The Wolverine was originally announced as a direct sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It had the fascinating possibility of at one point being directed by Darren Aronofsky of Pi (1998), The Fountain (2006), The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010) fame. The one to eventually take the chair was James Mangold, a competently middle-of-the-road mainstream director who has previously made the likes of Cop Land (1997), Girl, Interrupted (1999), the time travel romantic comedy Kate & Leopold (2001) that had starred Hugh Jackman, the reality-bending psycho-thriller Identity (2003), Walk the Line (2005), 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and Knight and Day (2010), as well as producing the animals attack tv series Zoo (2015 ). At Hugh Jackmans apparent instigation, the film is based on Wolverine (1982), a limited series story by Chris Claremont that has become a fan favourite. (Even then, the film trims the story down in the original, Yashida heads a Yakuza clan and the story ends with Mariko becoming Wolverines fiancee).
The problem with The Wolverine is that it has sought to make a break away from almost all of the things that the other X-Men films (and Marvel Comics adaptation) did. It is certainly different but it doesnt feel like an X-Men film. There is not a constant line-up of new mutants being introduced all we get is the introduction of the villain Viper (who is usually an enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D. but here has been almost completely rewritten as akin to Batmans Poison Ivy). There is the Silver Samurai who is actually a mutant character in X-Men comic-books but here becomes just a power suit put on by one of the characters. There is the entirely new character of Yukio who has mutant abilities but after a great opening, the film does little with her. (There is however a cool mid-credits Easter Egg that sets things up for X-Men: Days of Future Past and introduces the nemesis of the Trask Corporation and two very familiar characters). The constant superheroic sequences of any other Marvel film have been stripped back to only two a fairly cool one with Hugh Jackman fighting atop a speeding bullet train and the climactic battle with the adamantium samurai but none of these set the film alight and you get the impression that superheroic action scenes are just not James Mangolds forte.
What we are left with feels like no more than a vaguely superheroic variant on a gaijin in a foreign culture thriller not dissimilar to Ridley Scotts Black Rain (1989) and especially the very similar The Hunted (1995) with Christopher Lambert fighting ninja conspiracies in Japan, or perhaps Nicolas Winding Refns Only God Forgives (2013) or other variants on this that had Western cops trying to venture into Asian-American underworlds in films like The Year of the Dragon (1986) and Rising Sun (1993). It would take very little to turn Hugh Jackmans Logan into a standard detective hero. Indeed, the film feels more like a film noir thriller than it does a Marvel Comics superhero film it takes little imagination to think of Wolverine as a Humphrey Bogart-styled private detective protecting an heiress from diverse parties wanting to own her while setting out to expose a corporate conspiracy.
The other problem is that the film fails to ever give us any substantial or clearcut nemesis that Wolverine is fighting against up until the climactic scenes. He merely spends the film protecting the heroine and being propelled from incident to incident by the progression of a plot that never makes it entirely clear why things are happening. It is less a superhero film than a detective story that just happens to be cast with a superhero character. I wanted more from The Wolverine I expected a soul of the superhero film. Hugh Jackman has bulked up and glowers his way through the part but never does much more than he has done before. All that we have ended up with a rather flat variant on Black Rain that seems to spend its time consciously avoiding almost any of the interesting things that make the rest of the X-Men films fun.
A further standalone Wolverine film is planned with Logan (2017).