THE WOLVERINE (2013)Directed by James Mangold
Written by Christopher McQuarrrie, Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Starring Hugh Jackman, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Jansen as Dead Jean Grey
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The best thing I can say about 20th Century Fox’s latest installment cementing their talons into the X-Men franchise is that compared to WOLVERINE: ORIGINS, THE WOLVERINE is a much better film. Now, is it a good movie? Ehhhhh.
I don’t want to come off as “that AICN comic guy” hating all super hero movies. I really don’t. I just have not been impressed by this year’s crop of super hero films. I go into every move hoping and praying that it will be good. I want to see as many comics made into movies as possible and even if it’s a property I don’t necessarily follow, I still think that a good movie will do nothing but good things for the comic book medium as a whole. So even though I gave up on X-Men and Wolverine comics as a whole quite a while ago, I was still crossing my fingers that this film would turn out ok. At the very least, it would highlight what makes the character of Wolverine so damn popular in the first place and maybe even reignite my interest in the comics.
For the most part, THE WOLVERINE is able to highlight what makes Logan cool, but tries damn hard to shoot itself in the foot as well. There are scenes of sheer badassdom. There are scenes of berserker rage as well as animal cunning. There are also quite a few exciting scenes involving ninjas and swords and bears and of course claws. Based heavily on the very first WOLVERINE miniseries written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Frank Miller, THE WOLVERINE tries to fill in the gap as to what’s been going on with Wolverine after killing Jean Grey in the abysmal X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND. Now, the fact that the movie series still embraces THE LAST STAND as part of the mythos is a difficult pill to swallow, but if you’re looking for a place to continue a story, you might as well start with a turd since whatever comes next is going to shine in comparison.
WOLVERINE: ORIGINS biggest misstep was taking a dynamic character, cluttering him with a myriad of uninteresting characters (Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool and Liev Schrieber’s Sabretooth debatably being the exceptions) and amping up the melodrama to preposterous levels (I lost count of the amount of times Wolverine roared to the heavens in rage and sadness). THE WOVLERINE, story wise, is somewhat less cluttered in terms of characters and the melodrama is slightly less amped, but still that doesn’t make it a great film.
THE WOLVERINE’s biggest fault lies in a very uninspired script. I don’t know how many times I shuddered at the dialog, most of which comes from the mouth of the character of Viper (which I will get to in a minute), but no one really has any lines that even come close to some of the more meaningful ones uttered by Xavier and Magneto and any of the previous films. Hell, even the level of tortured soul felt in the response to the question if the claws hurt when they come out, “Every time…” is never achieved. Instead, we open with Logan still overcome with grief for killing Jean Grey (Famke Jansen, who appears in the film numerous times during dream sequences). Because Singer amped up the relationship between Jean and Logan and completely shunned Scott Summers for the sake of giving moviegoers a love triangle, it’s hard to see Wolverine with anyone else other than Jean and this tough and gruff man-beast is cast more as a angst ridden soul going overly emo over his lost girlfriend than a lost ronin in search or purpose. The driving force in the story is basically Logan overcoming his grief from killing Jean Grey, but since it was obvious that Logan did the right thing in THE LAST STAND (I can’t believe I’m saying that), it’s hard to empathize with Logan for guilting himself for his deeds. Or maybe, those scenes, with Logan laying in bed with Jean, were just poorly composed and even more poorly written to make me believe in Logan’s angst.
As you can tell, while the framework of Claremont and Miller’s miniseries is used, that’s about it in terms of story. In the miniseries, Wolverine is returning to Japan after Jean and Scott get married. In fact the story opens with him looking at their wedding picture. Obviously he’s hurt, but it seems more like Wolverine is traveling to a land where he is comfortable and fleeing something that made him feel uncomfortable. He already knows the land and the ways of the samurai. In fact, if I’m remembering correctly, he already knows Mariko. You have to remember the context of this miniseries at the time. Wolverine was a man of mystery in the comics with nothing about his origin coming to light yet. To suggest that Logan had ties to Japan only added more intrigue to the character. Telling this story out of order and making this Logan’s first time in meeting most of these characters lessens the depth this story could have gone. Sure, Logan had been on Nagasaki when the bomb dropped, saving a young soldier named Yashida, giving him some history with the land, but for the most part, Logan seems to be learning about the Japanese warrior culture through this film for the first time, whereas he was a respected warrior and samurai in his own right in the miniseries. Making Logan a newb in this land definitely declaws the movie version of Wolvie quite a bit more (as if pining for his lost love every five minutes didn’t neuter the character to the point of no return already).
