We celebrated Labor Day weekend by seeing The Wolverine, the sixth installment of the X-Men franchise. It was diverting but not especially entertaining.
I’ve been disappointed in the arc of the X Men films. The first three films, X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand focused on the friction between society and mutants; humans who, because of some genetic mutation, have abilities the rest of us do not. There were broader political themes and I liked the concept of a sub-culture existing, often invisibly, within a larger society that rejects them, fears them, oppresses them, and seeks to cure them. For some reason that resonates with me.
The plot lines of these earlier films focused on adult mutants mentoring younger ones as the younger mutants struggle to come to terms with their identities and find support within a community of peers. Their elders pursue competing strategies in the struggle against the oppression of society as a whole. The highly ethical, high-minded Francis Xavier; ‘Saint’ is all but implied, portrayed by Patrick Stewart, does battle for the hearts and minds of the mutants against the amoral, pragmatic plotting of Ian McKellan’s Magneto. Along the way, of course, there are lots of quirky, interesting characters and some kick-ass special effects. The fifth film in the series; X-Men: First Class explored similar themes but was mostly focused on building out the back-story for the characters that appeared in the first three films.
The fourth film; 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and, now, the sixth; The Wolverine focus more narrowly on Logan, the Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman. Jackman is a talented actor and Logan is an interesting character but, I confess, I’ve seen enough in-depth exploration of his tortured soul. If the combined running time of these two films is four hours then I guess my interest in Wolverine’s PTSD must be limited to about 3.5 hours. In the fourth film, Logan’s struggle was more personal than in the previous films but there was a diverse array of mutant antagonists and the special effects were top-notch. In the new film, the opponents are mostly Yakuza gangsters with no unique gifts aside from being moderately-skilled ninjas. Bottom line; it’s not a proper X-Men movie without a whole cadre of people with varying mutant skills. This is a gap in the new film. Tokyo needs more mutants.
The plot is also fuzzy. A powerful Japanese businessman may, or may not, be a good guy. He has assembled a world-class medical team to help him fight his losing battle with some undefined illness though the problem may just be that he is at least 90 years old. There is a full menu of the usual bad guys; tattooed gangsters, unscrupulous businessmen and corrupt politicians, as well as a beautiful mutant villain who changes clothes more often than the Sex In the City women. There is also a very strange love pentangle between Logan, two Japanese women, the sleazy fiancé of one and the childhood-sweetheart-turned-ninja-archer of the other. There are some interesting special effects, though less dazzling than I’ve come to expect from X-Men movies, There are a couple of great fight sequences. Mostly, however, there is a lot of existential angst with scenes of Jackman emoting through his eyebrows.
The Wolverine was a diverting way to spend a Saturday evening but I doubt I will revisit it when it makes it to television or DVD. For those who stay through the credits there is foreshadowing of the next X-Men feature. It hints there might be a return to the broader themes that have worked well in the past. That’s a hopeful sign. I am not sure I would be up for two more hours of ‘Wolverine Has Nightmares’; at least not any time soon.