Stunt Granny Movie Review: The Wolverine

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I asked my wife her thoughts on The Wolverine shortly after we finished watching the movie.  Her response was simple yet telling – she enjoyed the film and characters, was able to follow the action and story, and had an overall entertaining experience.  She wasn’t a comic fan, hadn’t watched any of the other films, and barely knew anything about Wolverine.  Normally that would cause confusion and frustration in a comic movie, but in this case, she was given freedom to enjoy the film for its own merits. An ironic thing these days…

This movie came with more baggage than a displaced United jetliner.  A sequel to The Last (aka the movie that murdered/ruined/damaged the franchise) as well as a follow up to X-Men Origins (aka the film which may be worse than the Last Stand).  A solo story starring Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman played for the 6th time, or 1 more time than Robert Downey Jr has played Iron Man.  James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk The Line) replacing Darren Aronofsky, thus dredging up dour memories of Brett Ratner replacing Matthew Vaughn and giving us the Juggernaut meme we’ve never asked for.  A predominantly foreign cast consisting of two models (RIla Fukushima & Tao Okamoto) making their film debuts as the female leads; Hiroyuki Sanada aka the Japanese guy from the Last Samurai that wasn’t in Inception; Will Yun Lee, best known for starring in Elektra, Torque & Die Another Day (trifecta of mediocre action films) and a tall Russian who replaced Jessica Biel.  Add all of these ingredients to the fact that the X-Men film franchise has been polarizing at best, and sacrilege to the many members of nerd community, and it could’ve been a trainwreck.  Instead, it served as one of the best films in the franchise, and certainly the most thoughtful and grounded.

Instead of going the usual route of giving a synopsis and description, I decided to use the bullet point system on why the film works, as well as tackle certain criticisms of the film.  If you’re reading this, you either already have a general idea about what the film is about, or you’re going in as a neophyte, in which point I won’t spoil you with mundane details.

One of the hardest things to accomplish is a superhero film that isn’t an origin story nor a follow up to an origin story.  Often fatigue sets in toward the character, which leads to more action and characters being thrown into the mix to add spice to the franchise.  Sometimes it works (Iron Man 3, Dark Knight Rises), but usually it morphs into a toxic trainwreck of noise and nonsense (Spider Man 3, X-Men:The Last Stand, Blade Trinity).  The Wolverine avoids that by making it a strictly stand alone solo film.  There are probably a total of 7 characters in the entire film that play an important role.  It doesn’t make the mistake of cramming in a zillion characters for misplaced fan service – instead it allows the story and individuals to breath and live.  This is the Hugh Jackman show, and this is his most honest and authentic portrayal of Wolverine to date: a sad, tortured asshole who is a killing machine, while also struggling to be a man.

Setting – it’s amazing that we were given a mainstream action film set in Japan, with a predominantly Japanese cast, often speaking non-subtitled Japanese.  The setting is effective in taking both Wolverine and the audience out of their comfort zone.  This is a thoughtful, often subtle movie, interspersed with mostly authentic action pieces.  Adapted from what may be the best Wolverine story written, it follows him on a journey of suffering and redemption, struggling to deal with the curse of immortality and loss, while acclimating to a new environment and potential new love.  It’s not the typical save the world or save the girl story.  Instead, we get a Wolverine dealing with the aftermath of killing Jean Grey (payed in haunting dream scenes by Famke Jannsen), trying to find a reason to live….and still kicking ass.

Characters that are worth a damn – this is a lean tight film, allowing the characters to shine and serve as actual individuals.  Yukio, besides being the closest thing to a living anime character, plays an awesome foil to Wolverine.  Sexy, dangerous, humorous, yet vulnerable, her chemistry with Logan provides many of the film’s best scenes.  Another character with great chemistry is Mariko Yashida – a damsel in distress with a backbone.  Watching her and Wolverine slowly overcome their differences to bond gives heart to the movie.  Finally, we get a film in which the villains follow a rational plan. No trying to conquer or destroy the world – their ambitions are money, power and immortality aka the typical capitalist dream. From competent and deadly (Harada) to devious and greedy (Viper and Lord Yashido) to straight hard ass (Shingen), they provide a sizable challenge to Wolverine.  In addition, the loss of his powers (which is done in a reasonably logical fashion) serves to curb the biggest issue with Wolverine & superhero movies in general – leveling the playing field to place the hero in peril.

Which leads to perhaps the only hiccup – the final third.  It’s not bad, but it is definitely a jarring change; it ceases to play as a modern western and becomes a superhero movie.  I personally enjoyed it, but I can accept that it may be off putting the some.  But then again, how else would you end a Wolverine movie without a large scale fight?  I doubt people would pay 12 bucks to see him win in a game of cards.  As far as fidelity to the source material, it does a good job of adapting, while making changes to make a more ideal fit to the film.  Some people may complain about the changes made; those people are welcomed to buy the comic and let the movie tell its own story.  Besides, it does a much better job than The Last Stand and Origins in that regard (which isn’t saying much, but must still be said).

I would give Wolverine an enthusiastic thumbs up.  It tells an adult contained story while providing entertaining action, and is a great rebound from the travesty of X-Men:Origins.  And make sure you stay for the post credit surprise. -Shahid

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One Response

  1. Though it could have been way better, I still appreciated it for being than most other superhero flicks. Good review Shahid.

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