THE WOLVERINE (2013)
(Directed by James Mangold)
(Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Scott Frank, and Mark Bomback)
(Starring Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto and Hiroyuki Sanada)
Plot: Rogue mutant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) travels to Japan in order to say goodbye to an old friend, but instead is offered the chance to become mortal. He refuses and the old man dies, but this means that enemies will hunt down his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). Wolverine reluctantly decides to protect her. To make things complicated
Is it even possible to make a true Wolverine-based movie? The character made his cinematic debut in “X-Men“, where Hugh Jackman’s portrayal stole the show and everyone became enamored with the character. The idea of a movie STARRING him stirred up intense feelings of anticipation. Wolverine was badass incarnate and hell, my few memories of the old cartoon were of Wolverine being hardcore…He was always doing awesome stuff like…wearing yellow spandex! And getting his ass kicked in order to show how powerful the current villain was! And whining! Erm, that’s not very awesome… but movie-Wolverine was so much cooler! Unfortunately, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” strongly suggested that maybe Wolverine works better with a group of protagonists instead of standing alone…which is kind of ironic when you remember that Wolverine is a loner…The problem is that Wolverine’s practically indestructible, so we generally don’t feel he has any chance of dying. The earlier “X-Men” flicks at least had bullets being able to knock him out, but later sequels would have him be able to shrug off gun shot wounds. That diminishes suspense. Now, The “X-Men” trilogy wasn’t effected as a whole by this because more was going on. Wolverine was just a piece of the narrative, even if he was technically the main character, so we were able to fear for his allies. Furthermore, the world itself tended to be on the line. The second problem is that Wolverine is too badass for his own good. Badass must be delivered in doses or it will become exhausting. We need vulnerability or something that helps us relate to them. Once again, the earlier trilogy was an ensemble piece, so we had other characters to relate too. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” worked around this by giving him a love interest, who provided plenty of tender moments. What’s wrong with this? It just doesn’t feel like Wolverine anymore. It feels like a generic Hugh Jackman character who happens to have moments where he acts like Wolverine. “The Wolverine” more-or-less confirmed my suspicions. The filmmakers took our awesome hero, who claws ass and causes all sorts of mayhem, and then puts him in a… soap opera?! THE FUCK!? I’m so baffled that I forgot to censor myself!
Yeah…did someone do a poll and determine that young females liked Wolverine more than guys? I don’t know, but when I think of Wolverine, I think of action. I don’t think of romance, and that is exactly what “The Wolverine” is. The first act actually balances action and drama pretty well, but the second act is mostly comprised of talking. Wolverine falls in love with Mariko for no reason and Mariko has the most unnecessarily complicated love life ever. She’s engaged to a Politician, was once engaged to some pretty boy who still has feelings for her and also falls in love with Wolverine…for no reason. Why did we need all of this again? The romance is poorly developed on both sides, so even if I were to accept “The Wolverine” as a comic book romance, I can’t say it succeeded. Wolverine continues to be haunted by the death of Jean from “X-Men 3“, but that just means he mopes around a lot and has nightmares. Ugh, didn’t he have nightmares like this in “X-Men” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine“? In fact, considering how the filmmakers are trying to distance themselves from the prequel, I find it amusing that both films share some similar scenes. Both films have the love interests in bed, consoling Wolverine after he had a nasty nightmare (in which he nearly sliced them up) and then they tell a story which ties into Wolverine’s animalistic nature. They’re both very, very cheesy. By this point, Wolverine’s character arc has become monotonous. At least the original “X-Men” had his development be more internal than external, so he didn’t lose his badass edge. Here, he’s too emotional, which is the problem with making a Wolverine-based movie. He HAS to be too emotional, so we can relate to him, but it’s at the cost of his characterization. Also, maybe I’m forgetting something, but did Wolverine ever get his memories back? I find it odd that his original wife is never referenced, but he continues to pine over Jean. If he hasn’t though, this creates a plot hole as he remembers events during World War 2. Then again, the continuity in this franchise ceased making sense during the events of “X-Men: First Class“, so maybe I’m being unfair.
