The Wolverine

The_Wolverine_(film)_poster_001Watched The Wolverine yesterday on regular TV; I really forgot how annoying the ad breaks are. Luckily a mute button was there for me to make things a little bit better.

I love Hugh Jackman and I love the character, but I skipped the movie during its theatrical release. I still had the foul aftertaste of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in my mouth, a legitimately shitty movie if there ever was one, and the trailers just didn’t look inspiring enough. While The Wolverine is not anywhere as terrible as Hugh Jackman’s first solo outing, it’s still nothing more than mediocre. It’s not exciting enough as an action/thriller and much too superficial to be a thoughtful, mature character study it was obviously aiming to be. In fact the best thing about it is this rather cool Japanese-style poster.

It starts well enough with a gorgeously shot prologue sequence set during World War II, in which Logan saves a Japanese soldier from annihilation during the Nagasaki bombing. Cut to the present day, Logan is a depressed bum living somewhere up north, tortured by the memory of killing Jean Grey at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand. Which is where my big problems started: it’s not exactly this movie’s fault, but I just never bought the idea of Jean being Wolverine’s One True Love. I love X2, but that scene near the end where Logan starts to blubber “she’s gone” honestly makes me cringe every time. As a result, all the angst over her death in The Wolverine fell flat despite Hugh Jackman’s best efforts. The “hero finds himself in the darkest place and must rise” arc can be effective, but if the setup feels phony to start with the whole thing falls apart. I had exactly the same problem with Dark Knight Rises.

Anyway, Logan mopes around until he is tracked down by Yukio, a young Japanese martial arts expert who explains to him that her employer, Ichiro Yashida, the same Japanese man who Logan had saved, is dying and wishes to say goodbye. Once in Japan, Yashida reveals to Logan that he wants to make him a parting gift and make Logan mortal, so that he could have a chance at normal life. Logan also meets the other members of the Yashida clan, including Mariko, Ichiro’s granddaughter, who (duh) immediately catches his eye.

The theme of immortality and its burden is pretty intriguing, even if it’s already been explored in dozens of vampire movies, though I’m not sure why it would be a burden to Wolverine since, being an amnesiac, he can’t actually remember most of his past life. But ok fine, the thought of immortality could be pretty depressing I guess. However, the movie then immediately dumps this theme in favour of Logan getting involved in the intrigues of the Yashida family, and getting all protective over Mariko. Also, the minute the dying old man tells Logan that his powers of regeneration can be transferred to someone else, I immediately figured out where this was all going. Let’s see, is there a character in this movie badly in need of regenerative powers? Why I believe there is! From then on, it’s just about sitting through the family machinations and chases and fights and a lame romance and more fights until everything is revealed in a very silly third act. I suppose the makers of the movie thought it would be fascinating to take Wolverine’s healing powers away and make him more vulnerable, but it doesn’t amount to much. I never felt like the stakes got higher or that Logan was ever in genuine danger.

You can tell that Hugh Jackman is 100% committed to the role, but flashes of laconic humour aside, Wolverine is stuck in the one-note, brooding, glowering mode here, and is nowhere as compelling as he was in Singer’s first two X-Men movies. His romance with Mariko is absolutely lifeless; I’ve been harsh on the Logan/Jean romance just before but at least it had some palpable chemistry and flirtation. Here, Mariko and Logan kiss simply because that’s the spot in the screenplay where characters are supposed to kiss. Far more believable is Logan’s growing friendship with Yukio, who turns out to be a close friend of Mariko’s and also has a gift of seeing into the future. The actress who plays her is a striking girl with almost stylized looks – red hair, huge eyes, triangular face – and if her line delivery is a bit stilted at times it actually adds to the oddness of the character somehow. It’s funny that Logan’s platonic relationships with women in these movies (Rogue and Yukio) are so much more convincing than any of his romances. The most ridiculous character in the whole movie is Viper, a physician employed by Ichiro Yashida, who is also a mutant with snake-like powers. The Russian actress who plays her seems to be under an impression that she’s really playing Poison Ivy in Schumacher’s Batman & Robin; her over-the-top campiness is completely out of place.

The action in the movie was very hit-and-miss. The bullet train sequence was lots of fun, but many of the fight scenes are shot in confusing close-ups and aren’t as exciting as “Wolverine vs. ninjas” sounds in theory. In fact, the scene with the ninjas, which ends with Wolverine walking around like a living pincushion with dozens of arrows in his back before toppling over in a Christlike pose, is unintentionally hilarious. I did like the Japanese setting, and my favourite piece of set design was the old man’s bed which automatically moulds itself as he sits up or lies down. In the end though, I’m glad I saved myself twenty dollars.

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