Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Hal Yamanouchi, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee
Running time: 126mins
The lowdown: The Wolverine is back and this time he’s clawsome! Cinema’s favourite X-Man gets a second stab at his own movie and all involved are determined to make amends for the spectacularly dull, clumsily titled X-Men: Origins – Wolverine. Drawing inspiration from a classic 1980s Japan-set comic series has re-energised the character, and director James Mangold shoots the adventure as a gritty yakuza thriller. Jackman may be on his sixth outing as hirsute grumpy-boots Logan, but attacks the part with claws fully extended. Best superhero film of the summer, and who would have thought that?
The full verdict: Following on story wise from the (spottily impressive) X-Men: Last Stand, (and with X-Men: First Class delivering so magnificently) The Wolverine is clearly here to eradicate all trace of the 2008 dud.
Beginning in a Japanese POW camp near Nagasaki in 1945, the film opens explosively as the second atomic bomb levels the city and Logan saves the life of good-hearted Japanese guard, Yashida.
Flit forward some five or six decades and Logan is hiding in the Yukon, pining for his love Jean Grey (Janssen), killed by his own hand at the climax of Last Stand. Lest we miss the suggestion he is a wounded animal, an injured bear arrives allowing Wolverine to dispense justice at the hunters involved.
Helping him here is Yukio (Japanese Lily-Cole-alike Fukushima), a pint-sized warrior nimble with a blade and a mutant with the gift/curse of foresight.
Yukio transports the reluctant Logan to Tokyo. Yashida (Yamanouchi), now a terminally ill business tycoon, offers to take the mutant’s self-healing power so the guilt ridden X-Man can live out his days as mortal. Maybe with Yashida’s fetching granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto).
But, as this is based on source material from Frank (Sin City) Miller, nothing will run smooth.
A funeral-set yakuza ambush sets the tone for The Wolverine’s action: impressive, but with emphasis on the impact as much as the spectacle. Director Mangold looks to the violent gangster films of Takashi Miike and Takeshi Kitano for inspiration, placing this in the darker area of the X-Men’s colour palette.
Even a fantastically staged bullet-train showdown with yakuza goons carries a bruising sense of danger.
Mangold borrows from Japanese cinema elsewhere for a unique feeling instalment. Jean Grey’s ghostly appearances have a Ring flavour, Logan and Mariko’s seaside breather is inspired by the films of Yasujiro Ozu, and a snowy encounter with Will Yun Lee’s ninja army has echoes of insane 60s samurai classic Sword of Doom.
The villain’s lair-based finale (a slight letdown after all the good work leading us here) introduces the Silver Samurai, paying homage to Japanese robot movies.
In keeping with the thriller feel, Mangold also cuts back on the mutants, Khodchenkova’s Viper, a reptilian villainess with an acid tongue, the most memorable.
Jackman, retaining his haggard Les Miserable look for the first third, again proves himself a worthy successor to Clint Eastwood if he can get another hit character under his belt. Charismatic and dangerous, he is never less than electrifying.
Some will bemoan the attention to tension and yakuza gang war over superhero action, but this is what Wolverine needed to claw back his dignity.
And a mid-end credits teaser for Days of Future Past will leave everyone tingling with X-citement.