Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: The Wolverine

As I’ve indicated in the past, I’m something of a huge X-Men fanboy. Watched a lot of the TV show when I was a kid, X-Men was the first superhero movie I ever saw in theaters, X2 is still one of my top 3 favorite superhero movies, period. But that franchise became more and more difficult to like, as X3 was really bad and Origins was just plain fucking awful. Still, First Class was good, hell great, and despite mediocre trailers and a director with an incredibly uneven career, I was optimistic, albeit cautiously, for The Wolverine. So, how did it turn out?

Well…pretty good actually. I don’t want to oversell it, it’s nowhere near as good as X2 or First Class. What it amounts to is a pretty sold, B to B- blockbuster, some good action sequences and decent character work, despite some flaws. And given the option, I’d take that over the D- of  X3 or the flat out F that was Origins (never mind some of the other blockbusters of the year) in a heartbeat. Call it the beneficiary of low expectations.

The plot is VERY loosely based (adapted is entirely the wrong word) from Frank Miller’s famous miniseries about Wolverine in Japan. Several years after the events of X3, Wolverine is handling X3 roughly the same way I did: Retreating into the frozen wilderness and waking up screaming (although he’s hallucinating Jean Grey; I mostly hallucinated Brett Ratner tormenting me). A woman named Yukio shows up, telling him that a man he saved from the Nagasaki bombing is dying and wishes to say goodbye. It turns out the man actually wants to remove Wolverine’s healing factor in order to save his life, as well as end Wolverine’s torment, as he’s grown tired of life. Wolverine refuses and his friend dies, but winds up having to protect the man’s granddaughter Mariko from various attackers, complicated by the fact that his healing factor has begun to mysteriously weaken anyway.

The plot is actually pretty solid, which still surprises me, even after having seen it. It’s constantly threatening to fall over into being an overcomplicated mystery plot, but it’s actually pretty solidly engaging, helped by the fact that it doesn’t have too many moving pieces. Unlike Origins and X3 which were overloaded with Marvel character cameos and shout outs, Wolverine has only a relative handful of characters which helps keep it focused. It also helps that most of the actors are really solid. Hugh Jackman is more into playing Wolverine than he has been since X2. Rila Fukushima is an interesting screen presence as Yukio and Hiroyuki Sanada is pretty solid as Shingen. Will Yun Lee and Svetlana Khodchenkov have too little screen time to really get a bead on them. The only irritation in the main cast is Tao Okamoto as Mariko. She’s not bad, but she’s playing the character a tiny bit too flat and I have to say, Wolverine and Yukio really do have more chemistry (but that’s an issue it inherits from the original comic).

Another major boost the movie gets is in the action scenes. All of the action is well put together and a couple of the action sequences are genuinely pretty inventive. Also, and this might be a personal opinion, but I kinda dig how comic-bookish the action scenes often are. The very first big action set piece involves Wolverine chasing Yakuza across a funeral while Ninja Hawkeye (I don’t know if he has an actual comic name) runs interference. And if you can’t dig that particular bit, you better be on your way to the lobby around the time Wolverine storms the mountain fortress defended by an army of ninjas.

Okay, I’m starting to oversell it, it does have its share of issues. The script is on the weak side and it has trouble keeping a consistent tone, due to being indecisive about how gruesome it wants the action to be. A lot of the mystery is accomplished via hiding information, which is the cheap way of creating mystery. Also, as much as I like seeing Famke Janssen back as Jean Grey, the movie can’t really decide what it wants to do with her.

The Wolverine is an imperfect movie, but it’s an engaging and enjoyable one, with good action, a solidly involving story and, it must be said, a kickass post credits sequence. It shows a continued good trajectory for the X-Men franchise and indicates that this year might finally be looking up. So call it recommended.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he promises he’s not giving this a good review because he got to see Hugh Jackman’s ass.

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