It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"The Wolverine" dips into the kind of psychological territory that once might have seemed too heavy and ponderous for a summer blockbuster, but now has become the de rigueur approach for deconstructing our childhood heroes like Batman, Spider-Man and Superman.
Yes, the metal-clawed mountain of muscle actually suffers an existential crisis, weighing the benefit of his immortality and getting a taste of what it's like to ache and bleed and weaken without instant healing. Faced with the possibility of trading in his mutant powers, he must consider what's worth living for now (loving a beautiful woman, fighting an untold number of ninjas) and what's waiting for him in the afterlife (loving a beautiful woman, fighting … well, no one).
That's not to say that "The Wolverine" is painfully self-serious. Far from it: Director James Mangold's film features some breathtakingly suspenseful action sequences, exquisite production and costume design and colorful characters, some of whom register more powerfully than others. It has such a strong aesthetic about it, it's almost as if "The Wolverine" functions as its own stand-alone film, rather than as a piece of the "X-Men" mythology.
You don't need to have seen the previous five films in which Hugh Jackman has starred as the brawny lead character, Logan—especially not the disappointing first solo adventure outside the series, 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." This is a far more successful melding of character, script and imagery—at least until the third act, when it just turns silly and needlessly cartoony.