When The Wolverine hit theatres earlier this year, there were mixed feelings about the film. Fans and critics generally agreed it was an improved character piece on the iconic X-Man compared to other attempts Fox had produced and certainly much more focused than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. So despite some feeling it fell into old traps in it's third act, the film did definitely solidify the overall come back the franchise has undergone since X-Men: First Class. With a more sombre tone than the X-Men franchise had previously presented, James Mangold did a good job of focusing on a single solid character arc for Wolverine as he struggles with inner demons and old wounds. It's worth noting the decision of keeping mutant cameos and city wide destruction to a minimum actually elevates the film.
Wolverine's relationship with Jean Grey is also explored with a seriousness not previously presented in the franchise and the scenes featuring her show a very interesting take on the Phoenix, needing but a whisper to manipulate Logan. It is interesting that the chemistry between the two characters over-shadows the main love story between Logan and Mariko. Jean's inclusion in short vision sequences demonstrate Logan's inner struggle, giving him a complete arc within the film, as his adventure in Japan serves as a catalyst to him accepting what he had to do at the end of X-Men: Last Stand (killing Jean) but also, and more importantly, accepting who and what he is; The Wolverine.
Having revisited the film for the first time since I saw it in theatres I also have a new found appreciation for the well choreographed and smartly directed action sequences. The archery during the funeral escape scene serves up great tension and it's sweeping movement puts anything Marvel have done with Hawkeye to shame. Equally, the execution of the bullet train roof fight uses an iconic Japanese device and along with clever use of in-universe logic makes it all seem plausible despite it's fantastical nature. My personal favourite action scene starts with the Ninja infiltration of the Yashida home and is followed by Yukio's sword fight with Shingen just before Logan regains his full healing ability. The final set piece of the film takes an odd turn, however the Samurai Robot is well executed and it is the only superhero fight I can remember where I actually felt like the hero was going to die. The fact that Logan survives the battle only after having lost his adamantium claws shows the film was ready to add some consequence to the film rather than resetting everything.
What the film achieves in the greater context of the X-Men franchise is to acknowledge the past films and bridge the previous X-Men film, The Last Stand with what is to come in Days of Future Past. It also ends with a perfectly executed epilogue featuring Professor X and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan) and this scene works because the movie takes a smaller "episodic" approach rather than another end of the world saga featuring lots of characters and destruction. The Wolverine uses a basic fish-out-of-water motif and deliverers genuine growth for its protagonist so often left to alternate between punching bag and comic relief.
The X-Men franchise has successfully showed us that it is acceptable to take some time to build toward an larger story by breaking it up with some good smaller stand alone stories and that not every superhero popcorn flick has to show another plastic city levelled. The most refreshing point to all this, is that Wolverine was explored without the need to re-visit his origin or play on his amnesia, quite the contrary, memory here is key, memories of saving Yashida and memories from the original trilogy. My main gripe about the current re-booting trend is that we keep getting the same stories over and over. Studios are relying on brand recognition and hotshot actors to sell a ticket rather than an existing franchise's history. In an extended universe approach to story telling however, characters need to grow and develop over time, much like a television show, one bad film or episode shouldn't have us screaming for a re-boot. The reason fans all over the world embraced the teaser scene at the end of The Wolverine was because it featured two established characters we'd already invested much time and emotion in. We were able to understand without too much dialogue, that if the two of them are together, things must be getting serious. There was no forced exposition, no one even had to introduce themselves by name. Having paid the debt of watching the previous films, both the good and the bad, the pay-off is an ability for film makers to give as this type of cliff hanger. A scene which sets up the next film, one which will bring the past and present together in a seriously big ensemble piece.
Based on the first trailer and what be know of the plot so far, it seems Days of Future Past will once more put the star power of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine to the fore and his character plays a major part in the epic story which will feature sentinels, a dystopian future and time travel. Featuring a huge cast which merges that of First Class and the original X-Trilogy, Days of Future Past is said to be one of Fox's biggest ever productions. The film will be helmed by Bryan Singer, directing for the first time since X-Men United and this is a welcome return.
All in all, it does look like the ever popular comic book series is well set up for years to come without needing a "re-boot" and in the wake of what Sony has done to revive Spider-Man and that we are set for a new Batman already, I find this a welcome change. There is also talk of expanding the franchise further with X-Force and possibly integrating the Fantastic Four. The X-Men franchises proves to me, much like Marvel's approach, that a universe filled with it's own legacy and canon to draw from and build upon can help characters grow as well as keep uping the ante from an action standpoint. As far as continuity errors go, it's all part and parcel of the deal, however with Days of Future Past, Singer has hinted he might use some old time travel tricks to fix a few details.
After 14 years and 7 Films, all which have been anticipated highly, I believe this franchise will ultimately be remembered for it's overall high points, rather than the focus it gets for negative elements and that Hugh Jackman will be praised for giving a comic book tough guy a respectful performance, whether it be in feature length solo films, or in a two second "go fuck yourself" cameo.
Take some time.
Collect your thoughts.