James Mangold’s “The Wolverine” — the sixth installment in the X-Men franchise — hits theaters on July 26. Critics are all over the map on this Japan-set entry; Variety calls the film “smart… and surprisingly existential” and praises jacked lead Hugh Jackman for being in top form, while the Telegraph claims the film is coming five years too late in the superhero film craze: “It affects a pubescent snarl.” More review highlights below.
Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma”) has named Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown,” Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s “Black Narcissus,” William Friedkin’s “The French Connection” and Yasujiro Ozu’s “Floating Weeds” among his inspirations for making “The Wolverine.” Our Comic-Con interview with him is here.
The Marvel team has recast the Incredible Hulk three times
in recent years, but when it comes to their most popular hothead, Wolverine,
there’s only one actor fit to wear the claws: Hugh Jackman returns for his
sixth screen appearance as the adamantium-reinforced superhero in James
Mangold’s smart, Japan-set “The Wolverine,” an entertaining and surprisingly
existential digression from his usual X-Men exploits. Though Wolvie comes
across a bit world-weary and battle-worn by now, Jackman is in top form, taking
the opportunity to test the character’s physical and emotional extremes.
Director James Mangold brings a furrowed-brow solemnity to
the comic-book world of The Wolverine, the sixth big-screen outing for Marvel’s
blade-fisted antihero and one that scratches and claws against the law of
diminishing returns always destined to beset the splintering X-Men franchise.
As a follow-up of sorts to an origin story spun off from a trilogy, Fox’s 3D
summer tentpole is, despite its obvious ambition, hardly a game-changer. Coming
on the heels of the woebegone shambles that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which
still managed to earn more than $373 million worldwide), it is, however, a step
forward for Hugh Jackman’s scowly, mutton-chopped mutant, who here finds
himself wrestling with his inner demons and a cavalcade of ninjas and inked-up
yakuza in modern-day Japan.
We’re now at a point where the franchise has been snicked
into strands so twisted from each other that its getting tough to trace the
genealogy. The flat hammerblows of The Wolverine bear little relation to the
zing and pop of Matthew Vaughn’s colourful treatment. Inconsistency is
inevitable in a world that’s constantly being dug up and done over, but it
leaves us no time to fall in love with anything being flung at us. Heroes
wander in, heroes wander out. Wolverine – the indestrucible centrepiece of the
buffet’s spread – isn’t waning, but our interest is. Here a superhero strives
to be ordinary. As Marvel continues to claw the character’s mystique away, he’s
starting to get his wish.
Sadly, the embrace of Japanese culture feels often
skin-deep, a superficial whisk through a checklist of clichés. There’s an
(admittedly very funny) awkward visit to a love hotel with Mariko as they go on
the run; Logan struggles to come to grips with chopsticks like a gaijin fool;
and he keeps being told he’s a ronin, a samurai without a master. Yet there’s
no sense his experiences have much of an impact — by the end he’s as
authentically Japanese as YO! Sushi. Just a shame he doesn’t show up at a karaoke
bar — we reckon Logan has serious pipes.
Sorry, but didn’t superhero films outgrow all of this five
or so years ago? Where is the quicksilver wit and lightness of touch of the
Avengers and Iron Man films, or the formal ambition of Christopher Nolan’s
Batman trilogy? The previous X-Men film, First Class, was secure enough in its
own skin to embrace its comic side. Mangold’s picture affects a pubescent snarl
instead: that’s the difference between comic and daft.
True, there’s probably one too many scenes of steel striking
adamantium. But the 3D-assisted action is never less than spectacular, notably
during a Kurosawa-flavoured ambush that sees Wolverine turned by arrows into a
mutant pin-cushion. Another plus is Svetlana Khodchenkova (from Tinker Tailor
Soldier Spy) as a sexy vixen who spits venom, licks like a lizard and casually
discards her skin like last season’s fashions.