The Wolverine review: Superhero with clipped claws

Cinema still: The Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman

SINGAPORE - Movie Review

THE WOLVERINE (PG13) - Acy

120 minutes/In Cinemas/2.5 Stars

The story: Logan (Hugh Jackman) finds himself in Japan and meets Yashida (Hal Yamaouchi), whose life Logan saved during World War II. In the present day, Logan is a forest hermit.

He is approached by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to travel to Tokyo to see Yashida, now the head of Asia's most powerful company. Once there, he finds himself embroiled in a succession struggle involving Yashida's son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the Yakuza and a creature known as the Silver Samurai.

Imagine Clint Eastwood at the height of his get-off-my-lawn grumpiness, with knives for fists, 30 years younger and pumped with muscle, and you have the character of the Wolverine, as played by Hugh Jackman.

It's a tragedy then, that instead of building on the premise of an armed, angry hermit, this film at too many points reverses direction to soften him in the most tedious ways possible, in a clumsy attempt to make him likeable to more than just male nerds.

Of the X-Men superheroes represented in cinema, Wolverine is the most anti-heroic, and so is capable of violence for the most trivial and selfish of reasons. He is that variety of American that is isolated, proudly self-sufficient and vicious when provoked.

In three X-Men films (2000-2006), he has been the most blackly comic and cynically grown-up character and, with the extremely adept Jackman playing him, has become a fan favourite.

But director James Mangold, who helmed the excellent Western 3:10 To Yuma (2007) and the less enjoyable rom-com action-thriller Knight And Day (2010), shows that he has little talent or love for the superhero genre.

The action setpieces are well shot - the audience sees where everything is and what each person is doing - but they come at predictable intervals and run out of ideas after a few minutes.

There are too many exotic Japan cliches here to count, but to get upset about these would be pointless. At this stage, viewers have to accept that the lone Caucasian, out of a platoon of Japanese men, will save the girl, win her heart because he is so un-Japanese, and change the course of history in that land, then ride into the sunset.

Everyone who is not Jackman is some sort of stereotype, but this not a damning criticism when one considers that the Wolverine himself is also a cartoon.

Ham-handed, sluggish dream sequences and romantic interludes with the wooden model Okamoto (playing love interest Mariko) make matters worse, as do the inclusion of secondary characters such as Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) and Harada (Will Yun Lee), who add nothing to the story.

The best that can be said about this is that the lessons of the incoherent X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) have been learnt and more thought has been given to narrative flow here. Jackman has always been more than capable of playing a properly dark and tortured Wolverine.

It is the material that keeps letting him down.

johnlui@sph.com.sg


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