24 Jul, 2013

REVIEW: The Wolverine

Posted by Hal Johnson in Reviews

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The Wolverine heads into theaters on July 26th, and will mark Hugh Jackman’s 5th appearance on screen as the character (6th if you count his brief cameo in X-Men: First Class), and with the films script based loosely on the beloved Wolverine mini series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, fans are expecting the best Wolverine their ticket price can buy. But does this tale of ninja and samurai warriors deliver? For the sake of ease in weighing the good with the bad, it behooves us to make a list. (Spoilers ahead.)

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The bad:

1. Imagine Wolverine losing his healing factor.

There’s something in the water in Hollywood that forces screenwriters to think in terms of coming up with a premise and then negating it. Imagine a world where no more babies are born…now imagine a baby being born in it! Imagine a world vampires can only come out at night…now imagine vampires by day! Imagine a world where mutants are cursed to live with their powers…now imagine if they could lose these powers! THIS IS SO BORING. Oh, but you’ll love this one! Imagine a super-hero whose healing factor always keeps him alive…

2. Overcomplication.

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I think when Hollywood producers look at a superhero comic, part of what they see is a bunch of ridiculous overcomplication, and they strive to emulate what they take to be an essential part of the genre. The worst offender recently was in Superman, where the skullifact gets coded in Supes’ DNA, but Viper in this movie was up there. This was the pitch: “Her name’s Viper, right? so probably she’s a snake ninja, and a super-scientist, and she is immune to poison, but she’s poisonous herself, and she has a long tongue, and her skin comes off, etc.” Why was that character even in there, except that fourteen drafts ago, some screenwriter who’d read a comic mentioned that Viper hangs out with Silver Samurai. It didn’t help that Viper acts like she’s in a TV movie, and her outfit is ridiculous. Also, she appears to have no motivation for anything she does. Viper is not the only character in this movie to get the overcomplication treatment, but she’s the most egregious.

3. Yukio is no longer punk rock, but rather a manic pixie girl.

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4. We now have to stop pretending X-Men 3 didn’t happen?

5. You know how exciting it is in a movie (or a comic book) when there are several sides, all after the same goal, and they all converge on it at once? Well, you’d think it would be great, because ninja and yakuza and Wolverine are all chasing Mariko, and yet somehow it’s really boring, because all they do is pass her from one group to the next. It’s a wasted opportunity, and it makes the film seem more episodic that it had to.

6. Wolverine’s not really the best at what he does.

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This is a problem in the comics at times, too, especially when someone’s writing Wolverine for the first time, but the temptation to have Wolverine get mauled constantly is such that he ends up not being a very good fighter. In the movie, when he’s fighting people with guns, he keeps getting shot, which sounds reasonable enough, except Yukio also has to fight people with guns. And then Wolverine fights people with swords, and they are constantly stabbing him. He’s just not very good at this.

7. The plot doesn’t make any sense. E.g. If your whole plan is to kill someone, why do you make such an effort to take her alive? Actually, listing all the things that made no sense would just be listing all the things in the movie.

8. Showing your hero survive a nuclear bomb in the first five minutes does not help increase tension for the rest of the movie.

The good:

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1. People fight.

That sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually kind of unusual nowadays, when fights are cobbled together in post with a bunch of blur effects and some second-unit shots of darkness. If your idea of a superhero movie is Batman lumbering around and trying vainly to swing his arms while encased in a rubber snowsuit, or a cartoon Iron Man punching a cartoon, this will be an eye opener. I’m not claiming this is the next Raid Redemption, but I don’t think even diehard fight fans will go away completely dissatisfied.

2. The healing factor thing I complained about wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

The movie manages to make it seem more like a villain’s gambit then a central ontological crisis.

3. It felt like an adventure! You know, like a comic book!

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I have to imagine that my superheroes have lots of adventures all the time, but this is precisely what Hollywood does not want me to imagine. Superhero movies are always the ONE BIG THING, even though superheroes were born and nurtured in a medium that only allows really big things to happen occasionally. Between the Phoenix Saga and the Brood we’re going to spend some time fighting Arcade, OK? Superman gets to Superman for thirty seconds before he’s committing Kryptonian genocide and blowing up Metropolis. Sure, The Wolverine builds to something that is important in Wolverine’s life, but it starts slow. It just feels right, to have an annoyed Wolverine flown to Japan to visit a dying friend; and once he’s there, he realizes he’s in over his head…blah blah blah, this is an old story, but it’s one that works, and it has me immediately. Wolverine has lots of adventures, see? Sometimes he goes someplace new, and it should be normal, but then there’s danger all around him, you know, like in an ADVENTURE STORY.

The fact that The Wolverine can be so dumb and yet work so well indicates to me that it’s not really that hard to make a good superhero film. It’s just that people are going about it in the wrong way. I’d so much rather watch a pulpy action/adventure yarn than a pretentious, self-important failure-to-grapple-with-the-issues-it-thinks-it’s-grappling-with Christopher Nolan film.

And did you really want to see a smart Wolverine film?

( Editors note: Yes, there is a scene after the credits.)

The Wolverine opens in theaters everywhere July 26th.

 

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