Set an undefined period after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, our hero, the Wolverine of the title, or Logan to his friends, is suffering. He is a haunted man, camping out in isolation in the woods at an unspecified location with only a massive beard, memories of Jean Grey wearing next to nothing and a terribly fake grizzly bear to keep him company. His promise to ghost negligee clad Jean to never kill again falls apart within minutes when hunters fatally wound his fake grizzly bear friend and he is ‘forced’ to take violent action them. That is until Yukio, a mysterious mutant with the gloriously unuseful ability to foresee people’s deaths, steps in and asks him to return to Japan with her so her boss, Yashida, an extremely powerful man who Logan saved during the Nagasaki bombing in the Second World War, can say goodbye. Logan reluctantly returns to Japan, but gets more than he could have bargained for when the old man dies and he begins to lose his ability to regenerate.
Hugh Jackman has always been brilliant as the unpredictable, emotionally damaged yet witty anti-hero with a tendency to think with his claws rather than his brain. There is no doubt that Jackman’s version of the popular Marvel character has won over legions of fans thanks to his outcast status, and mutant-on-the-edge persona and a lot of that had to do with his humour; his refusal to play by the rules. This film shows Wolverine at his worst and least interesting. He has become a killing machine in a humour vacuum and whilst the story is better than the character’s previous outing, this is very much by the book film making. Without any other mutants, Wovlerine has no one to gently push the boundaries with. The line he teetered on between good and evil in the original trilogy has been crossed and we find him firmly on the side of the good guys, making for an extremely dull lead and taking away what made the character so popular in the first place. This is a darker Wolverine, with elements of the troubled warrior now so prevalent after the success of The Dark Knight.
Sadly, The Wolverine does not have the script to pull off such a dark turn. Clichés abound, in both dialogue and plot. Romantic interests brew out of nowhere, characters are evil one minute, then good the next, and there is no one ultimate villain to draw the audience into the fight. The lack of humour is particularly obvious when Wolverine loses his regeneration abilities as part of a convoluted plot point. This makes him human for a while, forcing him to cope with the possibility of mortality. In one scene he finds himself hacking away at a tree and without his mutant strength struggles with fatigue. Rather than focussing on this humanising aspect though, the film instead makes this a romantic and clichéd moment which feels very much like a lost opportunity.
For many the reason to see The Wolverine will be for its fight scenes, and there are some fairly spectacular sequences, with one on the roof of a bullet train being the big set piece. However, it is really quite difficult to tell what is going on in most fight scenes in cinema today and this is no different. When one cannot see what is going on when two people are fighting on a stationary platform, the audience has not got a hope of figuring out what is going on when the battle is atop a train travelling at 200 miles an hour. As men and women tumble about in a blur, the audience has to wait patiently for the death cry of the evil guy so we can move swiftly on to the next set piece we cannot see.
Ultimately though, this film is enjoyable if forgettable. The plot has tried to be clever with an invisible bad guy and ambiguous minions carrying out orders to an undefined end, but the script just does not have the depth to carry it off; the ending is too transparent and the payoff underwhelming. The cast does what it can with the little screen time they have and an uninspiring and unoriginal script, but ultimately it is quite hard to care about any of them. The finale features a giant, seemingly unvanquishable, robot, a bad guy which almost every blockbuster since the Matrix seems to desperately need.
Jackman is a brilliant screen presence and does a wonderful job, as always, of playing the troubled Logan, but he has now been playing the character for 14 years and whilst The Wolverine may never age, Jackman definitely will. Time is against him and with seemingly little left to give it may well be time to retract and retire those claws.