THE WOLVERINE (M) (126min)
Directed by James Mangold. Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto.
Hugh Jackman is a very nice man.
I know this because on the first day of shooting X-Men Origins: Wolverine he came bounding in to the back of my truck, shook me warmly by the hand, said '''G'day mate, I'm Hugh, looking forward to working with you'', handed me a scratchie ticket, and bounded off again. I was dumbfounded.
And since there were several hundred of us on that crew, I imagine Jackman was very busy.
That the movie turned out to be a complete stinker is hardly Jackman's fault.
He did what he was asked faultlessly. (Strangely, the script for Origins was OK as well. What sank that film was a rushed and clumsy edit that completely robbed the film of its rhythms, and turned viewing it into far more of a chore than something so sporadically spectacular should have been.)
Also, I won $50 on the scratchie, so I figure I owe him.
Happily, the makers of The Wolverine haven't tried to re-do the origin myth, tempting though it must have been.
Kicking off with an opening stanza that takes in the bombing of Nagasaki, just so we know we're in presence of some serious 'dark and gritty' superhero storytelling, (X-Men: First Class, a film I liked a great deal, co-opted concentration camps and the Cuban missile crisis into its story line. These latter day Marvel creatives are nothing if not ambitious.)
The Wolverine lands us back in familiar Alaskan/Canadian territory, and then shifts swiftly to Japan, where the rest of the action will take place.
The story line picks up after the events of X-Men: Last Stand. Jean Grey is dead, but she haunts Wolfie's dreams like a pricked conscience.
In Japan, an obscenely wealthy industrialist is hoping to take Wolverine's near-immortality, and use it as his own personal fountain of youth. He is a man who already owes Wolverine his life, but that's not going to stop him asking.
His ally in this is the villainous villainess Viper (un-named, but the cause of much excitement from the two adolescent boys in the seats in front of me). Things happen, as they must. A great deal of fighting breaks out.
Much of it is very well realised. A battle on top of a 450kmh bullet train is genuinely spectacular, while a later confrontation between Wolverine and an army of ninja archers contains some poetic and truly beautiful imagery.
But, between the highs, The Wolverine finds the same lows as its predecessor.
The pacing is shot to bits, while the characters talk far too much, and yet never seem whole.
A bad 3-D post-transfer doesn't help (it is very possible that this would be a far better film in 2-D.) But I think the problem is this: the X-Men work fine as an ensemble.
There is humour and tension between them. But away from the iwi, these characters are flat, and uninvolving. Oh well.
X-Men Days of Future Past is out next year. Roll on that.
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