Say, for instance, you wanted to get a fair idea of what it would be like to rub dog excrement into both of your eyes but you didn’t have any dog excrement to hand. Once upon a time you’d have to go outside to forage for mutt-chods, following bloated-looking dogs around with palms outstretched, like some kind of feckless peasant. Thank heavens, then, that we live in such enlightened times that you can get a fairly decent facsimile of the sensation of rubbing pooch ex-food into your peepers by simply watching X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine back to back.
The only positive to take away from these two films’ almost defiant lack of quality (and the latter is on Channel 4 on the 27th, if you’re curious) was that neither Hugh Jackman or the Logan / Wolverine character were at fault; it was the tepid, toothless, studio-ruffled films in which they found themselves. Discounting a cameo in X-Men: First Class, Jackman’s hirsute growler hasn’t growled hirsutely anywhere decent since 2003’s X2, so it’s a relief to report that The Wolverine is finally the film the character deserves, despite the studio spending a full decade trying to deconsecrate him.
Following an impressive prologue in Nagasaki in 1945 – and if you don’t know why this is a bad place to be then, seriously, read a fucking book or something – the film picks up shortly after the events of The Last Stand. Logan’s in the muggy funk of self-imposed exile following the death of his squeeze Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, appearing throughout as a sort of annoying, ghosty-flashback dream-tart), and is eking out a drunken existence in a cave somewhere bleak and unnecessarily cold, having vowed to leave the Wolverine, and the heroic ephemera that appears in the moniker’s wake, behind.
It takes the dying wish of an old friend to galvanise him into even having a shave, yet Logan eventually travels to Japan, reluctantly becoming embroiled in a miasma of skulduggery, Yakuza squabbling, politics, corporations and juicy conspiracies. It’s no Dostoevsky – in fact, the narrative’s largely inconsequential guff – but it’s a refreshingly lean and entertaining yarn on which to hang as many action set-pieces and semi-nude Jackman shots as possible, never sitting still for long enough for cracks – arse, plot or otherwise – to become tiresome. And while its head is wedged snugly betwixt the voluminous bosoms of X-Men lore, The Wolverine stands alone as its own story, so don’t worry if you’re not swatted up on the tos-and-fros of the previous films’ who-did-what-to-who-and-then-shagged-and-killed-whos. You’ll be fine.
The action itself is meaty, quick, satisfying and surprisingly brutal in places considering its “pwease, mummy, take me to ver piccytures to see va hairyman fiwm” 12A rating. It also boasts a couple of astounding scenes, with 3:10 To Yuma and Copland director James Mangold grabbing the action genre and shaking it by the nipples with commendable confidence (and, presumably, not a little financial assistance). Not all of these sequences hit the mark (unforgivably, the weakest is at the film’s climax), but on the whole they do more than enough do to earn the film an easy recommendation. Because, yes, Wolverine fighting ninjas is exactly as cool as you think it’s going to be.
The supporting cast is barely worth mentioning (they leap about, gasp, shout, stab and capitulate impressively, but they’re peripheral concerns at most) because this is obviously Jackman’s show, and if he’s growing tired of playing this character there’s no evidence of it here. He also gets the opportunity to portray Logan as vulnerable, both emotionally and physically, which gives the film another layer; one which you feel it needed to ward off the circling ennui of watching a character who’s nigh-on invincible be pissed off at things. It’s still a film which takes itself mightily seriously in places, but always chucks in a welcome quip when it has to, and never feels as though it’s dragging its heels across its not inconsiderable 2 hours.
On the basis of The Wolverine, it would be a true shame of Jackman didn’t reprise the role again for a further solo outing. He’s set to appear in the upcoming Days of Future Past, so that’s something, but based on this there’s plenty more mileage in the old dog yet, and after 13 years it feels like the character’s finally hit his stride.
Oh, and the 3D is pointless and shit.
Wolverine is in UK cinemas from July 25