Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Wolverine

Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way.  A lot of people—namely X-Men comic book fans—are not happy with how this whole movie franchise started.  Now, I was never a strict X-Men comic book fan back in my book collecting days.  I'd glanced at a few, collected some key issues, and enjoyed when some of the characters interacted within the comic books I was a fan of and collected.  But I never had enough knowledge of the characters within that universe to really give an opinion of how the movies compared to it.  The only thing I remember thinking, after watching the first X-Men film was that Hugh Jackman was too thin and tall to play Logan, aka Wolverine, but that he seemed to have the character down pretty well.

With all that said, I can understand the strict fan boys’ complaints of how certain characters were introduced before others, screwing up the continuity with how it’s portrayed in the books.  But as an average moviegoer, I see nothing wrong with the first few movies (yes, even part three).  Even after watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I was okay with the lighthearted way the story played out and how it explained everything that happened to the character that made him the way he was.

The problem I see, as a fan of just the movies, is after X-Men: First Class was released.  Right off the bat, knowing that First Class took place before the first Wolverine standalone, there’s a few conflicts within the whole chain of storylines throughout: the character of Emma Frost, when the professor goes bald and becomes paralyzed, the age of William Stryker, when Hank McCoy actually becomes Beast, etc.  But…who knows?  Maybe all these errors will be corrected with the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Of course, you also have the comic book fan boys upset at how Hugh Jackman is a pretty boy Wolverine instead of the short, stocky, hairy character he’s portrayed as in the comic books.  There are also complaints about how he hasn’t gone into his “berserker rage” in any of the films.  Seems that—in the comic books—the character sometimes gets into this rage where he goes nuts, clawing and fighting, increasing his strength and not being able to be stopped until he calms down.  Well…we almost saw that in part two of the X-Men films, when Stryker’s soldiers took over the Xavier mansion and kidnapped most of the students.

Lastly, people just complain about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, saying it was just too soft of a film with a dumbed down story until it climaxed with ruining another beloved X-Men character (Deadpool).  Okay…I can agree with that last part.  But I still loved it.

So, finally…as promised by Hugh Jackman himself…we get the sequel to the first Wolverine film.  No number “2” after the title, no subtitle like “returns” or “revenge.”  Nope, the sequel is simply titled…The Wolverine.

Jackman has been talking about this sequel for a while, telling us that it was going to be based on the storyline of the Wolverine comic books where the character travels to Japan.  Now, I knew nothing of those books and what they were about, but hearing that Frank Miller was involved with those books, I knew they had to be good. 

Talk of the film was all we heard for a year or so, until the news came out that Darren Aronofsky was going to direct.  From what I’ve heard about his work, it seemed like the movie was going to be in good hands.  There was even word about Aronofsky’s concern about Jackman’s look, that he wanted him to bulk up more to make him appear shorter, like the Wolverine character in the comic books.  So hearing that made me feel this director knew the source material pretty well.  But, alas, word had gotten around that Aronofsky wasn’t satisfied with Fox Studio’s cooperation and left the production.
Although no director was tied to the film, Jackman assured everyone that The Wolverine was going as planned.  True to his word, the news came out that James Mangold (Cop Land, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) was hired on as the new director.  I was a little leery of this news, especially after hearing how committed Aronofsky was to the character, and how Wolverine was going to be portrayed in the film, it made me believe that Mangold may not be as committed.  I thought—at the time—that time would tell.

July 26th of 2013 rolled around and I took a trip to the local movie theater, plopped down a few bucks and watched The Wolverine

The film starts out, taking place during World War II, where Logan is being held prisoner in an underground steel-reinforced pit at a Japanese camp.  A Japanese soldier, Yashida (Ken Yamamura), is watching over Logan in the pit when American bombers start flying in to bomb the area.  He frees Logan and goes to the other soldiers who are already starting their ritual of honorable suicide—Seppuku.  Logan, seeing this, goes over and grabs the soldier, taking him back to the pit and throwing him in as the bombs begin to drop.  He jumps down to cover Yashida, taking on most of the fire that come down intothe pit from the bombs, protecting the young soldier and saving his life.  Years later, taking place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan is now living in the woods, like an animal, unkempt and haunted by the memory of Jean Grey.  A Japanese girl shows up and convinces Logan to come back with her to Japan, telling him that someone wants to repay him for what Logan did for him so many years ago.  But what he faces in Japan is a struggle and test, as he becomes vulnerable for the first time in his life, both with his powers and his feelings for the granddaughter of the man he saved so many years ago.

