After all, it's just a ride….

The Wolverine (2013)

wolf1In his sixth big screen outing as the tenacious self-regenerating ‘Weapon X’ Hugh Jackman must be pondering the vagaries of fate, as this was never supposed to be his part. Through fortune and circumstance he speared the role when the schedule on 1999’s Mission Impossible 2  shoot was extended, meaning that the originally cast Dougray Scott couldn’t fulfil his commitment to Bryan Singers X-Men  project, the roulette of show business handing Jackman an iconic role which he has come to own over a series of varying in quality movies, in which he always survives as a stirring embodiment the hugely popular comic-book character. Unfortunately the first iteration of standalone pictures X-Men Origins: Wolverine  was as depressingly dire as its clumsy title, with only a few set-pieces and pugilistic contortions to spice up a throughly tedious and committee crafted comic book snorefest, so the news that Darren Aronofsky was stepping into the directors chair of raised expectations for the comic book aficionados as well as wider cinema fans – what could an innovative director of his calibre produce within the confines of the superhero genre? Expectations were reduced when he walked in early 2011 and the studio quickly established a shortlist of potential new helmers, with James Mangold cresting high on the  $260 million spinning commercial success of his Knight & Day  caper embezzling the project from the likes of Doug Liman, Antoine Fuqua and Mark Romanek.

wolf2Nagasaki, 1945, the dying gasps of the Second World War. After saving a young officer by shielding him from the scorching blast of the Fat Man our grizzled hero Logan (Jackman) secures a lifelong friend and benevolent benefactor in the form of Shingien Yashida (Hiroyuki Sanada).  Slash-cut to the present day, and beset by nightmares of his dear departed love of his life Jean Grey the hirsutely shaggy Logan has ensconced himself in the Yukon wilderness, locked away from the world and writhing in soul-searching agony. After some asshole hunters kill one of the local bears our hero is tempted back into the civilisation to avenge the death of the magnificent beast, coming to his aid in a hilariously one-sided barroom brawl is Yukio (Ria Fukushima) an asskicking ninjaette whom has been on the Wolverine’s trail for some months. As a senior assassin/advisor of the all-powerful Yashida clan she has come to convince our hero to travel to Toyko and finally receive his reward at the behest of her Shogunate, as in the intervening years the man he saved back in 1945 has built one of the most powerful corporate clans in modern Japan. Reluctantly honouring the blood-oath Wolverine is soon drawn into a nefarious turfwar between the corporate dojos and the embittered Yakuza, a deadly civil war with the serpentine Yashida clan and all resting on the fate of Shingen’s granddaughter Marika (Tao Okamoto) who is now the heir to one of the most powerful empires in contemporary Japan…

wolf3I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this film, it’s no classic to be sure but as a self-contained story it has flair and character, like an independent six issue run  it breaks from the main mythology and carves up a occasionally exhilarating, competent couple of hours of super-entertainment. It was quite refreshing not to be beset with a gargantuan world threatening supervillain,  with apocalyptic superweapons or to be subjected to yet another tearful intangible sacrifice which is always surpassed with a final resurrection, it’s a much more character based tale which scythes efficiently through its faintly exotic oriental environment. That said some reviewers have bemoaned the abrupt tonal shift from a surprisingly detailed character based criminal thriller into the usual final act pixel pulsing kinetics of 21st century tentpole product, I for one didn’t mind as when’s all said in done I did want to partake in some eviscerating antics, and the finale does remain fairly low-key and  when compared to the holographic hallucinations of The Avengers  or Iron Man 3. Jackman certainly brings his muscular, brooding intensity to the part, lingering on Logan’s spectres and his current struggle for redemption, rather than just  which scythes these movies from one set-piece to another – it’s no Oliver or Brando performance but just enoigh to get you engaged in the story, and to see where his foray with the Japanese crime syndicates will cleave to next. Mangold and his crew have dropped the ball however with a lack of a credible nemesis for our muttonchopped bladesmith, as the slithering supervillan Viper – the scrabble bustingly named Svetlana Khodchenkova – her motivations and frankly her role in the whole movie is never clearly defined, a fault which much of the central portion of the films suffers with a veritable platoon of disgruntled ronin and seething Calvin Klien suited samurai in a rather confusing melange of snaky plots, schemes and Machiavellian corporate fecundity.

