It is faint praise to say that The Wolverine succeeds where its 2009 predecessor failed. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was so embarrassing it made X-Men 3 look like X-Men by comparison. Its main problem was that it took a reliably cool character and lumped as many mutants on top of him as the runtime would allow, drowning what should have been a slam dunk action movie in inconsequential cameos. Wolverine 2: Electric Boogaloo scales back the mutants and opts for a tighter tale focusing on its titular character, Hugh Jackman in a wife beater. This one didn’t need to impress anybody, it just needed to be a competent movie. So technically, this one’s a winner.
I’ll admit I was disappointed when Darren Aronofsky vacated the director’s chair in 2011. The idea of the man behind Black Swan and Pi directing a mutant movie was filled with grainy promise, especially with Jackman’s comment that they were going for a 1970s action vibe. James Mangold’s vision hews much closer to the Singer-Ratner X-Men movies*, probably for the better. The Wolverine is essentially a sequel to X-Men 3.
We rejoin Logan in the Yukon, grappling with his guilt over killing Jean Grey (Famke Janssen appears in his dreams as a deathly siren). The man has become a hobo monk – long beard, booze, beans, sworn oath never to kill no people no more. If that seems unlikely, don’t worry, the movie forgets it ever mentioned it in the next scene.
Yet we start with such promise. In the film’s opening, Wolverine is being held in a POW camp outside of Nagasaki. It is a poignant scene, almost as if it was from another movie entirely (the series is showing a trend of having more interesting credits than the films that follow). He saves his jailer Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) from obliteration and earns his debt. We come to present day and the dying Yashida promises Logan that he can remove the mutant’s healing factor and give him a normal life (what bearing a hundred pounds of toxic adamantium bonded to his skeleton will have on this “normal life” is left unanswered). Logan says no, I think, and then it happens anyway, somehow. After the old man dies Logan finds himself becoming the bodyguard of Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the heir to the old man’s vast fortune – much to the consternation of her father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), who has coveted the Yashida company all his life.
Some overreaching fellows have been likening this film to Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and its western remake A Fistful of Dollars. What those fellows seem to overlook is that both Yojimbo and Clint Eastwood outwitted their warring clients before even heading to town. Wolverine has no personal agenda, no detective skills, and maybe a deathwish. It’s hard to tell what Wolverine likes apart from protein shakes.
As a comics fan I can tell you that the printed Wolverine is a little different from his celluloid counterpart. He speaks Japanese, he’s 5’2”, he’s ugly, and he has the temperament but also the cunning of an animal. Hugh Jackman, on the other claw, is tall, handsome, and unburdened by deep thoughts. Though he’s over one-hundred-years-old and has fought in every war in the last century, Jackman’s Wolverine speaks not a lick of Japanese and still pops his claws at the slightest provocation – rather like a nervous teenager. The Wolverine is not a bad action movie, its protagonist is just not very wieldy. Jackman is sent careening through the plot, claws forward, and makes his way to the next scene by asking for directions (try to count how many times Wolverine
stops someone stabs someone to ask where the next scene is).
The problem with the film version of Wolverine is that it wants to be the bloody badass without sacrificing itself to the MPAA. Wolverine does cut his way through plenty of yakuza in this flick, but the only blood you’ll see is what drips from his own wounds, later, in little trickles. Attempts to show the cold fury of this savage beast (such as when he tosses a dude over a balcony) are blunted by the PG softness (the dude lands in a pool). But this is not only an issue of violence, it’s one of philosophy. Namely, Wolverine has none. When exactly is killing okay? Does he know that he’s killing people with his claws? Why is he so angry when he’s fighting and so Hugh Jackman when he’s not? His motivations, his thoughts, his personality, these have been carved away. Yojimbo and the man with no name remain classic anti-heroes decades later because their characters were just as intriguing as their choreography. Wolverine is basically a weapon with facial hair.
Finally, while I did enjoy the first two acts of the film, the third act smashes itself to a blithering wreck. It begins with a gut-wrenching scene of self-surgery that cuts away before the gristle and grit are got to, and from there the disappointments mount. I will discuss it more fully after the jump. But this brings me to my final non-spoiling point: Wolverine’s healing factor, handled well, is an interesting plot device. But it is so absurdly accelerated in this film that the man recovers from radiation burns in seconds, gunshots in less, and cuts barely register. A protagonist this invincible is just no fun to watch in a fight, no matter how many ninjas you throw at him.
SPOILERS HERE, ALL YE WHO ENTER
Just a few things that seemed loony to me:
1) When Logan tracks down Mariko’s fiance, he finds him entertaining two semi-nude women and proceeds to shame him for his behavior. It’s no secret that Mariko didn’t like the guy, but Wolverine literally slept with Noburo’s fiancee the night before. I don’t think he’s the one to be handing down monogamy lessons (especially considering that his old flame was also another man’s woman).
2) The extent to which Mariko’s family is at odds actually makes the whole plot insane. Mariko’s father hires her fiance to hire yakuza to kill her because she is named the heir to the Yashida company in her grandfather’s will. Shingen swears this is because the grandfather sees himself in Mariko and that’s why he wants to give her his company. But Mariko’s grandfather doesn’t want to die. He wants to be a giant metal cyborg whose sole purpose, as I understand it, is to drain the life juice out of Wolverine and capture his immortality. So then the grandfather made Mariko the single beneficiary just to expose her to danger and incriminate his own son? That seems like a really roundabout way to go about prolicide. If the grandfather had successfully juiced Wolverine, I assume he would then continue to head the Yashida company. Did he fake his own death to throw his ambitious son off his scent? Surely faking one’s own death entails a slew of legal hazards. What about the company’s stock? It would take a beating if its longtime CEO was legally dead, regardless of whether or not he was really a giant metal cyborg. Why all the subterfuge and why throw his whole family into danger when the entire plot could have been avoided by just marrying Mariko off to her childhood sweetheart and having his son killed by the Viper woman and taking Wolverine’s life juice when he slept in Yashida’s house? Ninjas? Speaking of which…
3) What happened to all the ninjas that were putting arrows into Wolverine? At the end, where were they? Where did they go? Ninja vanish?
4) Why is Harada all gung ho for Yashida’s plan until he isn’t anymore?
5) Why did Viper lady pull her skin off?
6) Why was there a Viper lady in this movie?
7) Isn’t Wolverine supposed to be amnesiac? In the film continuity he was shot with an adamantium bullet that made him forget everything prior to 1981 (because Origins needed to end somehow). That means Logan should have no clue who Yashida is, or that he was even involved in World War II.
Based on Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller
The Wolverine (2013)
Directed by James Mangold
20th Century Fox
*If you see the film, make sure to stay seated. There is a mid-credits scene that teases the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.
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