“The Wolverine” marks the sixth time in the “X-Men” movie franchise (that is, if you count his five-second, f-bomb dropping cameo from “X-Men: First Class”) that Hugh Jackman has grown out his sideburns and unleashed the
adamantium/bone claws (snikt!) in order the play the role of Logan/Wolverine.
By now, Jackman could play this role in his sleep, which – it pains me to say – is where this film almost put me, during the 2+ hours that it occupied the movie screen directly in front of me.
Alright, that might have come off a little harsh, but still, there’s no getting around that this film is downright boring. At least, it is when you compare it to the five other films in the franchise. I even thought “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was ten-times more fun than this super-serious foray into the world of Japanese customs and culture.
It’s not like I don’t get why they chose to move this character and the franchise in this particular direction. I mean, the hardcore fans of the “X-Men” comic book universe have been asking for this particular storyline for years, which is adapted (by screenwriters Mark Bomback – of the new 24 series - and Scott Frank and touched-up by the upcoming “Top Gun 2″ and “The Usual Suspects” scribe Christopher McQuarrie) from a classic 1982 comic book mini-series by legendary comic book guys (widely considered as the quintessential “Wolverine guy”) Chris Claremont and the one-and-only Frank Miller. Even Jackman himself sites this as one of his favorite storylines in the X-Men universe, which, now that I think about it, might be the real reason why we’re seeing this story being told in theaters this week.
In the epilogue-like, very first scene, which is the set-up for the entire film, we see Wolverine being held in a well-like cell as a POW in a WWII-era Japanese military base outside Nagasaki.
QUICK SIDE NOTE: I don’t get this whole “captured Wolverine” thing. How did they manage to contain him and WHAT average-sized, non-mutant human would be able to snag him? He can take out 85 ninjas and highly-trained warriors, but apparently not enlisted men. It doesn’t make sense why or how he’s captured, but, oh well.
Back to Nagasaki, as now “the bomb” is on its way, Japanese soldiers are panicking, and prisoners, who are essentially dead men anyway, are frantically being released. A young officer named Yashida (played by Ken Yamamura) attempts to release Wolverine, but instead Wolverine tries to convince him to come into the well and join him, as there is no escape from the blast. Yashida refuses and leaves to join his fellow officers in the ritualistic act of honorable suicide.
At the last second, Yashida has second thoughts and in that moment he is scooped-up by Wolverine, thrown in the well, and sheltered from the atomic blast, as Wolverine takes the brunt of the searing heat. Having been saved by Logan and his mutant healing ability, Yashida is enamored (actually, “enamored” is too small a word) by him and his powers of eternal life – foreshadowing! – And is forever in Logan’s debt.
Thus begins the Japanese-flavored saga of “The Wolverine.”
Now, the story heads back to modern times, where we find Logan in exactly the same place where he was back in 2000 in the first “X-Men” movie. Except now he is less of the shiftless, brooding drifter and a little more of a drunk, homeless weirdo – complete with scraggly long hair, bushy beard and tattered hobo clothes. It would seem he has been unable to cope with the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand” (part 3) and is haunted by an unending barrage of visceral nightmares. Wolverine is haunted by the death of his mentor, Professor X, as well as the love of his life, Jean Grey – who he happened to kill with his own hands… uhh… claws.
Essentially, Logan is depressed, full of regret, and handling it the best way he knows how – by running away and living amongst the wilderness, like an animal. More importantly, Logan no longer considers himself to be a hero. Wolverine is no more.
Eventually, he’s found by a mysterious Japanese woman with pink hair, all the latest gadgetry, and a trendy fashion sense named Yukio (played with spunky enthusiasm by Rila Fukushima in her expressive and impressive feature film debut). Yukio is employed by a much older version of Yashida (now played by
Haruhiko “Hal” Yamanouchi), who, since WWII has become a technological magnate and, thus, the most powerful man in Japan. That’s the good news for Yashida. The bad news is: he’s old and dying, which is why he’s sent Yukio to locate Logan – the man who saved his life all those years ago – and bring him back to Japan so he can repay his life debt.
Simple, right? Logan gets on the plane, he collects his reward, and goes back to being a cave-dwelling, (albeit, most likely richer) hard-drinkin’ bum.
You guys should know better by now. After seeing Wolverine in the past five movies, it’s pretty obvious that nothing is ever simple for our favorite Canadian mutant. He, of course, accepts the offer to go to Japan with Yukio – who, by the way, is a mutant herself, with the power to see the future. So, let the kung-fu (well, samurai) fighting begin.
From this point on, it’s basically a fish-out-of-water story, with Logan trying his damnedest to figure out why he was summoned to this strange land by a man he hasn’t seen in 70 years. “You look the same,” a bed-ridden Yashida tells Logan during their reunion.
