imageIt makes sense that The Wolverine is set predominantly in Japan given how much bowing it does to other movies. There are nods to First Blood, The Karate Kid, Lost in Translation, Kill Bill, and You Only Live Twice to name but a five.

For those unfamiliar with the X-Men / Wolverine canon, Hugh Jackman plays the titular role, also known as Logan, an essentially immortal mutant who has enhanced healing capabilities allowing him to recover from most injuries and wounds. As an added bonus, he has admantium claws that sprout from his knuckles, which comes in very useful when fisticuffs ensues.

The story begins with Logan in a Japanese prison camp outside Nagasaki, just before the bomb is dropped. He rescues Yashida, a kindly Japanese officer, and shields him from the blast, saving his life. We then jump to the present day when Logan is living rough and noising up rednecks who make a shoddy job of hunting bears. He’s tracked down by Yukio, a mutant who can see how people die, who persuades him to travel to Japan to reunite with a dying Yashida who has a proposition to take Logan’s immortality and allow him to die a normal death. Logan is none too keen on the idea and is eventually diverted by his efforts to protect Yashida’s daughter, Mariko, from the kidnapping exploits of the Japanese mafia and a bunch of somersaulting ninjas. During this time, Logan discovers that his healing abilities are suddenly not all they were cracked up to be and despite his refusal of Yashida’s offer, death might well be waiting round the corner for him after all.

It’s perhaps a consequence of the PG-13 rating but most of the action is full of quick cut shots to eliminate the presumed fountains of blood that would be erupting from being on the receiving end of a Wolverine claw swipe or the stabby bit of a samurai sword. Cue multiple instances of wounded henchmen doing somersaults for no particular reason. A greater issue, however, is the indulgent approach to the key set pieces, all of which go on for far longer than is necessary and contribute to the movie’s very generous running time of 135 minutes. A scene on top of a bullet train probably takes the same length of time as actual travel from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Of course, this has nothing to do with the restrictions of the rating and everything to do with the fact that no one is whispering in director James Mangold’s ear to explain to him that there is nothing to suggest from the storyline that the film should be any longer than an hour an a half long.

To the credit of Mangold and the screenwriting team of Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, very little of the bloated running time is dedicated to backstory. Instead, key information is delivered through brief flashbacks and even if a viewer doesn’t understand everything in its entirety, they’ll pick up enough to make sense of what they’re watching. Less impressive is the denouement and final revelation which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been surprised by something at least once in their life.

Jackman is good in the lead role and it’s impressive that he can turn his clawed hand to the action hero / comic book genre with such ease. The supporting Japanese cast are less convincing and seem happy to conform to stereotype.

Fans of the series will no doubt find plenty to enjoy, particularly a two-minute preview of the next X-Men movie tucked away in the middle of the end credits. However, the casual viewer may find it and the constant bows a more frustrating and dizzying experience.

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