While leaving the theatre after The Wolverine, I felt mildly disappointed. There was nothing particularly wrong with the movie and it was better than X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but the film adaptation of Wolverine’s “Japanese saga” did not live up to my expectations. And to be fair, the film had the difficult task of living up to one of the best Wolverine storylines, one written by Chris Claremont.
The movie begins with a more subdued feeling than the other X-Men films. Occurring after X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan, the Wolverine, is camped out in the Canadian wilderness struggling with the internal demons lingering from the aftermath of the first trilogy, until a young Japanese woman comes to bring him to the deathbed of an old friend in Japan — a man whom Logan saved during the bombing of Hiroshima. During his visit to Japan, Logan gets caught up in the attempted assassination of his friend’s granddaughter and a mystery involving the loss of his regenerative ability and his sudden mortality. A subtle tension continues through most of the film, a contrast to the fast paced original films.
The movie is different from other superhero films over the last couple of years, at least at first. It balances the psychological trauma that Logan experiences with the various action sequences littered through the film. Also, unlike other superhero films, the movie does not have a straightforward plot line or a distinct villain that Logan needs to defeat. There are villains, but they are working from the shadows and much of the film revolves around Logan playing hard-boiled cop and figuring out who is pulling the strings. Logan is also not fighting against other mutants in this movie, but against normal human beings.
Much of the film comes across as a type of samurai Spaghetti Western.
The Spaghetti Western-style comes from the continued reference to Logan as a “ronin,” a Samurai without a master, and the family feuding that he is thrust into. Toss in Logan’s vastly superior fighting ability to every human around him and you get the typical Spaghetti Western formula.
The lead up to the final confrontation in the movie however feels like a return to the style and action of the original X-Men films. The last third of the movie begins reincorporating the mutant powers and elaborate science that dominated the other X-Men films and quickly overpowers the more subtle themes of the first two-thirds.
The shift is a bit too jarring and taints the ending of the movie. Nothing about the ending is necessarily wrong, it does end well, but the ending back pedals and is unable to keep going with the subtler tone. What could have been a truly great movie instead is just a pretty good one.