It doesn’t take long for Logan to figure out what the hidden agenda really is, as Yashida (who, remember, has been enamored with Logan’s healing ability for quite some time) is not ready to die and, in turn, offers Logan a chance at a normal life – one where he can grow old and not be cursed with seeing all of his loved ones pass away. All Logan has to do is pass his healing ability into Yashida’s withering body.
Wolverine reluctantly accepts Yashida’s offer and passes his mutant powers on to Yashida. Yashida, in turn, becomes the new Wolverine and Logan, feeling kind of sleepy and achy, buys some Ben Gay, gets on a plane, heads to sunny Boca Raton, and spends the rest of his life in the Sunny Grove Retirement Home, where he plays shuffleboard and writes his memoirs: “A Bub’s Life – My Trip Through History.”
Okay, okay. You got me. That stuff doesn’t actually happen. But it’d be a pretty interesting plot twist if it did though, right?
Anyway, Logan really says, “No thanks” to Yashida and walks away from him – accepting his gratitude, but not his offer at un-immortality. That night, Yashida dies and Logan spies his grieving granddaughter Mariko (played by the lovely Tao Okamoto) crying, as she’s only just recently learned something that will turn her life upside-down.
Of course, Logan is intrigued at the distraught, yet beautiful girl – a romantic storyline that will eventually send the movie down a similar path to that of the 1992 Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston drama, “The Bodyguard,” but I digress.
For the next 90 + minutes, the film turns into a jumbled mess of the occasional thrilling action scene and unnecessarily confusing storylines. However, director James Mangold did a bang-up by job adding some comedic flair to a pulse-pounding scrum between Wolverine and some knife-wielding Yakuza on top
of the world-famous, 300-mph bullet train.
On the other hand, I could’ve done without the constant flashbacks of Jean Grey (the always beautiful Famke Janssen) that border on hallucinations. They add a confusing layer of empathy to Logan’s character that doesn’t need to exist and seem like an excuse to put a familiar face into the film. In these scenes, she’s always telling Logan what to do and how he should feel – kind of like advice from beyond the grave. The Wolvie we all know would’ve told that bee-yotch where she could go with her nagging ways, yet he seems to almost relish it. What really would have been an interesting plot twist, would have been to put Logan on a psychiatrist’s couch – a la The Sopranos– where he would open up to a shrink for a scene or two. That would have been better than some of those guilt-ridden Jean Grey storyline developments and a lot more fun too.
Another gripe I have was the lack of mutants and villains that “The Wolverine” had to offer. Basically, besides Logan, Jean Grey, and Yukio (kind of), there was ONE other mutant that was introduced during the film. I don’t get it – an “X-Men” movie with ONE mutant in it. As bad as everyone clamored that “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was, at least it didn’t suffer from a mutant shortage. If anything, it had TOO many mutants, as well as suitably-villainous characters. In fact, it was hard to keep track of who was good, who was bad, and who didn’t give a crap what side they were on. Again, “The Wolverine” had one mutant – Viper
(played by Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) – who, in the Marvel Universe, is as obscure as they come. So, you mean to tell me, that the only mutant/villain is not even a well-known one. What a rip-off. Of course, there is a second villain that is introduced at the end, but I’m not telling who or what he/she is. Nevertheless, the inclusion of villain numero dos in the
film’s final 15 minutes does not make up for the almost 100 minutes of standard Yakuza/ninja/samurai bad guy stereotypes that was rehashed into an ultimately disappointing entry into this beloved franchise.
Suffering from severe lack of mutants, “The Wolverine” turned into a painfully average story about two lovers from different worlds struggling to make it in a world that’s against them. I’m not saying that these types of storylines don’t have their time and place. However, in front of a bunch of rabid comic book fanboys is not it. Personally, I just couldn’t get into it. It was more drama than action movie. Essentially, this film is “West Side Story,” but instead of the sharks vs. the jets, it’s the mutants vs. the samurai – with some ninjas thrown in, for good measure.
Taking all of these negative sentiments into consideration, this stormy cloud does have a silver lining. I won’t even hint as to what it is (If I did spoil it, I’d most likely be murdered by some Manga-loving maniac), but just know this: At the end of the film, it would behoove you to stay in your seats until after the first set of short credits is finished, as there is quite a wonderful scene waiting for those that do. This five-minute scene received more cheering, applause, and unadulterated joy than the entire two-hour movie before it did. In addition, I’ll (ambiguously) say this, as well: It sets up the “future” quite nicely. Wink. Wink.
At the end of the film, I turned to the person sitting next to me and said, “I feel like I just waited two hours to watch a five-minute scene.” It’s like going to see a movie and telling your friends that the trailers were your favorite part of the film.
That being said, I’m very surprised to see this from a Marvel movie these days. You know, with the winning streak that they’ve been on, as of late.
However, in the end, I guess they did succeed. They were able to make Wolverine seem mortal, after all.