Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: The Wolverine

Finally, a decent movie comes out of Summer Of Duds 2013.

The Wolverine is a vast improvement over 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which I admit is damning it with faint praise. Although the movie is firmly set in the X-Men universe, Wolverine is most definitely on his own here, having little interaction with his fellow mutants. Maybe that helped set the film above its predecessor.

It's got an impressive pedigree, as it was written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, and directed by James Mangold. 

Bomback previously wrote The Night Caller, Godsend, Live Free Or Die Hard, Deception, Race To Witch Mountain (!), Unstoppable and Total Recall (2012). Frank previously wrote MaliceGet ShortyOut Of SightMinority ReportFlight Of The Phoenix (2004), The InterpreterThe Lookout and Marley & Me (!).

Mangold previously directed Identity3:10 To Yuma (2007), Knight And Day.

The film was delayed several times, most notably when original director Darren Aronofsky bowed out and also due to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, where much of the movie was shot.

This marks the nineteenth time Huge Ackman has played the clawed superhero, and… hold on… I'm being told that this is the sixth time he's played him, counting the cameo in X-Men: First Class. I guess it just seems like nineteen times.

The film is based more or less on the 1982 Wolverine miniseries, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Frank Miller. One major difference between the two-- in the comic Wolverine was well versed in Japan and its culture, while in the movie he's much more of an outsider. I'm assuming they did this for expository reasons-- so the characters could explain things to Wolverine, and therefore to the audience as well.

There's supposedly some controversy over Famke Janssen's cameo appearance as Wolverine's deceased old flame, Jean Grey. Critics are saying the scenes with Grey, clad in naught but her lingerie, are gratuitous and unnecessary. Jesus Christ, people.

First of all, every time he "saw" her he was in bed dreaming that she was with him. What the hell else should she wear in bed?

Second, America's suffering from racial tension, a government that's blatantly spying on its citizens and a major city in bankruptcy, and people are wringing their hands because Jean Grey's wearing a goddamned nightie. Pick your battles, people.

Kudos to whoever designed the movie poster. It's nice to see a poster featuring actual art for a change, instead of the usual Photoshop cut & paste disasters.

By the way, if you see the film be sure to stick around for a few minutes after the ending for the awesome mid-credits scene. You won't be disappointed! 

Speaking of after credits scenes: why is it that 99% of the audience flees the theater the instant the film ends and misses these scenes? Every week I see people crouch down like runners against the starting block and the second "The End" flashes on the screen they bolt out of the theater like sprinters! What the hell's the hurry? Is there a helicopter in the parking lot waiting to whisk you away to Washington so you can discuss the state of the economy with the President? Sit the hell down for five minutes!

Make of this what you will, but at the showing I attended, 90% of the audience was female. Mature females who didn't seem like the type that would normally enjoy a super hero action film. I have to assume they were there to see Huge Ackman's dreamy abs.

SLASHING SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
In 1945, Wolverine is being held in a prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki. As the Americans drop the atomic bomb, he saves the life of a young officer named Yashida by shielding him from the blast with his own body.

Cut to the present day where Wolverine is hiding out in Alaska. He's tracked down by Yukio, an employee of his old friend Yashida, who's now CEO of one of the biggest corporations in the world. Traveling to Japan, Wolverine learns that Yashida is dying. Before he goes though, Yashida offers to remove Wolverine's mutant healing power, giving him a chance at a normal life and an eventual death. Wolverine turns him down.

Wolverine then meets Mariko, Yashida's granddaughter. Mariko's father Shingen is enraged that Yashida is leaving his entire fortune and the corporation to her. Shingen kidnaps Mariko and Wolverine vows to rescue her. However, his healing power has mysteriously vanished, leaving him to face hoards of ninjas and super powered mutants without it.

Wolverine eventually recovers his powers, but in order to save Mariko he has to get past the Silver Samurai, a gigantic cyborg made of indestructible adamantium.

Pros:
• Huge Ackman IS Wolverine. He's become the character every bit as much as Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark/Iron Man. I can't imagine anyone else playing the role.

• It was interesting to see Wolverine reacting to the loss of his healing powers. In particular I liked his surprise when, after chopping up a tree, he gets tired for the first time in his life.

• I liked the Yukio character (the badass Japanese ninja girl with red hair) quite a bit. I'm sure it won't happen, but I wouldn't mind seeing her stick around for the next film.

• We've seen train-top fights many times before (just a few weeks ago in The Lone Ranger in fact), but I don't think we've ever seen one on top of a bullet train traveling two hundred miles an hour. Some have denounced the scene as hokey and subpar, but I thought it was pretty cool.

• Nice to see a film take some chances with the main character for a change. Wolverine gets his metal claws hacked off, leaving him with his original (sub par) bone claws. I'm sure he'll get the metal claws back at some point, but it was a bold move on the part of the studio (in a time when studios are generally afraid to take any chances at all).

• LOVED the mid-credits scene! I won't spoil it here, except to say it's awesome and works to great effect. Fox is apparently taking a cue from Marvel Films and using the credits to set up the next film.

I will point out one little detail-- while waiting in line at airport security, Wolverine sees a TV commercial for Trask Industries, advertising their recent advancements in technology while showing an animation of a robotic hand. As readers of the X-Men comics well know, Trask Industries invented the Sentinels, giant robots that hunt down and kill mutants. A very cool little touch. And no doubt a harbinger of the Big Bad in the next X-Men film.

