Friday, July 26, 2013

The Wolverine (2013)

"Hey bub, don't forget about me!  I'm still here!" - Not actually said by Wolverine.  Oh sorry, it's The Wolverine now.

I kind of feel bad for old Logan.  A few years ago he was at the top of the food chain as far as superheroes go, but then Fox decided to piss all over the comics and nearly destroy the franchise.  He's had to resort to uncredited cameos and sneaking a movie in at the end of July.  Despite all the trailers and commercials, a good number of my friends weren't even aware there was a new Wolverine movie coming out.  Judging by the lack of attendance at the theater, I'm guessing that the public at large was either unaware or staying away.  It's a shame because The Wolverine is actually a decent movie.  It's certainly a step up from either X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  That's not saying that much though.  You should have filmed Hugh Jackman pooping on the street, and that would have made for a better film than either The Last Stand or Origins.

I wish I would have
saved this issue.
I was a little hesitant to see this one myself due to all the delays and different directors attached at various points.  It was a few years ago when I last saw Darren Aronofsky doing interviews about it before dropping out.  The most encouraging news I'd heard was that The Wolverine was going to be based on the Chris Claremont Wolverine limited series from the 80's when Logan was in Japan.  That was the definitive Wolverine series when I was a kid.  That's when he became cool to me and my friends.  In fact, that series is what got me into reading comics and into the X-Men in the first place.  We'd trade those around and read them over and over.  The irony is that I barely remember anything about it.  I can say that while The Wolverine does focus on his time in Japan, I'd say it's pretty loosely based on that series.  Some liberties were taken, but that's fine with me though.  It's nothing like the liberties taken in the latter half of Origins.

Taking place sometime after the events of The Last Stand, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is living isolated in a cave up north.  Haunted by visions and dreams of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), he's having difficulty getting past things he's done.  I was having issues with this, too.  I thought we had all agreed that The Last Stand never happened.  I liked that The Wolverine began with him dealing with his internal conflict, I just wish the previous films allowed for a better starting point.  I don't like that the X-Men's movie-universe has already killed off a character like Jean Grey.

Logan heads into town to confront some hunters for poisoning a bear, but before things escalate Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a mysterious swordsman, intervenes and asks Logan to accompany her to Japan to meet her boss.  She reveals that her employer is Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), the head of a large technology company.  Logan saved a young Yashida back in WWII when the second atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki (which we see in a cool flashback).  Yashida is extremely sick and wishes to repay his debt to Logan before dying.  What he proposes is to take Logan's healing factor and transfer it to him, giving Yashida immortality and allowing Logan the opportunity at a normal life.  Logan actually refuses this, and Yashida dies that night.  As this happens, Yashida's "oncologist" (Svetlana Khodchenkova) infects Logan with something.

Later at Yashida's funeral, the Yakuza attack and attempt to kidnap Yashida's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).  During the escape, Logan is injured and finds he's not healing like normal.  Whatever that oncologist did to him has affected his healing factor.  Mariko and Logan go into hiding together while they try to figure out who's after her and why.

About halfway through The Wolverine it dawned on me that I wasn't watching a superhero movie anymore.  While the setting gives this more of a general martial arts feel, it's more about Logan continuing to struggle with his past and trying to move on.  After the first 30 minutes, there's not a lot of action either, yet I found myself more engaged despite this.  It's much more interesting to watch Logan deal with his failing powers and internal conflict while still trying to protect Mariko.  The fact that he's no longer invincible makes him more human and compelling.  It's also way more satisfying when things eventually turn back to his favor.  Director James Mangold did his best work with these character moments.

The real weakness to The Wolverine is that the plot itself isn't all that developed.  When we find out what these people want with Mariko, it's not all that convincing or even very interesting.  Many of the characters appear to be playing both sides or have unclear goals, but since we don't know much about them it's difficult to understand why or care.  Mark Bomback and Scott Frank's screenplay needed some punch up and fine tuning.  It's frustrating because just a few tweaks here and there could have put this over the top.

There are some great action scenes though.  The highlight is one that takes place on the top of a speeding bullet train.  I was a little worried about the look of it based on the trailer, but it really stands out as the best in the film.  The action scene prior to this could have also been a great scene, but it suffers from bad editing and too much shaky cam work.  It's getting really frustrating that action films continue to employ this when I don't know anyone that likes it.  A later fight scene has too many cutaways and would have been better served to have some wider and static shots.  Part of the issue is that they were going for a PG-13 rating, so they had to avoid showing all the stabbing and excess blood.  It isn't bloodless, but I wouldn't call it bloody.  You do see a few scenes of swords going through people, but it felt like cartoon violence.  Also, you may struggle a few times wondering how a sword or knife is impaling parts of the anatomy where Wolverine's unbreakable adamantium skeleton should have prevented it from happening.

Despite all this, it's not until the very end when it finally succumbs to dumb, comic book movie action, where you've got lots of CG and improbable physics.  Additionally, a friend of mine who knows his metal, pointed out a bunch of inconsistencies regarding the general physical properties of metal during the climax.  It's not enough to ruin the film, but it's hard to ignore when you think about it.  The special effects overall are good though and definitely an improvement over Origins.  I saw this in 3D as I didn't have a choice.  It didn't ruin the film, but didn't add anything to it either.

A few words about Hugh Jackman before finishing up.  I love how seriously he takes this character, but still seems to have fun with it.  I also really respect how seriously he takes getting in shape for the role.  He's in another league as far as preparing yourself physically for a role.  I've seen other actors turn their backs on superhero roles, or not dedicate themselves to the physical demands, but Jackman understands what Wolverine has done for him.  It's hard not to appreciate that he still cares after all these years.

Oh, one last thing.  There's a great post-credit scene that totally made me geek out.  I was already looking forward to X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now I'm really looking forward to it.  There's nothing at the very end though, so you don't have to sit through all of the credits.

The Wolverine is a comic book film that tries its hardest to not be one, but ultimately still suffers from some of their faults.  The dialog and story are little muddled, and it has some bad camera work coupled with a typical big, dumb action climax. Where it works is when it gives us a little more depth into Wolverine as a character.  It's definitely a big step up from X-Men Origins: Wolverine and I think fans of the series will ultimately enjoy it.  Worth a matinee.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Good Review Erik! It is definitely better than X-Men Origins but still lacks quite a few important elements. Maybe next time. :)

    1. Exactly, a big step up from Origins, but still not quite there. I guess we'll see if future installments can finally nail everything.