You could (by which I mean, I) compare The Wolverine to trilogy concluder The Last Stand. Both are thematically rich, but their full potential is unrealised at the hands of a lesser director and a studio-led production. With that said, the blockbuster is often surprising for its deviation from the studio comfort zone. For starters, it’s set in Japan, and the cast is almost entirely Japanese. The basic premise riffs on Unforgiven, where the heads at Fox might be a little uneasy about the necessary delay before an action sequence. The good news is that the character well supports the setup and it never rings like a structural ploy, unlike the disastrous Kick Ass 2.
There are compromises, of course. There’s enough exposition to make you wonder if Jonathan Nolan had a hand in writing it, and you probably don’t need to be told what a rōnin is more than once. The bullet train sequence, uneasily inserted, seems to have gone straight from script note to storyboard. But regarding these as necessary evils allows the rest of the movie to shine. And it is good to go in with this mindset. At one point Logan growls:
You can’t pretend shit isn’t happening when it is, princess… Unless you wanna die, in which case you’re playin’ this perfectly.
If you scoff too hard at this forced dialogue, you’ll miss its introspective self-application that immediately follows. The level of nuance is surprising, and the characterisation great in the first X-film where mutanthood isn’t central to the plot, yet remains present as a minor theme relating to class.
Speaking of Class, one is allowed to forget Matthew Vaughn’s weak prequel with a refreshing entry that re-establishes the superhero franchise as second only to Watchmen in terms of thematic depth.