Although it’s impossible to give a biography of any big comic character, due to reboots and reimaginings and resurrections and them just plain forgetting their own backstory (see if you can read the Wikipedia page about his history without your eyes glazing over at least a few times), Wolverine has always had links to Japan. So to set a Wolverine movie there, in a place other than a big city with lots of buildings to blow up, already sounds more interesting than “X Men Origins: Wolverine” and “X-3”.
After the problems at the end of X-3, which was seven years ago so fair play for them to even remember what had gone on, Wolverine left the X-Men and went to live in the Canadian wilderness, occasionally coming into a small village to buy a few beers. Thanks to a bear he sort-of befriended, a chain of events starts that leads him to Japan, to say goodbye to the Japanese officer he saved at the end of WW2 when one of the nuclear weapons hit. That guy is now the CEO of Japan’s biggest corporation and is terminally ill, but he’s been spending like it’s going out of fashion to save his own life.
Wolverine gets himself involved in the struggles between the family members to take over the corporation, with involvement from a mysterious ninja-like group, the Yakuza and supervillain The Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova, who plays evil very well). The cast is very strong, with a few faces you’ll probably recognise – Hiroyuki Sanada (Lost, Helix, Revenge) and Brian Tee chief among them; and the women new to Western audiences are great too.
Best of all, though, is Famke Janssen as Wolverine’s great love Jean Grey. She’s been dead in the films for some time, so appears to Wolverine in dreams, and her performance is just amazing – taking a character from the comics I never really cared that much about and turning her into a really strong force. She represents Wolverine’s tiredness with immortality and longing to end it all, and adds a huge factor to his character too.
The fight scenes are extraordinary, every bit the equal of any great martial arts movie you could name, and they look great too. It definitely benefits from not being the same as the other Marvel films – the stakes in this aren’t world domination or countless lives, they’re personal, and for that reason there’s a million different ways the film could end (apart from Wolverine dying, of course, because he shows up in the next film). In fact, you could say this film has more in common with Bourne than the X-Men.
Okay, it’s not perfect. Asking yourself “who does that character actually work for?” about one or two of the main “villains” will leave you scratching your head, and the twist at the end is so telegraphed they may as well have not had it in there at all. But it looks great, James Mangold as director should have been hired for the previous Wolverine film too because he nails the character perfectly, and Huge Jacked Man is so good as the character that you can’t believe anyone else could ever play him.
Rating: thumbs up