The Wolverine (2013, James Mangold)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Haunted by the death of his love Jean Grey, Wolverine travels to Japan to say goodbye to a dying friend…

Get used to multiples names…
* Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) maintains his record of appearing in every film in this series. At the start he’s mopping around after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, and has long hair and a beard. Just in case you don’t get the theme, he soon encounters a wounded bear in the woods. He cleans himself up once he arrives in Japan for the film’s main storyline.
* Yashida (played by both Haruhiko Yamanouchi and Ken Yamamura) is the head of a large Japanese technology company. Logan first meets him in a Second World War prisoner-of-war camp, when they in turn save each other’s lives. In the present day, the elderly Yashida dies, which creates a power vacuum in his family. However, during the action climax, we learn that he’s still alive – his death was faked in order to con Wolverine out of his immortal mutation.
* Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) died (for a second time) when Logan was forced to kill her in the last film (well, the last one in terms of the series’s internal chronology), so here appears as a figment of Logan’s imagination. She comes to him in his dreams, dressed in negligee, for some really boring scenes. It’s nice of Logan to imagine his dead love at the age she would have been if she’d lived.
* Yukio (Rila Fukushima) is a Japanese mutant who can predict people’s deaths. She finds Logan in Canada and takes him to Japan. It ain’t the greatest performance you’ll ever see.
* Shingen Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada, who played a very boring character in Lost) is Yashida’s son. He plots to murder his own daughter so he can control the family business.
* Mariko Yashida (Tao Okamoto) inherits the company when her grandfather ‘dies’ – which immediately puts her life at risk. Logan protects her: they go on the run and fall for each other.
* Dr Green aka Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is a mutant with a reptile-like tongue and an ability to shed her skin. She’s doing scientific work with Yashida, then becomes increasingly obvious as a bad sort. Unfortunately, the character is reminiscent of Poison Ivy from Batman & Robin, especially in the final act when she dresses up in a green superhero costume for some reason.
* Noburo Mori (Brian Tee) is a government minister and is engaged to Mariko. He’s a bit of a shit.
* Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee) is a ninja-type who protects the Yashida family’s interests.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that are contradicted or expanded in other movies.
* We see a photo of Logan and Storm from X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), reinforcing that this film – unlike the first Wolverine solo movie – is set *after* the X-Men trilogy.
* In a mid-credits scene, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr show up at an airport and ask for Logan’s help. It’s a lead-in to the next X-Men film, which was due out the following year. Logan is stunned to see Charles alive and well: the character had died in X-Men: The Last Stand, after all, though was resurrected in a post-credits Easter egg. Additionally, Erik had lost his mutant powers in that previous movie but has them back now.

Review: This is a simple, solid, enjoyable story – a pleasant change from the crash-bang-wallop of most recent comic-book films. It’s also nice, after five X-Men films heavy of continuity, to have a self-contained adventure. There are far fewer characters than usual and it’s often quite contemplative (well, at least until the CG-heavy finale). The well-staged prologue, which sees Logan imprisoned by the Japanese in the Second World War, throws us straight into story, sets up the main antagonist and shows off Logan’s mutations for newcomers. Then as the plot progresses – built on the nice if obvious parallel of Logan as a rōnin, a samurai without a master – there’s clearly more style and purpose on show than in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The action sequences, for example, feel like a comic-book come to life. There are dramatic compositions in many frames, arch ‘hero shots’ of characters fighting, even visible whooshes of weapons. But it’s not all good news. The story has too many characters temporarily fingered as the ‘bad guy’ – Shingen, Noburo, Green, Yashida – so when we finally get the reveal of who’s behind it all the tension has fizzled out. The Jean Grey scenes are dull, heavy-handed and unnecessary. The final act gets a bit silly. And the script lacks wit, even if a decent joke about throwing someone into a swimming pool has been stolen from Diamonds Are Forever. A fun couple of hours, if nothing extraordinary.

Seven Ueno Stations out of 10

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