Cons:
• "The Wolverine" has got to be one of the worst movie titles in recent memory. When it comes to awful titles, I think only the Fast & Furious films come close (THE Fast And The Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and the incredibly original title Fast & Furious).

• No Stan Lee cameo! Maybe he's only doing them for Marvel Studios these days?

• When we first meet Yashida, he's a young army officer in a 1945 prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki. As American planes drop the atomic bomb he helps evacuate the camp, even setting the prisoners free (!).

That was certainly considerate of Yashida, but not bloody likely. The Japanese of that era were not well known for their hospitable treatment of prisoners. Read The Rape Of Nanking sometime.

• In the present day, Wolverine goes to Japan to visit Yashida, who's now dying. Old Yashida rests in a sophisticated medical lab, lying on what appears to be a high tech bed of nails. Parts of the bed rise and fall to help him hold up his head and arms. It looked really cool, but I have to wonder how comfortable it could possibly be.

• Yashida has somehow deduced that Wolverine is weary of his immortality and offers to help "end his suffering," offering him a normal lifespan and eventual death.

First of all, when did we all decide that Wolverine is immortal? Long-lived, yes. Immortal? That's news to me. Maybe I need to watch the previous movie again.

Second, Yashida hopes to remove Wolverine's healing factor and secretly make it his own. He apparently believes immortality is like a baton in a relay race, to be handed off to the next runner. I don't think it works quite like that.

• One last thing about Yashida. How the hell does Wolverine remember him? Didn't he get shot in the head and lose his memory in the previous film?

There's a story going around the interwebs that Huge Ackman and 20th Century Fox realize that X-Men Origins: Wolverine kind of... oh, what's the word... sucked! In fact they believe it sucked so badly that they're pretending it never happened, and want the audience to do the same. I have to assume that's how Wolverine is able to remember Yashida here.

Well guess what, Fox-- you released the movie, you promoted it, you sold it to the public three times (in theaters, on DVD and Blu-Ray) and you happily pocketed whatever money it generated. So it exists and it counts, whether you like it or not.

• Another action movie with the patented Shaky Cam™ fight scenes. Half the time I couldn't tell what the hell was going on or even who was fighting who. Who thinks this filming style is a good thing?

• Once Wolverine's healing power is suppressed, why aren't his hands a constant bloody mess? Every time he uses his claws they pierce his skin as they slide out between his fingers. Normally his healing factor would seal the wounds almost instantly, but now he has no such power. He oughta have three bloody, gaping wounds on each hand. I never once saw a drop of blood on either hand the whole time his power was suppressed. 

Speaking of blood and claws, for a movie about a guy with knives in his hands who mercilessly claws at people, it's surprisingly bloodless. Almost chaste in its bloodlessness. Damn you, PG-13 rating!!!

• I've often wondered why no one ever shows Wolverine's claws working properly. Whenever he slashes at something it's usually simply cut in two. That doesn't make any sense. He has three claws on each hand. If he slashed at something, like say a lead pipe, it wouldn't be cut into two halves. There'd be FOUR pieces.

• This movie should have been called Wolverine: The Ringing Of The Swords. EVERY time someone picks up a sword, dagger or even a penknife, a high pitched tuning fork sound issues from it.

This has been going on in films for many years now (I'm lookin' at you, Lord Of The Rings trilogy), but it's especially over the top here.

In fact it's so prevalent that it probably seems wrong if someone picks up a sword in a movie these days and it doesn't ring!

• At the end of the battle with Silver Samurai, Wolverine pops out his bone claws. The way it's filmed suggests this is supposed to be a big reveal, but he had the bone claws at the beginning of the film when he was trying to climb out of the prisoner of war pit. He also had them in the previous film before he got his adamantium injections. Maybe I just imagined the big reveal part.

• Speaking of bone claws… they're a natural part of Wolverine's mutant body. His metal claws are just the bone claws coated with indestructible adamantium. However, his bone claws are thick and lumpy, while his metal claws are smooth, razor thin blades of machined adamantium. Apparently we're supposed to believe that those thick, knobby, bony claws are somehow housed inside the sleek metal claws. Nope!

I also don't get how bone claws would be a formidable weapon. Wouldn't they just shatter the first time he tried to cut anything with them? Bones snap all the time.

I can't blame the movie for this one though. This cockamamie idea first sprang up in the X-Men comics back in the 1990s. During the Dark Times. It was a stupid idea then, and time hasn't mellowed it any.

• So Wolverine's claws and his skeleton are made of adamantium, a metallic substance that's supposed to be indestructible and unbreakable. Except, apparently, by more adamantium. Silver Samurai slices off Wolverine's claws with a sword made of super-heated adamantium. I guess it makes sense, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

• After Wolverine defeats Silver Samurai, he rips off the cyborg's helmet to reveal his old friend Yashida inside. Yashida says, "Don't look so surprised, Logan." Indeed! Did anyone NOT see that one coming? The second I saw that Silver Samurai had a face-obscuring helmet I knew Yashida would be inside. It's Superhero Movies 101.

A surprisingly decent outing and a vast improvement over the previous film. I give it a B.

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