Monday, July 29, 2013

The Wolverine Reviewed

I may have told this story before, but it bears repeating. As a little kid, the first comics I gravitated towards were Justice League of America. Insane covers with giant space starfish enslaving the human race and Earth's mightiest heroes hooked me. As I grew a bit older, I came to realize, nine times out of ten, whatever was happening on the cover didn't actually happen until the very last pages of the book, so I felt cheated. That's when someone turned me on to Uncanny X-Men. These were very realistic human portrayals, despite their mutant abilities, with real world problems and prejudices to deal with, and none so mentally tormented as the man called Wolverine. In the back of a longbox in a giant book store in the heart of Brooklyn, I found Wolverine #1..a bit folded at the edges and with a number markered on the cover, but still very much readable and because of the damage, affordable! That night, me and the 5 foot, hairy, brooding Canadian warrior bonded and many a day after, I clenched my fist waiting to see if claws might pop out.

Flash forward to today and the opening weekend of The Wolverine, a second dip into solo waters for Hugh Jackman and Hollywood. The first "attempt" had some...issues. Had it been about a nearly immortal man and his brother struggling to find their place among normal humans while fighting impulses to dominate them, and their constant struggle with government forces trying to tap into their murderous nature, I think most people would have been fine with it. Unfortunately, this is Wolverine. Hollywood thought they knew what an audience wanted to see and so, ignored years of excellent comic writing and twisted nearly every character into their basest elements of flash and bravado. The reviews were...not kind. Mine could be summed up as WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO DEADPOOL????!!! ARRRRG!!! ~shakes angry fist~ Nerd rage.

Early on, it was reported that this go around with Wolverine would focus on events taking place in the fan favorite Frank Miller mini series. Knowing this, we were guaranteed a handful of essential things. 1. Wolverine in Japan. 2. A forbidden romance between Logan and Mariko. 3. 6 thousand ninjas. Exactly 6 thousand. I'm happy to report the film makers of The Wolverine understood the emotional content in that mini series and translated it flawlessly onto the screen, though not word for word/ shot for shot. As usual, liberties were taken and the story was shifted around, but the end result is a vast improvement over anything after X-Men 2 and certainly MILES ahead of the previous train wreck. Hugh Jackman has this character nailed down. His reactions to anything thrown at him in a script seem like they could be improvs at this point. He makes it look like Wolverine is a second skin. Where previous films got bogged down filling the screen with endless mutants, new and old, this movie went back to basics with strong writing and excellent acting from all points driving the emotional content and making you give a damn about Logan and his new love. The rest of the's a head scratcher.

To fulfill a life debt, Mariko's rich and powerful grandfather summons Logan to his bedside. He can give Logan the death he secretly longs for while laying alongside the scantily clad dream ghost of Jean Grey. Part of the deal is Logan's healing factor would be transferred to the grandfather...something you know will come back later in the story after grandfather dies. Now Mariko is the target of the Yakuza for...reasons..and they come after her in large waves of tattooed, gun wielding thugs who meet the pointy end of Wolverine's claws. Logan seems a bit behind in the fight as something is slowing down his healing process, but this doesn't stop him from leaping, spinning, and shanking criminals so hard they take flight by the dozen. While the film makers still shy away from Wolverine splitting a man in two on camera or leaving oceans of blood behind them, as would be the case if a dude with metal claws went kill crazy on a large crowd, the fights are still kept tense and fierce with Wolverine sporting moves true to the comics and still not so ridiculous to be seen in real life. Logan is backed up by Yukio, the red haired ninja girl from the trailers, and an archer named Harada who leaps across rooftops and hits his target from blocks away, but is definitely NOT Hawkeye. Not Hawkeye. Wolverine movie. Not The Avengers. Still an archer though. ~rolls eyes~ The chase continues across the country, Wolverine and Mariko get cozy, and a 1 paragraph plot unfolds with lame bad guys revealed, good guys turned bad guys turned good guys and the robo Silver Samurai from the trailers charging into battle with his blazing sword...but is definitely not Iron Monger. Definately not. This is Wolverine. Not Iron Man. .....Silver Samurai-bot is shinier. I'll also mention that those looking for 6 thousand ninja battle teased in trailers will be disappointed, so lower those expectations and just enjoy a solid story with killer action.

For comic fans, watching Hugh Jackman doing what The Wolverine does best is pure bliss. No more striking shirtless poses that seem like they go on for 5 minutes. Wolverine cracks a joke when he should, curses when he is frustrated and dispatches enemies like a legendary badass. The cinematography strikes a beautiful contrast of bright daylight scenes, inside action with lush colored hues and shadowy battles with striking silhouettes still visible in darkened hallways. Fight scenesAre most impressive with an eye for "fight logic" and moments of battle humor Kung Fu movie fans will applaud. How often does a fight in a movie escalate beyond the "striving for epic" grunt filled blow for blow these days?? Not very often. That alone makes these inventive and ridiculously enjoyable action sequences stand out. I will give a wag of the finger to direction given in the first fight sequence with the Yakuza, where far too often we get waaaayy to close to the action and lose it entirely. Learn a lesson from Pacific Rim! Pull the hell back and let me enjoy the movement without getting motion sickness amid the frenzy.

With heaps of heart and a characterization of one of my favorite super heroes of all time that had me grinning ear to ear, I could almost forgive the stupidity that was the film's finale. Viper is revealed as a monologue-ing baddie who began as a somewhat annoying twist on the simple comic she-devil but ends as a creature spending precious minutes doing things that serve neither story nor as eye candy for the masses. I fully expected the Silver Samurai-bot to be cheesy as all get out (something the creators may have suspected as well, and so they showed you that in the trailer to get the groaning out of the way) and to that end, I was not disappointed. The creation looked good enough, but the giant mechanical monstrosity plays more like the one trick final boss of a side scrolling video game than show stopping evil that will give our hero the fight of his life. They just didn't seem to know how to wrap this film up, so the pivotal final clash amounts to a pile of stuff and nonsense you'd expect from the last film. I will mention that,the ending itself is sweet and gets one pumped for what will come next, and as the credits roll, the crawl pauses for an extra scene that sent chills up my back and had every geek in my audience oooing like 5 year olds in front of a cotton candy maker. Arguably, this is the best scene of the movie and practically shouts "I'M SORRY FOR THAT BULLSHIT FINAL BATTLE YOU JUST SAT THROUGH!! HERE'S SOME MINDBLOWING GEEKERY!!!" If that ending doesn't have you bouncing off the walls in anticipation of "Days of Future Past" (the next X movie), nothing will.

The Wolverine is an imperfect creature, but one with the right beats and a mandate toward conveying emotion, something Frank Miller would agree is probably the most important element of his classic mini series. Broken down to its base elements, this film shows FOX is taking great pains to fight whatever intruding corporate fingers continue to twist the comic characters for a more pleasing public showing. If you want a repeat of The Avengers success, you love the content. Respect the comic stories and characterizations and the rest will write itself. Someone at FOX is winning that battle and teaching that lesson. With superior fight sequences, beautiful & interesting locations shot lovingly and the raw power of Hugh Jackman's performance, this just might be Wolverine's finest hour.