Monday, July 29, 2013

Movie Review: The Wolverine

The Wolverine
Directed by: James Mangold.
Written by: Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Logan), Tao Okamoto (Mariko), Rila Fukushima (Yukio), Hiroyuki Sanada (Shingen), Svetlana Khodchenkova (Viper), Brian Tee (Noburo), Haruhiko Yamanouchi (Yashida), Will Yun Lee (Harada), Ken Yamamura (Young Yashida), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey).

One time I’ve wondered about superhero movies is why the all seem to follow the same three movie arc, before petering out and/or rebooting themselves. In the first movie, the hero discovers their powers, learns how to use them and then has to confront a villain at the end. The second movie, they have to face an even bigger enemy – one that makes them question their own abilities – but eventually they overcome them, but not without some sort of cost. The third movie, the hero doesn’t really want to be a hero anymore – but has to, one last time – before they give it up. Most of these heroes literally have decades of stories to draw from in the comics – so why do they always follow the same pattern. This is what makes James Mangold’s The Wolverine somewhat refreshing. While it is still a part of the overall X-Men saga – specifically referencing events in X-Men: The Last Stand (and in a post credits sequence setting up next year’s Days of Future Past), for the most part this is a standalone entity that has a self-contained story. There are bad guys, of course, but the fate of free world doesn’t hang in the balance – entire cities are not destroyed, and thousands of people are not killed, and billions of dollars in damage do not occur. By superhero movie standards, The Wolverine is almost small scale. The story itself is not exactly earth-shatteringly original – if you don’t see the plot twists of the third act coming, you probably haven’t seen a movie before – but in the superhero genre, this is about as close as we’re probably going to get to originality.

The movie opens in Nagasaki on the day the bomb is dropped. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a POW, and he protects a kindly Japanese soldier from the blast (no, I don’t really believe what he does is possible – but at least he’s not in a refrigerator, right Indiana Jones?). The movie than picks up decades later – with Logan wandering around somewhat in Northern Canada, haunted my his past – in particular visions of the now dead Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). This is when he is approached by Yukio (Rila Fukushima). She says the Japanese soldier he saved all those years ago is now a rich and powerful man – and is dying. He wants to meet Logan to say goodbye. It takes some convincing, but Logan heads off to Japan. Of course, the situation is not quite as simple as he thought it would be – Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) doesn’t want to say goodbye – he wants Logan’s powers, and thinks he has a way to get them. Logan ends up embroiled in the affairs of a major Japanese corporation – and protecting the innocent Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who everyone seems to want dead.

This is the sixth time (if you include his one scene cameo in First Class) that Jackman has played Logan/Wolverine, and he can do the role in his sleep. This is one of the reasons why in the past I have suggested that perhaps it’s time to cast someone new in the role – and try to make the movies a little darker, since Wolverine is such a dark character to begin with. But in this movie, Jackman proves me wrong – the role is still suited to him, and he’s not sleepwalking through it. The film is a little darker than previous installments of the series – in particular the last stand alone Wolverine movie – and Jackman is up to the challenge. The movie is almost all Jackman – although he is ably supported by an almost entirely Japanese cast – and the movie at times is more of a character study than an action movie. While this is not the best X-Men movie (that’s still a battle between X2 and First Class), this is probably Jackman’s best performance to date as Wolverine – and considering just how long he’s been playing the character, that’s saying something.

The action sequences in the movie are also handled well – for the most part. The most exciting one without doubt in a fight sequence on top of a bullet train, which is exciting and entertaining. There are other good ones – a chase sequence that starts at a funeral for example – that are also handled well – none of that lame rapid-fire editing we normally get. Mangold is more a traditionalist, and he keeps the action on a smaller scale. This works better for me – and makes it more exciting – than say Superman and General Zod destroying whole cities at a time. The movie does go over the top in the climatic fight sequence though – and drags it on too long – but that’s to be expected in these movies. They all do that.

The movie was shot in 3-D, and I have to say, I didn’t see much of a point in it. It doesn’t ruin the movie like bad 3-D can do, but considering the movie is on a smaller scale, I didn’t really see why it needed to be in 3-D, and cannot think of a single sequence that was enhanced by it. The special effects are fine – in keeping with the rest of the movie, they are on a smaller scale than most superhero movies in recent memory, but they are effective.

The Wolverine is not a great movie – and yet, I do think it’s a good one, and rather refreshing. If studios are going to insist on making lots and lots of superhero movies every year (and they seem to) and audiences are going to keep flocking to them (which they seem to be doing), it makes sense to try and do something different – at least every once in a while. And while The Wolverine doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to the genre, it is different than most recent superhero movies. Those ones have started to blend together and be inter-changeable. The Wolverine is not a great superhero movie – but at the very least it’s a different superhero movie – and that’s perhaps even rarer.

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