Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Wolverine

Ronin on Empty
The SNIKT Hits the Japanese Fan

The last Wolverine movie—which was also the only entry in the "X-Men: Origins" series—was not very good (I gave a "Cable-Watcher" rating).  But, like Wolverine healing from his wounds and coming back whole, hope springs eternal like adamantium claws, and there were enough interesting aspects to The Wolverine that one wondered if this time they might have got it right. They were basing it on the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller mini-series from way, way back, and the director is James Mangold, who did Cop Land and Walk the Line. I mean he's no Darren Aronofsky (who he replaced on the project), but maybe, just maybe...

It tries very hard.

The script went through the hands of many writers, some of them quite accomplished—Christopher McQuarrie, Scott Frank—and Mark Bomback, who wrote Unstoppable and Live Free or Die Hard.  It retains some of the Claremont-Miller story, like the beginning with a self-exiled Wolverine living in the mountains, and his dealings with a bear and its careless hunter, but abandons most of it, causing it to suffer from serious story-bloat.  There are echoes of the original throughout—a mention of a bullet-train from the story turns into a full-fledged battle on the top of one in this—but instead of echoes, we have the roar of something almost wholly new, adding other elements and characters from other stories in the canon (thankfully limited to this world).  For example, it gives us a back-story of how Logan (Hugh Jackman) first met the man he will be dealing with in the movie—Yashida (Ken Yamamura in these scenes, then aging to Hal Yamanouchi). It's World War II, and he's in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, conveniently close to the city of Nagasaki, just when the second atomic bomb is dropped.  Logan shields the POW guard from the effects of the blast that crisps Logan, but, no worries, he heals from the effects in five minutes, although very painfully.

Fast forward.  When we find Logan in the present, he is haunted by nightmares of his dead love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).  As she died in the egregiously terrible X-Men: The Last Stand, I know exactly how he feels—I'm still bitter about how they atomized the Scott Summers/Jean Grey relationship in that movie. While he's attending to the bear hunter in the bar, he's confronted with the pint-sized assassin Yukio (Rila Fukusima), who, in her stealth ninja style has electric red hair.  Fascinating.  She is in the employ of Yashida, who requests the man who saved his life at Nagasaki to do him a service before his death.* That would be in the form of relinquishing his mutant-powers to him.  Makes sense—he's dying and wants to live forever, while Logan is living forever and hates it.  Nobody's happy, so why don't we switch each other's green grass.  Well, despite his oft-professed existential pain, the mutant either has a change of heart or he just knows how to position it and says that he would never curse someone with his everlasting powers, so, thanks but no thanks.  

Easy for him to say, he's living forever.

Yeah, I know Frank Miller likes it, but I never "bought" the
"Claws-stops-samurai sword" variation of Rock/Scissors/Paper.

Yashida dies (thanks, Wolverine!), distressing his family, including daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) who is attacked and threatened with kidnapping at her father's very public funeral.  So much for stealth.  At this point, it becomes a chase between the forces trying to kidnap Mariko (but who?) and some mysterious forces behind it all.  Oh.  And fights.  And chases.  And Logan gets hurt.  And fixes himself, because that's what he does, even if it undermines any sort of tension that he actually might get killed.

To give it some exotic Japanese flavor, part of a chase takes place arcade?

What Claremont and Miller cooked up in their mini-series was okay, if slightly uneventful.  But without the Mariko-Logan back-story of the original tale, what Mangold and his writers have done is complicate things...a lot, drag in a standard Marvel villain, Viper (played by Svetlana Khodchenkova) (or Madame Hydra, as she was occasionally known and they dress her up in the customary cut-away latex thing the character always seemed to wear) and basically start from scratch, occasionally waving at the original story.  The whole thing feels convoluted and clunky and only brings some surprises if you've actually read the comic books—standard movie-goers just get the usual twists and turns that they can see coming a mile away.  Mangold does try and bring something to the fights, but, with a PG-13 rating expected for the thing, there's only so much slashing that can be done in anything more than a suggestive fashion. As with the other X-men/Wolverine movies, you aren't shown the cleavage that happens when the SNIKT! hits the fan. For all the talk of the character's bad-assery, the violence that his powers implies and the fan-boys want to see will always be ham-strung by the movie ratings system.

Despite Jackman's performance (and he'll always be associated with this role no matter how many musicals he'll do) this one doesn't feel fresh or fun, recycling a lot of material, but more so.  That centerpiece fight on top of a bullet-train is the same sort of thing we've seen before—and recently in James Bond, Spider-man and The Lone Ranger—but the same stuff is being done, just faster and less impactful.  Despite the constant threat of falling off or de-capitation (for Wolverine, everything will just heal), how can you make a fight  on a bullet-train dull?

Stick around as the credits roll out, though, for a couple of essential appearances—one of which is very surprising—that will lead into X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will attempt to unite the original X-men films with the "First Class" ret-conning to smooth out some of the two series continuity issues.  

Really, does it matter? How about just concentrating on making a better movie, like the First Class formula-blaster was?

The Wolverine (2013) is a Cable-Watcher.

Okay, I REALLY don't buy the claws stopping the Silver Samurai's sword.
("The Silver Samurai??")

* Wait a second here.  Wolverine saves HIS life at Nagasaki, and pulls him all the way to Japan to do this?  I know he's an international crime-lord and all, but that's really against any "pay-back" principle or criminal code of conduct I've ever heard of.  "You saved my life, so to repay you, I'm going to ask you to save it again."  Oh.  Well!  When you put it THAT way!

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