After a brief period with Darren Aronofsky at the helm, James Mangold was eventually handed the task of resurrecting the standalone Wolverine series, four years after Gavin Hood's risibly daft prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, nearly killed the character stone dead. The chronology of the X-Men movies has become a little head-scrambling of late, but the latest edition to the saga, The Wolverine, takes place after the events of Bret Ratner's ambitious, but underwhelming X-Men: The Last Stand. Loosely based on Chris Claremont's 1982 acclaimed series, The Wolverine introduces a disheveled, peripatetic Logan (Hugh Jackman) living in self-exile in the wilderness. Traumatized by the many harrowing events of his long lifetime, Logan's immortality has become a curse, condemning him to a meaningless life of solitude in which he will outlive everyone he will ever love. When a wealthy Japanese businessman (Hal Yamanouchi) whom Logan saved during the Second World War calls for him from his deathbed, he is offered an opportunity to rescind his gifts of regeneration and immortality, but before he can make his decision, his powers are taken from him.
Mangold has made a clear effort to differentiate his film from other recent super-hero movies; most notably with the wealth of well-drawn female characters and a restrained use of CGI. Shot in Sydney and on location in Japan, the film has a distinctive and exotic feel, although Amir Mokri dynamic cinematography is noticeably dampened by the fruitless post-production 3D conversion. Drawing heavily on the influence of Eastern Samurai movies, the action is refreshingly tactile, with well-choreographed fight scenes some genuinely impressive blockbuster set-pieces (the fight atop a bullet train is particularly dazzling).
Now on his sixth outing as the flocculent mutant, Jackman's performance seems effortless; commanding the screen in every scene and showing more range than in previous films. The mostly Japanese supporting cast are strong, with model-turned-actress Tao Okamoto delivering a surprisingly accomplished performance as love interest, Mariko Yashida, torn between her affection for Logan and the possibility of dishonoring her father. Character overpopulation is a common problem in the modern super-hero movie, and in this case it is Svetlana Khodchenkova's Viper that seems extraneous, upsetting the balance between relatable character drama and comic book hyperrealism.
The bulk of The Wolverine's flaws arrive in its final act, with some predictable plot twists and a slight lack of discipline. While film does an admirable job of refusing to descend into the cacophonous, effects-driven slugging we've become used to in big screen comic-book adaptations, the final showdown is disappointingly generic. However, any sense of deflation is soon negated by a post-credit scene that will have fan boys and girls squealing with delight; make sure you stay until the end.
It may be overlong and slightly busy in places, but Mangold has found a tone with The Wolverine that finally does the character justice. It's consistently entertaining and its wealth of strong female characters are a breath of fresh air in the machismo-driven world of big budget comic-book adaptations. After many false starts, this is the Wolverine movie that X-Men fans have been waiting for.
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