Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Wolverine: A Review


Memoirs of a Mutant...

Save for a cameo in X-Men: First Class (a movie I was slightly disappointed with), the character of Wolverine has not been seen since X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a clear embarrassment to all concerned and a rare misstep for our morose mutant (Hugh Jackman).  Jackman now has earned the distinction of having played the same comic-book character in more films than any other actor (six times in all).  The Wolverine does at least one bad thing: it establishes both X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men 3: The Last Stand as Canon.

Almost everything else, it was hit-and-miss.

Wolverine/Logan is still mourning the death of his love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).  As a result, he lives in the wilderness, where he's something of an avenging angel to woodland creatures.  He soon is found by Yukio (Rila Fukushima).  She works for Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a former guard at the POW camp Logan was in during World War II.  Yashida wants to thank Logan for saving him at the Nagasaki atomic bombing and say goodbye to him before he dies. 

Once in Japan, Logan finds that Yashida has an offer for him: he can give Logan what he wants: an end to his immortality.  Such powers can be transferred, but Logan won't accept such things.  However, this really is all out of his hands, as a powerful toxin slipped to him makes him if not strictly mortal at least suppresses his healing abilities.  He now requires medical attention.  He now bleeds.

At Yashida's funeral his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is abducted by the Yakuza.  Logan now protects her while she has a secret army of ninjas also on her side (so secret she doesn't quite seem aware of it).  With the assistance of Yukio (who has psychic powers), Logan now must rescue Mariko (with whom he has fallen in love with) against her father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), ninja archer/Mariko's former fiancée Harada (Will Yun Lee) and Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a mutant with venomous powers.

I think it bears remembering that I did not read comic books as a child.  In fact, it wasn't until my twenties that I even glanced at a comic book, and it was only because the Blue Beetle series was set in my hometown of El Paso, TX.   Therefore, I come into all comic book-based films unaware of the mythology the films draw on.  I understand The Wolverine's story is based on a graphic novel, which is all well and good.  However, as a non-comic book reader/follower I found much to object in The Wolverine, both story-wise and acting-wise, that push the film down.

On the second part I can find no fault in Jackman.  He OWNS the part of Logan/Wolverine fully and completely.  Despite the fact that technically he is far too tall to play this character, Jackman gets the rage, the hurt, and even the dark humor of the solitary mutant.  His performance is so good that one forgets he really doesn't fit the description of Logan/Wolverine from the comics (in the same way Peter O'Toole is far too tall to play the diminutive T.E. Lawrence...and yes, I just compared Hugh Jackman's Wolverine to Peter O'Toole's Lawrence of Arabia).  It was just about everyone else in The Wolverine that fell flat.

Particularly bad was Okamoto, a former model beginning a screen career.  Due to this being her first role, one should not be too harsh with her, but if one is going to give someone a central part, it should be given to someone who has had some training.  I can think of only two models who have gone on to respectable acting careers (Lauren Bacall and Lauren Hutton, and if one can provide more examples I'd be grateful), and sadly Okamoto's flat performance as the perpetual damsel in distress (down to literally being trapped in a tower) made her role uninteresting.  Even worse, despite Jackman and Okamoto's best efforts, the 'romance' between Logan and Mariko seem to come from almost nowhere and I never believed it.

Fukushima's Yukio was much better to where I wish the story had taken more interest in her than in the dull, almost lifeless Mariko.  I also have read where Khodchenkova has been trashed for her Viper, but I think she did her best as well.  This Viper is a camp-vamp creature, one who struts and poisons men at whim, so I wasn't too bothered with her performance.

Where for me The Wolverine fails is in Frank Bomback and Scott Frank's screenplay.  Poor Logan gets himself caught up in all this interfamily power struggle where he really has no stake in it.  We've got Yakuza fighting a secret ninja army, an archer from Mariko's past (do I detect hints of The Avenger's Hawkeye crossed with elements of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?) and for a final wild and wrong turn, a giant robot samurai made from adamantium (and throw in a completely laughable and predictable turn, have a 'dead' character inside the Silver Samurai). 

At that point for me The Wolverine turned into a bit of a farce. I actually started laughing at this, not only at what I was watching but at the fact that the movie was taking this all so seriously. 

One thing that I fault The Wolverine for is that it took far too long to get where it wanted to go.  I think the entire ten to fifteen minutes of Wolverine turning into Grizzly Logan: Defender of the Forest could have been dispensed.  Secondly, the constant dream appearances by Jean Gray (a total of five times) was simply idiotic.  One, two, maybe three dream sequences perhaps, but FIVE?  Even worse, the first time she appears it is as part of a dream within a dream.

What is this: Wolverine's Inception?

However, there are some things that are quite good in The Wolverine.  The action scenes, particularly an extended battle starting from Yashida's funeral that after a pause continues on a train is very tense and well-done, exciting and even with some humor.  An attack of ninjas at the Yashida palace is also quite good, filmed quite beautifully (reminiscent, though not as good, as the Shanghai sequence in Skyfall). 

It is unfortunate on the whole that director James Mangold focused (no pun intended) on that rather than on both the story and some of the performances. 


The teaser at the end though, with both Ian McKellen's Magneto AND Patrick Stewarts Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) being X-Men United (pun intended) hinting of a major threat to mutants suggests that X-Men: Days of Future Past will be (or attempt to be) a massive epic, bringing in the cast of First Class (the always brilliant Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy as the younger Magneto and Xavier respectively) along with those who have lived through The Last Stand, with Jackman's Wolverine being part of it all.  That to me makes Days of Future Past something to anticipate. 


The Wolverine is not a terrible film (certainly it's far and above the last two tries where our crabby mutant was a lead) but it took one too many odd turns and had some weak performances that don't put it anywhere near the level of the first two X-Men films (among the greatest comic book adaptations).  It's a case of seeing something that could have been better.  It's enough to make one unleash their claws in mild frustration.

I think the best way to sum up The Wolverine is to point out that at the screening I attended, at the end ONE person let out wild applause, but no one else joined his wild cheering. 

Finally, for those female/gay readers of mine, Hugh Jackman appears a total of nine times shirtless.  Yes, he's 44, and every man hates him for it...


1 comment:

  1. I am looking forward to seeing this for myself in the next few weeks. I do agree that the first two X-Men films are among the best comic book adaptations, however I was not disappointed by First Class and consider it about equal with the others.



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