The Wolverine brings us a torn superhero lead, a man struggling with his inner demons as he faces his powers and what they cost him. It’s become a defining characteristic of this summer’s blockbusters: Iron Man 3 had Tony Stark dealing with some form of PTSD after saving the world; Man of Steel had Clark Kent being unaccepting of his coming-up and who he is as an individual; and now The Wolverine showcases Logan (Hugh Jackman) in a way we haven’t seen him before. He’s torn by the death of his love, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), at his own hands, and he’s a man who wants to accept mortality by can’t. It’s a surprisingly dense idea for a superhero film, a genre that’s growing more and more accustomed to darker character studies.
James Mangold’s film is one of the more surprising features I’ve seen this summer, one filled with remarkably deep character development and an understanding of how to compose action around its characters. His direction is often wide yet strikingly intimate; there are many tender scenes where Jackman can delve into the character he so clearly loves. Mangold seemed like an odd choice when he was first selected, having made films like 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line. But he can handle this type of summer blockbuster, even when he allows the movie to fall into the standards the genre has created.
The film has a dazzling action scene atop a bullet train in Japan, where most of the film is set. That scene, in Dolby Atmos, particularly is incredibly engaging and fluid, even when the physics are so clearly out of whack. This is a film, keep in mind, rooted in the world of X-Men and Marvel, so there can be stretches in our terms of realism. But Wolverine is grounded here by supporting characters that work, too, even if some are just symbols and cardboard cut-outs rather than developed pieces of work. Superhero films can get away with that, though, particularly when their lead works this well. This may be the best superhero film I’ve seen this summer.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)