It's been a sign of how busy the last couple of weeks have been that this weekend was our first movie night in while. I'd like to think that our Saturday night tradition came roaring back with a sure-fire winner, but rather we had The Wolverine, the lastest starring vehicle for Hollywood's favorite X-Man. Its not that I have anything against the character, but I do feel that the tendancy for him to be front-and-centre of the X-Movies is unbalancing for a such an ensemble franchise, and one of the things I liked about First Class was its lack of Wolverine, and one of my fears for Days of Future Past is his return, squeezing out the original focal character in the process. But you can't argue against Wolverine being the focus of a film called The Wolverine, so I guess I just have to judge it on it's own merits.
In the somewhat tortuous movie continuity, The Wolverine comes after X-Men 3 and leads into the upcoming Days of Future Past. I mention this because references to the first of these, particularly, pop up throughout the movie, with Famke Jansen's Jean Grey pouting her way through a number of visions, dreams and the like as a way of giving voice to Logan's inner turmoil. It frames the film as a personal journey from his default "gruff loner" persona into the sort of character prepared to be a hero again, which may be the sort of thing that Wolverine does every few years, but at least is slightly atypical by the standards of superhero movie plots. This time, his journey takes him to Japan, for a loose adaptation of a comic arc from the 1980s involving pretty much every modern stereotype of Japan you can think of, including Yakuza, Ninjas, Nuclear Bombs, Mecha and Japanese girls who kick all sorts of ass but still fancy the hairy western guy.
The stripped down, personal focus in the story does it a lot of favours through. This isn't about saving the world, there are no super-high stakes, it's all about Wolverine and his choice to continue to live (as opposed to simply endure) framed around some super-hero-universe rules that function just to keep everything heighened and pacey. The whole film feels particularly un-flashy, to the point where I was wondering if they'd really had a reduced budget after the critical panning X-Men: Origins got, and the studio was hedging its bets. Certainly the only big name in the cast is Hugh Jackman, growling around the place like the well-cast choice he's always been.
The best way I can think of describing The Wolverine in the end is that it's fine. Its got some nice moments, and great, street-level feel that is a good fit for the character and story it's trying to tell. It leans a little to hard on mining the "exotic" nature of it's setting - not You Only Live Twice, by any stretch, but oddly some similar issues 40 years on - and some of it's choices don't pay off, especially a sort-of-fun but tacked-on Viper. Most of the other words that spring to mind are things like "solid", which is hardly a glowing recommendation until you realise that a lot of superhero movies, even some good ones, struggle with coherency and character focus.
So well done, The Wolverine, you're alright. Now go back into the world and don't screw it up again.