In September 2009, Gavin Hood, director of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, speculated that there will be a sequel, which will be set in Japan. During one of the post credits scenes Logan is seen drinking at a bar in Japan. Such a location was the subject of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s 1982 limited series on the character, which was not in the first film as Jackman felt “what we need to do is establish who [Logan] is and find out how he became Wolverine”. Jackman stated the Claremont-Miller series is his favorite Wolverine story. Of the Japanese arc, Jackman also stated, “I won’t lie to you, I have been talking to writers… I’m a big fan of the Japanese saga in the comic book.” With The Wolverine, Jackman finally gets the chance to take Logan on an epic journey to Japan where the character will find love and a new threat he’s never faced before. But what’s the driving force behind the character’s trip overseas this time around? After meeting sword swinging badass Yukio (Rila Fukushima), business picks up when he is convinced to journey to Japan. Dying tycoon and old acquaintance Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) wants more than a farewell, and in return offers Logan the chance to become mortal.
The use of Japan as a backdrop is a welcome change to the usual metropolis-to-be-destroyed setting which most of these films utilise, as to is the use of Japanese warrior culture which adds dimensions to a character that five film appearances in is still a mystery when compared to the open books of Spider-Man. And yet, there’s something quite fascinating and compelling about The Wolverine, despite the noticeable problems with the script’s third act. Director James Mangold struggles to keep things under control for as long as possible, Hugh Jackman still has a wonderful charm in the eponymous role, and The Wolverine has a fascinating thematic through-line and an approach to inter-movie continuity which is intriguing and strangely satisfying.
From the opening scenes, Logan deals with a wounded bear in the Canadian Rockies, much as he did in the opening pages to Claremont/Miller’s classic series. Villains such as The Silver Samurai and Viper (a delightfully scene stealing Svetlana Khodchenkova) are extreme versions of their comic counterparts, but fit effortlessly into this cinematic world. Even the over-the-top and snake-like traits to Viper are fine as long as you are willing to accept that it is part of a world where mutants are increasingly commonplace. People are constantly trying to kill Wolverine, but it’s often difficult to figure out why these particular people are making an attempt. Wait, are these the guys who want to kill him, or capture him? Or are these the guys who want Mariko?
This muddled plotting becomes a major issue towards the climax. In order to preserve a twist that manages to be both entirely predictable and completely insane, the film keeps the real villain and their motivations hidden. It’s easy enough to intuit what’s going on and what the bad guy wants, but it all feels terribly convoluted for a reveal that isn’t worth the muddle. More than that, Wolverine himself doesn’t seem too perplexed about what’s going on for the first two-thirds of the final battle, despite the fact there’s no real context. Logan is already one of the most recognisable and best-loved movie characters of recent years, and the team behind The Wolverine have made the film he has deserved for a long time. Besides the inclusion of Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper – a Poison Ivy-esque villainess who only comes into play in the unfortunate finale – The Wolverine makes few missteps. Aside from Insidious 2, this might just be the last great film of the 2013 summer season. Take advantage of it.