First and foremost, I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with this film.  This has got to be the best we’ve seen Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.  He really bulked up and looks pretty badass as the character, bringing it full throttle like we’ve never seen him in any of the X-Men-related films.  I
thought he was in great shape before, but, my God, he’s close to Arnold Schwarzenegger size in this flick—very impressive.

I had my doubts, at first, when the synopsis came out that the film was going to take place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, but it turned out that it helped the film.  As Logan has regressed to the feral side of his character, completely alone with no reason to be part of the X-Men anymore, we realize that this is his way of dealing with the loss of Professor Xavier and Jean Grey.  Since those two characters are what grounded him in the preceding films, not having them sends Logan back to his nomadic ways.  However, we see that Logan can’t forgive himself for what he had to do to Jean, as it’s been lingering and bothering him.  It’s this first part of the film that I really enjoy, seeing Logan with long, scraggily hair and a big, bushy beard, living with the animals in the woods, that he’s almost to the point where he’ll be savage for good.

When the movie gets to the meat of the plot, I must say that I love this Japanese storyline.  Speaking as a guy, when a film includes ninjas, it's always a good thing.  Even if I were watching a Christmas movie, sticking in a ninja or two is always a plus.  But seriously, the foreign intrigue of Japan is there, seen through the eyes of Logan as he’s definitely a man who sticks out like a sore thumb in a far-off land.  In this film, he’s shown as a man of honor and one who is haunted by a long-dead woman who he truly still loves.

The action scenes in The Wolverine are pretty intense, especially the supersonic train scene (even though we’ve seen it before in Mission: Impossible) and anytime Wolverine is up against ninjas…which happens quite a bit in this story.  He gets his ass beat and handed to him, and with the added subplot of him starting to lose his healing powers, it gives him (and us) something to worry about.

The only things I can nitpick about this film are just a few.  The inclusion of the character of Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is one.  She seemed unnecessary to the plot and could’ve been replaced with anybody else to move the story along.  But since she was somewhat involved with what went on in the film, I’ll forgive this pointless character addition.  Also, just like the mistake, in my opinion, of the first Wolverine film, the definition of Adamantium is just not understood.  It’s supposed to be an
imperishable metal, with nothing that can break, cut, or penetrate it.  Stryker, himself, said the only way to use it and process it is in its raw molten form…after it hardens, it’s indestructible.  Yet, in the first film, they create Adamantium bullets so that Stryker can shoot Logan in the head to erase his memories.  In this one—I won’t give away the scene—a heated Adamantium sword is used to cut off Logan’s claws.  If there are two materials that are of equal strength and durability, they should just bounce off each other, especially after being touted as indestructible.  But…those are just a couple of complaints—very minor and very insubstantial. 

My final “bit” on The Wolverine?

Hugh Jackman is back, and better than ever, as Wolverine.  It’s hard to believe that this is the sixth time he’s played the character, with the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past being his seventh.  Not only that, but to hear hat Jackman knows the source material of this character, citing certain storylines from different series of comic books, makes me have faith in what he’ll bring to the character in any personification of Wolverine.  It’s a shame we’ve all got to age, because playing a character that doesn’t age can’t fare well when casting someone to play that part for nearly 15 years.  Jackman was 31 or 32 when he first played Wolverine; now he’s 45 and they’ve announced a sequel to this one to be released in 2015 or 2016.  Man!  He’ll be around 48 years old!  But I don’t think anybody else can play the character as well as he can.  All that notwithstanding, The Wolverine should not be missed!

By the way, there’s a pretty cool after credits scene that sort of sets up X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Also, now that the Blu-Ray and DVD are out, check out the alternate ending…pretty cool.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

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