Luckily, this melodrama kinda works thanks to the actors’ performances. Hugh Jackman is playing Wolverine again and when the character isn’t being mopey, he is just as awesome as he was before. Was it just me or did one arm look more jacked than the other? Tao Okamoto is super cute, but also showcases some impressive acting abilities. What makes the love story tolerable is that both have nice chemistry together. Their interactions can actually be kind of charming. You also can’t go wrong with Hiroyuki Sanada, even if he is playing a minor role. The plot is in its own way, a disaster, although there aren’t as many plot holes or moments of bad writing as the prequel did. I always found it hilarious how in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine“, a gun that can potentially kill Wolverine is introduced as soon as the gunslinger- the one who could use it properly- is killed. The script for “The Wolverine” has nothing which caused me to facepalm, except maybe for some stereotyping. I mean, Wolverine goes to Japan, or should I say Wolverine goes to an American interpretation of Japan? So of course Wolverine is going to fight modern day ninja, robots, samurai and samurai robots. Because Japan has that kind of shit. Of course everyone will talk about traditions, honor, dishonor and family like its the only thing they ever talk about. Discussing honor in Japan is like talking about the Lakers in the U.S. Everyone does it…all the time. Of course, the women will be divided between ‘traditional’ (Mariko) and ‘delinquent chick’ (Yukio; played by Rila Fukushima). They just needed a schoolgirl and a Miko. Of course half of the locations will be comprised of love hotels, bullet trains and classical architecture…because Americans don’t want Japan. They want exotic Japan. I’m surprised there weren’t any of those panty vending machines…or any giant monsters…or killer mutant zombie sushi! With that said, I suppose ‘Wolverine Vs robot samurai’ is significantly cooler than ‘Wolverine vs normal Japanese guy’. Even though the comic which this is based on has been lauded like mad crazy, it doesn’t translate very well into a movie (presuming this is a faithful adaptation). Most of the story is revealed during the third act, but either they left out a lot of points or it was dropped on us too clumsily for them to sink in. You get the impression that the filmmakers suddenly realized “Crap, we forgot the action!” so crammed in as much as possible. Therefore, everything is explained too quickly. It’s not helped that I saw the twist coming from…well, the trailers. But it was more obvious during the movie. To be fair, even with the flaws in the script, I didn’t think “The Wolverine” made any unforgivable mis-steps. At its core, it’s just very…average.
Speaking of action, how is it? Solid, but unexceptional. Even though the CGI bear looked a little silly and at times, it’s obvious characters are fighting in front of a green screen, I thought the special effects looked pretty good. The Samurai Robot was incredibly cool. It had a very unique design that blew the robots from “Pacific Rim” out of the water…and hopefully onto land because that movie had way too many battles in the freaking Ocean. The fight choreography is solid and a few parts stood out as being especially epic. But even though “X-Men 3” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” tend to be more reviled than this entry, they also had more memorable action set pieces. Then again, those films were intended to be high octane action and even if they had iffy scripts, they usually succeeded in the spectacle department. “The Wolverine” probably intentionally scaled down the spectacle in order to focus on the human element. Therefore, the action was pretty underwhelming, much like the rest of the movie. With that said, I did like how the villains would actually use strategies and not act like total morons when taking on Wolverine. My favorite part is probably when Wolverine confronts the Ninja. They clearly know more about him than he knows about them and they use that to their advantage. The final battle between Wolverine and the Samurai Robot is…okay. It’s a bit one sided, but the gimmick was utilized enough.
If you read my review of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine“, you might’ve been startled to learn that I gave it a positive rating. Why was this? I thought the fight scenes were incredibly well shot, choreographed and edited. Even though I noticed the flaws in the script, they drowned under the might of the impressive action sequences…at first…When I watched it again on DVD, it didn’t hold up very well. The holes were magnified and the pacing was rather awkward. It has many more explicit ‘bad moments’ than “The Wolverine” did. This film isn’t necessarily exciting, but it is intentionally leisurely paced so even though I wasn’t totally into it, I wasn’t praying for it to hurry along either. But I think I liked the prequel more because it was- even if only in parts- entertaining. The characters were a lot of fun and their interactions amused me and I really did like the fight choreography. “The Wolverine” might not be bad, it’s just kinda dull. It lacks the sense of fun that its predecessors (even the bad ones) were able to deliver. I will always remember parts of the prequel and “X-Men 3“, even if they are overshadowed by their weaknesses. I doubt I’ll remember a single thing about “The Wolverine“, which is kinda weird. I mean, Wolverine fights ninja, robots, samurai and robot samurai…”The Wolverine” should be freaking amazing. But it’s not and I just believe you cannot make a good Wolverine flick. His cameo in “X-Men First Class” was far more epic than anything in “The Wolverine”.
ORIGINAL PARAGRAPH WHICH I DISCARDED BECAUSE I DIDN’T LIKE IT: The good things about being a movie reviewer is that critiquing can work as a kind of therapy. Whenever I watch a film that leaves me with conflicted feelings, I can pour said feelings out into a review and can come to terms with what I think. Even though I’ve been fond of the “X-Men” franchise as a whole, I have to admit that the only time this project excited me was when Darren Aronofsky was attached. Even though the comic which this is based on is held in high regard, I don’t read comics and the premise sounded too much like a soap opera. When the trailers were released, they failed to get my fanboy blood pumping and the lukewarm reviews didn’t help. But there wasn’t any doubt that I would watch it. I mean, Wolverine fights giant robot samurai? Wait, how am I not excited by such a concept!? Maybe the trailers left me unimpressed though because they fueled my fears about the movie. It is a soap opera dressed as a comic book flick, where Wolverine encounters potentially racist Japanese stereotypes. Yet what complicates things is…it doesn’t do all this poorly.
Nudity: None. A possible off-screen sex scene, but it’s ambiguous as they are wearing quite a bit of clothing afterwards.
Overall: I didn’t like “The Wolverine” very much, but not because it’s bad. It’s just not what I wanted out of it.