actually almost completely makes up for it. The Wolverine movie we've been waiting for? I'm not sure -- but it definitely takes a damn good stab at it.