Monday, July 29, 2013
As for the rest of "The Wolverine", its a movie that isn't so much middle of the road as much as glued to the yellow dividing line. This is the sixth X-Men movie at this point, a series that has gone from passably mediocre to sinfully awful and then briefly touching excellent with "X-Men First Class", until finally with this newest film going full circle and ending right back at passably mediocre again. Its hard to imagine that there really was that much of a market to see a movie exclusively about Wolverine anymore, after he's already had the starring role in three of the X-Men movies and a whole prequel origins story to himself. Admittedly, that prequel origins story was one of the worst super hero movies ever made, but its not like Wolverine is in desperate need of much exposure anymore. Also, this is a sequel to "X-Men 3", a movie that doesn't quite need continuation as much as big pit in the Southwest in which to be buried for all time.
I mean, really? Are there really people out there who spill sexual excitement when they hear that Wolverine is going to have yet another movie? I'm sure there's those surviving members of the Nineties comics generation are oozing over Jean Valjean's pecks in that poster there, but as for us casual movie nerds, what does "The Wolverine" really offer? To be fair, it did fix most of the issues of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", in that this movie is actually about Logan and not a badly rushed plot that existed mainly to find a way to shove Deadpool, Gambit, and a man in a bad fat suit into many many badly pandering cameos. There are only three mutants in this movie, and one has a power that is entirely useless to combat and is instead just a girl really good with swords. This time the plot is an evolving mystery putting Logan at the center of several warring factions and betrayals in the midst of modern Japan, basically making him the cynical detective in a noir story.
But just the fact that "The Wolverine" doesn't do anything particularly wrong doesn't make it a good movie. Hugh Jackman, as always, is game as the lead, but none of the supporting characters are quite up to being in the same scene as him. The main female love interest offers nothing beyond being a Princess in Another Castle. The movie introduces a huge element of Wolverine losing his powers, making him actually vulnerable for once... then does nothing with it.
2013 hasn't been a great year for movies, but at the very least it hasn't been a simply irredeemable year, and most of that is thanks to "Iron Man 3", which against all odds, remains the best movie I've seen this solar cycle. "The Wolverine" actually has something of a similar plot of that wonderful Tony Stark adventure, as they both are rather small movies in scope focusing on their heroes, who spend of the film underpowered. However, while "Iron Man 3" was actually able to make a big deal about this, giving Robert Downey Jr. quite a lot to work with as he creatively defeats his enemies without his power suit, "The Wolverine" really cannot figure out how Wolverine without his Health Regeneration would fight differently. Old Wolverine would stab guys with his claws and brush off bullet wounds. New Wolverine stabs guys, brushes off bullets, but then cries later about how it stings. The movie is so bored of this gimmick that it actually dumps the mortality plotline before even the final climax, giving us a just as unbeatable hero as always.
Its really a shame because I can imagine that a previously immortal character suddenly becoming mortal would result in all sorts of drama and difficulty. Especially for Wolverine whose main method of attack involves shoving dinner knives through his knuckles, which should cause severe injuries to any person without auto-regeneration. Wolverine has spent centuries rushing his opponent without any fear of damage. He could laugh as bullets turn his arms to swiss cheese, since the holes are just going to magically fill up in a moment anyway. Now you'd think Wolverine would be at a severe disadvantage, having never really experienced mortal kombat before. I can even imagine Wolverine having to meet some ancient Japanese samurai living at the top of a great peak, having to master some archaic Eastern martial arts before facing his opponents. The movie does none of this. Instead he fights yakuza thugs on top of a damn bullet train, when you'd think at some point somebody would say "come on, this is nuts, we can put this fight away for a moment to at least stand someplace where our teeth aren't going to get blown out of our jaws"*.
Actually Wolverine's loss of regeneration fits direction into the villain's main evil plan, which actually doesn't make a lick of sense. I'll save that for a moment, but assume spoiler warnings at this point.
The main relationship in this movie is between Wolverine and this very pretty Japanese heiress of "the biggest company in Asia". Her grandfather is a dying WWII veteran, who Wolverine saved during the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki**. He offered Wolverine to take his immortality, but Wolverine refused at first. Then that old industrial magnate died, opening up a huge amount of intrigue in the midst of Japan. Inevitably, Wolverine is the only one who can protect the pretty Japanese girl from a simply absurd number of Yazukas, and they wind up having sex and kinda(?) falling in love. I say "kinda" because really they have as much chemistry between them as a two language classes, and wouldn't have hooked-up at all if not for the fact that they have sexual organs that happen to fit together. Its as bad of a romance subplot as can be imagined, made all the worse because Wolverine is mildly suicidal over killing Jean Grey in "X-Men 3", and he doesn't seem close to being over her.
Now spoilers: remember how I said that the Japanese industrialist wanted Wolverine's immortality powers? That's actually the main driving behind all of this murdering and betrayal. At the end Wolverine fights a big adamantine robot, and who is driving it? The industrialist, who wasn't actually dead. He only faked his death because Wolverine said no, one time. He didn't even let Logan sleep over the offer, this guy jumped right into supervillain plot complete with power armor and a full legion of ninjas. Only Wolverine actually was really considering the offer, and might have even said "yes" without any bloodshed that very morning. It gets worse though. Pivotal to the villain's plan is a scheme were they sap away Wolverine's power by putting a metal parasite on his heart, which required them to catch Wolverine during the night. They could have done the stupid mutation bone marrow transplant when they had Wolverine incapacitated that evening! That was it! They already won! Instead they go through this whole circus of confusing backstabbing, basically flying around the entire Solar System when they could have just jobbed a single city block to get to the destination.
Ultimately you can really see the problem with "The Wolverine" when you see the Stinger. Its so exciting and explosive that you realize what the rather dull movie you just saw has been lacking: joy. You never get out of your seat, you never really smile, there isn't anything to laugh at. Then the real stars of the X-Men franchise come on set, and you're like "YES! Why aren't I watching that movie??" Well, I'll have to wait a few years.
So let's conclude this monster of a review. There are good super hero movies. There are bad super hero movies. "The Wolverine" isn't really either of them. It fired itself without much ambition right into the center of mediocrity, letting this X-Men franchise continue forward under license just long enough for more interesting X-Men movies to get made. Like that sequel to "First Class", and whatever the Stinger was setting up. Really, there's nothing to remember here. What they really needed to do was interrupt the dull action and have Wolverine sing. We need an X-Men musical already. You got the Jackman, you got the ridiculous outfits, you got the camp, X-Men needs to be on Broadway.
* This always bothers me in particularly absurd action scenes. Like in "Quantum of Solace" while James Bond and that enemy agent are hanging from various roof ornaments, its just insane to keep on fighting. In real life, both of you have no excuse to even still be alive at this point, just climb on down, then keep fighting. Yeah... that's much less exciting, but still: have some common sense, won't you?
** I know X-Men happens in an alternate universe where mutants have existed for decades and apparently fought in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but this scene still bothered me as a graduate of the useless School of History. Wolverine is with a group of American POWs at Nagasaki, in a prison camp. The nuclear bomb goes off, killing every person there besides Wolverine and the Japanese officer he saved. Only one problem: no US POWs were killed at Nagasaki, the US specifically chose Hiroshima and Nagasaki as targets since they didn't have major POW camps. However, it is not known that twelve US POWs were actually killed at Hiroshima anyway as noted in this article. No US POWs were killed at Nagasaki, though some British and Dutch soldiers were lost.