wolf4The set pieces are effective, clearly defined and pulse pounding – the bullet train scrap is probably the stand out from a simple CGI perspective – and the film has plenty of ninjas and who doesn’t love those swift-footed, silently shorn psychopaths? The Nagasaki detonation is appropriately horrific and apocalyptic in one of the ‘best’ nuke representations I’ve ever witnessed, with a truly disquieting sense of intense, end-of-days carnage which is oddly reverential for this kind of picture. It was quite interesting to see a funeral explode into a maelstrom of martial arts melees which subsequently spills out into the Shinjuku megalopolis in a broad coruscating daylight, as directors generally want to shoot such locations at night to make the most of the neon drenched atmosphere. – it also made me quite homesick for my Tokyo holiday from a few years back. The Wolverine is a solid example of screenwriters really laying the foundations of a potentially successful collaboration, as scribes Christopher McQuarrie has earned his kudos with the dexterous feint of The Usual Suspects  and Scott Frank was engaged on the fondly regarded Elmore Leonard adaption Out Of Sight, both are regarded as character motivated genre technicians, rather than the incompetent Philistines behind the likes of the Fantastic Four  pictures or (grimaces) the Daredevil and Elektra embarrassments where clearly the writers think that stringing ponderous action scenes with juvenile speechifying is all the depth that the material deserves. Inspiration could well have been provided by the Mitchum starring The Yakuza  although officially the film is lifted from the highly regarded 1982 mini-series that Frank Miller and Chris Claremont brought to Marvel comics, whatever the genesis this is a fun couple of hours at the cinema and a superior self-contained genre picture, a solid late bloomer as summer season shadows begin to lengthen and Autumn peeks furtively round the corner. As you’d expect from the Marvel product yes there is a post primary credits sting which sets up the scenario for next years Days Of Future Past  project, with Bryan Singer back on board anticipation is solidly building for that given the crossover with the successful X-Men: First Class  franchise entry, I don’t know about you but I for one can feel my hackles expectantly rising;


One response

  1. Carcotas

    First and foremost I must say that I absolutely loved this movie. But as I will cover in my review it may largely be due to the fact that I have always held the source material of this film in very high regard. Having said that, I do recognize that their may be a sliding scale of enjoyability for this film. If you are a fan of the 1983 Claremont/Miller miniseries of Wolverine then this is the movie you have been waiting for. If you are fond of the character Wolverine and interested into delving deeper into his chronology and exploring his inner conflicts, you will certainly enjoy this movie. If however, you have no familiarity, or no desire to familiarize with the character of Wolverine, you may find yourself not caring about many of the slower moments and longing for a more evenly paced action film.

    Fans of Claremont’s Wolverine rejoice, this Wolverine does it right. The film does its best keeping characters intact while deviating from the comics in the sake of a self contained story and grander character development. There are several of the shots in this film that are near recreations of the comic’s original panels, and although story lines have been shifted and shuffled in some places, its all there. Mariko, Yukio, Harada, Shingen and Viper may develop differently than in the comic series, but their relation to each other and contextual significance is intact. As a Wolverine fan it was also nice to see a meaningful relationship blossom between Wolverine and Mariko, unlike the comics where it really is love at first sight. Instead here Wolverine falls in love not entirely with the character of Mariko, but rather with the idea of being a protector, a take that is a welcome addition to the Claremont storyline. The characters of Silver Samurai and Viper undergo the largest facelift in this film, but it isn’t entirely out of place. Let us not forget they were involved in the X Men issues directly connecting to the Wolverine miniseries. Although their characters have undertaken slight adjustments in order to incorporate ideas from the Fatal Attractions storyline, the plot does well to take from Wolverine’s side of this storyline because it was one of the few times in the series where Logan did feel vulnerable. Many fans will recognize that the plot device and character of Master Yashida cannot be found in any of the original comics, but one must keep in mind it serves as a useful device to connect all the developments of Logan’s journey. All in all I think its the best character study of Wolverine that any fan could ask for. Wolverine struggles with his animalistic urges and his commitment to reform, he grapples to find meaning in his endless immortality, and he ultimately finds purpose and resolution that he had not before. None of these developments are significantly or profoundly discovered, rather they are slowly revealed, which may turn casual movie goers off from enjoying this film. As a thoughtful exploration of Wolverine’s character and a grand homage to incredible source material though, how can any Wolverine fan say no to this movie? It is the best X-Men movie and one of the best comic based movies.

    For those who would not consider themselves fans, but are rather moviegoers intent on enjoying a superhero epic, be warned. This film is a character study, it does not grapple with any conflicts outside of Wolverine’s internal struggles. The world is not being threatened, and not many lives outside of Logan’s are even being threatened, so the storyline does not crescendo in epic suspense like the Avengers or the Dark Knight. So for those not invested in Wolverine’s personal self discovery, some of the action can seem unmotivated and the pacing an obstacle to satisfaction. The film does its job in providing action sequences, but it intersperses several moments of symbolic soul searching, cryptic metaphors and relationship building that serve as pavement for Wolverine’s self discovery. This movie can still be enjoyable without interest in Wolverine’s inner conflicts however. With an outstanding supporting cast, a beautiful setting, and gripping and intense action sequences, it plays a lot like a token Bond film for those unfamiliar with Wolverine.

    Whether you are familiar with the original comics or not, this movie will certainly provide entertaining thrills and intriguing themes. If, however, you are a fan of the original comic books, this film is a wonderful achievement.

    More about the movie you can also find it here

    December 16, 2013 at 11:45 AM

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