What also serves as a detriment to the script is some nonsense about the taking away and the transferring of Logan’s healing powers. Through science fiction rigmarole and word salad, we’re supposed to believe that Wolverine’s long life and healing abilities are able to be given and taken with numerous dues ex machinas. This serves as the central driving force of the villains of the film, but honestly, I found myself overcome with a feeling of no shits given. It’s not that it isn’t explained and over-explained again numerous times by numerous characters in the film, it’s that the whole thing just wasn’t interesting to me. This could have been a nice dissection about finding lost honor, a LAST SAMURAI done right without Tom Cruise. Instead, we get Weepy Lo-Lo angsting about Jean with everyone trying to steal his power to heal and sort of falling into Mariko’s arms as a place-saver.
And unfortunately, that’s what Mariko serves in this film. Because Jean is set up to be “the one”, Tao Okamoto’s Mariko doesn’t stand a chance. It doesn’t help that the actress isn’t the best at what she does, but the moments she spends with Logan don’t really warrant any sympathy or heart. She’s just the girl in trouble in need to be saved by Wolverine only because he needs a girl to do so in the script. Worse yet, bad guy number 2, the Viper is probably the worst super hero movie villain in recent memory. Played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, the Viper has the power to emit toxins and shed her skin for no reason at all. Her other power is to bore the audience to tears with endless exposition as a means to catch up the idiots who can’t follow the plot. Every time this actress is on camera is absolutely painful (I’m talking catheter style painful) to watch as she preens and poses as if she’s modeling her performance after Catwoman in the BATMAN TV series.
Fortunately, Logan’s would-be sidekick and bodyguard Yukio (Rila Fukushima) is not bad, though her English is pretty rough. She has more charisma than most in this film and definitely makes for some of the more entertaining scenes as she often acts as Logan’s savior (though most of the time, the saving isn’t necessary). THE LAST SAMURAI’s Hiroyuki Sanada is wasted here as Shingen Yashida. There just didn’t seem to be enough room in this film for the excellent actor’s presence and talent here.
Hugh Jackman continues to do Logan justice in this film. By now, he’s got the character down. And moreso than ever, though obviously too tall, he’s got the physique as he roams around half the movie shirtless and flexed. The man did some heavy prep for this film and it shows, making Wolverine at least look like a beast not to be fucked with. Jackman has the chops to almost make the script come alive, even in the rough expositiony or overly emo bits. The guy can act, there’s no doubt about that. It’s just that Jackman had a flawed script to work with here.
There were moments of cool in this film, but by the time they came around, my investment had left the building. The coolest of scenes being Wolverine’s ascent to the Yashida castle where he takes on an entire band of ninjas. While it doesn’t come close to the kinetic battles from the original miniseries with Wolvie mincing his way through scores and scores of black clad shadow warriors, the scene where the ninjas fire multiple arrows in order to stop Wolverine was impressive. How it functioned in the plot is beyond me, since after stopping Wolverine from going to the castle…the ninjas take Wolverine to the castle. Still it was a cool scene.
The final showdown between Wolverine and the Silver Samurai is ok if you like CGI, but again, traditionalists are going to be disappointed that instead of an actual samurai looking to defend his honor, Wolverine is instead battling a giant robot. Personally, at this point, I was just counting the minutes for this misstep of a film to end, but if the film had you up to this point, the overly CG-ed ending is going to take you out of the film.
The best part of the film, without a doubt, is the teaser after the end credits. It’s sad that during the first salvo of credits, people were moaning a bit upon realizing the film was over, then after seeing the end credit bit seeing the excitement level rise to a deafening roar. Too bad you have to sit through an uninspired film in order to get the final three minutes of goodness. And this teaser to X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is pretty great, though I won’t ruin it here. It is, by far, the only reason to see THE WOLVERINE though. I don’t want to encourage sneaking into theaters, but if you have to see three minutes of this film, the post credit sequence is the only thing I took away from THE WOLVERINE that was truly worthwhile. The rest of the film was over-expository, clunkily told, overly emotional, downright dull in bits, tonally misguided, and ultimately unnecessary. Still, I left with a smile after the closing credit sequence was over, so there’s that.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.