When I reviewed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the previous film in this franchise, I stated that director Gavin Hood needed to have sent the script back to cook longer. The sequel may have a new director in James Mangold, but the same criticism applies. There is still a sense of rawness about the film’s writing, still a feeling that there is more movie than there is script.
It’s a better film than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but this isn’t saying much. It’s still not a good film, and remains an overall disappointment.
In this film, a sequel to both X-Men Origins and X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine, suffering post-traumatic stress from the ending of that film and his generally-terrible long life, has retreated to the wilderness where he is sought out by a mysterious young Japanese woman (Rila Fukushima). The woman has come to bring him to her master, a man Logan saved from the bombing of Nagasaki. Played by Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Yashida is now an old man, successful in business but dying of cancer, and has a proposition for Logan. He will repay the life that was saved by giving Logan a mortal life, free of his immortality, which Yashida feels has become a burden to him. Yashida, of course, plans to receive the immortality himself and use it to protect his business and legacy. After this, ninjas and Yakuza explode out of every corner. I could go into more detail, except I suspect that’s as much as was actually written in the script.
Oh, there’s some lip service to the idea of a plot, but there are too many schemes and not enough purpose behind the schemes. There are several factions involved whose entire motivations appear to be “we need to be involved in this fight.” The core problem is one of personalities: they have none. The film is titled The Wolverine, and this is a perfectly appropriate title, as there are no other characters who have more than a shred of narrative purpose. Yashida, perhaps, for the ten minutes he’s on screen, but that’s about it. Famke Janssen gets more character depth than all actors but Hugh Jackman, and she’s playing a hallucination. There’s a sort of love quadrangle centered around Yashida’s granddaughter, played by Tao Okamoto, but despite being the female lead, there’s nothing there; her character is a cardboard cutout and even one night later I’m hard-pressed to remember a single actual character trait for her. Fukushima’s character isn’t much better, just being vaguely amused and little more; she describes Wolverine as “interesting” a lot, but the same can’t be said of her. There’s a token attempt at making her interesting with giving her psychic visions, but if they were removed the film would not be changed in the slightest. As before, the film’s saving grace is Hugh Jackman, who continues to create a lot of acting out of a little writing.
Even the action in the film isn’t anything to write home about. It’s not terrible, and the final fight sequence is reasonably good, but there are a few scenes which aren’t half as exciting as they could be. Given the film has the angle of vulnerability that is normally lacking in Wolverine films, it’s a bit of a waste. Too often the action sequences focus on a single element that isn’t all that interesting, such as Wolverine hanging on to the top of a bullet train for what seems like an interminable amount of time. He was fighting another guy, but mostly they were just hanging on. I went to the bathroom, and nothing had changed when I came back; neither clause of that sentence is something that should apply to an action sequence. Later, there’s a similar sequence where Logan is shot with multiple arrows with ropes attached. He just keeps walking as they shoot him, until he can’t walk any more. At no point does he do the logical thing and cut the damned ropes with his razor-sharp claws, apparently because the plot really needed him to be captured in this way.
There have recently been reports that there will be a third Wolverine-centric film in a few years. Hopefully it’ll buck the trend and the script will include something resembling a plot or other characters.