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Just before you watch ‘The Wolverine’.

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NOTE: Contains minor spoilers.

In the pantheon of on-screen superheroes, nobody has served longer than Hugh Jackman. Now 44, Jackman has played Wolverine six times over more than a decade: no wonder he’s so convincing as a character whose primary problem is that he just won’t die. The good news is that, excluding a brief cameo in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, ‘The Wolverine’ is the best film the character has appeared in since X2, back in 2003. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much. Even Jackman knows how badly 2009’s execrable prequel X-Men Origins went down and has set out to right his mistakes by hiring ‘Walk The Line’ director James Mangold to reinvigorate the character.

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As such, ‘The Wolverine’ is set after the events of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, and opens with Logan haunted by the memory of Jean Grey(Famke Janssen), who he was forced to kill at the end of ‘The Last Stand’ due to her transformation into Phoenix. Invited to Japan to meet an old friend from WW2, Wolverine soon ends up involved in a plot involving the Yakuza, familial power struggles and a seductive mutant called Viper(Svetlana Khodchenkova) who uses her poisonous abilities to stymie Wolverine’s healing powers.



There are some spectacular set-pieces, particularly an early chase through down town Tokyo and a stunning fight on board Japan’s bullet train. But the real focus here is Wolverine tussling with his immortality, via a series of intimate visions involving Janssen. While the scenes are one of the film’s strongest points, they’re also the route of many of its problems: by positioning itself as a pseudo sequel, ‘The Wolverine’ is always limited by its ties to the weaker ‘Last Stand’. It cries out for more mutants or powers but fan favourites like Deadpool and Gambit have already been wasted by ‘Origins’ (and due to the film being produced by Fox and not Marvel, there’s no chance for an Avengers cameo to lighten the mood).
The other difficulty is while Wolverine’s famous healing powers are weakened, he never feels in any immediate peril: whether it’s being shot repeatedly, skewered with samurai swords or worse. It’s the same issue that has plagued film adaptations of the Hulk or Superman: when your hero can’t die, there’s not a lot at stake. Mangold asks us to care about the fate of Wolverine’s new romantic interest instead, but is constantly reminding us that the love of his life is already dead. By the time ‘The Wolverine’ builds to its conclusion, it’s tough to truly care.

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In one of the film’s finest set-pieces, Jackman is attacked by archers, who pepper him with arrows with cords attached until he is dragged to the ground. It’s a fitting metaphor for the character: ‘The Wolverine’ has so much potential, but always feels like it is being held back.
Thankfully, a post-credit sequence reminds us that there is hope. As has already been revealed, Jackman will be appearing along with the cast of the original X-Men in next year’s sequel to First Class. Not only was that film the best X-Men outing yet, but it’s based on one of the comic book’s most memorable storylines, ‘Days of Future Past’. Here’s hoping that in Jackman’s seventh outing, Wolverine finally gets the film he deserves.

THE WOLVERINE came out on 25th July.

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