The Wolverine ★★★

I’ve prepared a few quick notes before I really dig in.

A note to ninjas: You’d get wherever it is you need to be a whole lot faster if you didn’t feel the need to do a twisting flip between every step.

A note to villains: You may be able to excrete poisonous acid and moult, but if you have no clear reason for being part of a story, let’s just stay home, m’kay?

A note to giant samurai robots: Really?

While the plot and (most) character development in this film is infinitely more coherent than in the abomination that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it’s still more convoluted than necessary, and it’s not without its share of gimmicky devices. Although typical of X-Men universe films, there’s an attempt to shoehorn in one too many characters, however in this case it’s actually closer to one too many than dozens too many. Interestingly, the only character that feels utterly redundant in a mutant superhero film is actually the only other mutant in the film: a woman named Viper, who expresses absolutely zero motivation or rationale for her involvement in the course of vents. The film does a great job of introducing Logan, the hero, as a nuanced character injected into a story about culture and family such that it really isn’t necessary to even have any other mutants forced into it. Because this really isn’t a story about mutants - it’s a story about Logan and his connection to a family with competing intentions.

The pacing is a little boggy towards the middle of the film, which slows down sharply following the first act's closing set piece, involving an angry Wolverine mowing through Yakuza (easily the best action sequence of the film). But the slowness of the film does allow for the development of a more vulnerable Logan - both emotionally and physically - lending the largest opportunity for Hugh Jackman to demonstrate his abilities than we’ve yet seen for this character. It also allows for the development of a sidekick character in Yukio, who I found completely under-utilized and poorly conceived - after demonstrating an insane amount of combat talent in the first act, she somehow loses much of this talent gradually as the film progresses. We also see a new love interest for our titular hero in Mariko, but one which never really gains full traction despite having a few moments of genuine connection.

Like many summer action blockbusters, success or failure is firmly rooted in the final act battle, and this film is no exception. It’s a rather poorly orchestrated set piece and there’s quite a lot happening that remains unclear. What is clear is that there is no shortage of trump cards up the writers’ sleeves, however the reliance on them to keep our attention in films like this has become arduous at best. Meanwhile, Logan’s love interest Mariko just, well, stands around completely un-utilized while a tertiary character continues to swap allegiances seemingly arbitrarily. It all makes for pretty sloppy storytelling but, fortunately, at least has clearly-shot action.

The Wolverine is another ho-hum instalment of a franchise that struggles to put out decent products. I was entertained, and there's enough here that's good to keep my interest, but it's not what it could have been. As one of the few Marvel - and indeed, comic book - universes that I grew up with and found a connection with, it’s an ongoing shame to see so many fantastic X-Men story arcs and characters poorly delivered. It’s refreshing to see a character like Wolverine fleshed out in a deserved manner, but it’s disappointing to watch yet another story built around even a well-portrayed character when it can’t live up to its potential.