[Review] - The Wolverine

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
The X-Men franchise was one that I had all but given up on. Despite all the very exciting things coming out of Bryan Singer's twitter account, that the series hasn't produced a good instalment since X2 was rather off putting. But Fox keeps pushing, insistent that this is a sustainable lineage of films. And for the first time in a decade, they might be right. Because while not perfect, and ending about fifteen minutes later then it should, The Wolverine is easily the best instalment of the the series since X2. And it achieves this rare honour by being the one thing most superhero movies aren't: a real movie.

And then a giant robot shows up, but we'll get to that.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that aren't spoiling like they used to.

Let's get right to the biggest issue with the film, in that the final climax has no right or purpose being in the film. The proper film ends as a desperate father puts on ancient armour, and Logan is forced to act against his oath. The final sequence, involving the giant robot, is so divorced from the feeling of the rest of the film, seemingly added to remind people that this is a superhero movie, despite the rest of the film being very consciously not that. So it ends up being distracting and sours a thoroughly enjoyable film.

No, scratch that. The biggest issue with this film is that it, in no uncertain terms, canonises X-Men: The Last Stand. And there can be no forgiveness for that.

I've never been a fan of Japanese culture. By which I mean, I've never been been captivated by their contributions. I've nothing against the Japanese, they are an amazing people who, if push came to shove, could probably take over the world in a Terminator-style robot invasion. But in school, when other people were obsessed with ninjas, I never saw the appeal. Samurai's too just never seemed as interesting to be as others clearly thought they were. I've just never found the culture alluring, from a foreigner's perspective. So, knowing that this film was essentially "Logan's Holiday In The Land Of The Rising Sun," I prepared myself for being bored as hell, as east met west, cultural confusion abounded, and loads of unnecessary martial arts caused the camera to pulse and sway. Thankfully, there was very little of all that, with James Mangold ignoring all the standard stranger in a strange land trappings, and focusing just on Logan's emotional journey. A wise move, that.

An indeterminate time after the events of X-Men 3, Logan has exiled himself from the world in the Yukon, attempting to devolve into a wolverine by camping out in the woods and growing a magnificent hobo beard. Even the bears respect that this is a dude you don't mess with. He's also haunted by a really mean spirited vision of Jean, played by Famke Janssen, who keeps taunting him about how he killed her, and how he really aught to walk towards the light, because in over-exposure land, everyone gets to wear their jammies and no one looks like Charles Manson. Jean also gets to kick Cyclops' corpse one more time, telling Logan that "there is no one else here." Even dead, that guy can't catch a break.

Wolverine finds himself drawn to Japan by the request of a Japanese solider he saved from the bombing of Nagasaki, which occurs in the opening flashback dream sequence, which hilariously features Logan getting skinned by the blast, only to regenerate everything, including his side burns and oddly shaped hair. Apparently the healing factor works off templates. The now old and dying man offers Logan the chance to remove his healing factor, to become mortal, and eventually die like a normal person. This isn't a new story, by any stretch, as nearly ever hero with a super power has cursed their power, and been offered the chance to remove it at one point or another. Ultimately, they always determine that their powers are part of who they are, and they can't go back to living a normal life, asking for them back (I'm thinking specifically about the first Fantastic Four movie, and any one of a dozen Spider-man story arcs). Wolverine comes at it from a slightly fresh perspective, in that Logan's powers are removed without his consent, he wants them back from the get go, and any understanding he comes to involves his own ability to put his past behind him, and live like a normal person despite not being remotely that.

What saves Wolverine from being a standard issue comic book movie is that the story isn't concerned with anything overly supernatural. Mutants are rarely referred to as such (or at all), and with Logan's healing factor tuned down to minimum, the story is allowed to focus on the reality of the characters rather then the craziness of the universe. We can appreciate Mariko's plight because it is predicated on emotions and family loyalty, rather then the menace of someone in tights and a helmet. Her grandfather and father want different things, putting her in the cross hairs of the Yakuza. It's a straight up mob drama, which happens to have a guy with knives in his hands at the centre of it. The whole things scales the usual comic book film perspective away from fractious action and bizarre plots, and keeps things simple and grounded. Aside from the ending, the biggest action sequence in the film is a fight on the roof of a bullet train, which itself is low key, and probably the most realistic train roof fight you'll see, in that no one can do much of anything due to the speed and wind.

The film, as fitting to the character, is also very funny, with Logan getting some good one liners in, proving that even in his grief, he still gives good snark. And the sequence with the "love hotel" is about as far as the movie goes in addressing the more bizarre aspects of Japanese culture. This is well balanced by everyone else in the film taking everything just seriously enough, so that there is no ham in the acting, the scenery doesn't get chewed on, and everyone, even Jackman, silently agreeing that this isn't really an X-Men film. There are missteps, such as the character of Viper, who is pointless to the plot and added in I suspect because without her, there wouldn't be another mutant in the cast (Yukio counts, but her reveal is much later, and has a very subtle power). Even in the final scene, where Viper gets the most to do, you sit there watching the film, wondering what is the point of her. Another in a long line of female villains in the franchise who might have been impressive, but end up serving no function other then to lick someone occasionally.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Wolverine, in relation to the rest of the franchise, is its willingness to change to status quo, something the other films save X3 have been hesitant to do (something all superhero films, expect for maybe the rescent Iron Man 3 are unwilling to attempt). And this is where the real spoiler come in, so if you haven't seen the film yet stop reading. OK. By the end of the film, Logan has been stripped of his most defining attribute, his adamantium claws, having them sliced off by the giant robot. It takes guts to remove the one aspect of the character so well known it literally has made up the advertising for every single film in the franchise which he's been involved in. He still has his bone claws, but to remove, and keep removed, his trademark would be like taking away Spidey's webbing, or Captain America's shield. And knowing full well that the character is set to immediately return in the next film, to time skip the end of the film ahead to tease that, and still have him clawless is a brave move, and I applaud it. I also found myself very interested in the further adventures of Logan and Yukio, even though it took most of the film for me to warm to her character.

The two year time skip between the end of the film and the post credits sequence, to leave room for sequels, was also a clever idea. As was winning over I expect, any audience members that might have been left cold by Wolverine's segmentation from the rest of the franchise universe, by bringing back Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart as Magneto and Xavier. For those moments, and those three men, you have very succinctly the reasons the original films were a success, the quality and calibre of acting from those three men in those roles, who give as honest and serious a performance in roles that probably don't deserve it, as they would anything else.

Wolverine has it's flaws, and like every other film, has continuity issues (how exactly does Logan remember the second world war?), but it rises above the failures of its most recent predecessors by actually caring about the characters, letting them move the story alone rather then just waiting around for the next bit of CG to kick in, and by once again proving that Hugh Jackman really is the best at what he does. With those sideburns.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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