An undisclosed time after the events of X-Men: Last Stand (apparently the Origins movie never happened), we find Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) on his own in the wilderness (literally!). Still in anguish over what had happened to Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), he has secluded himself away from nearly all forms of civilization. His seclusion is interrupted however when the spunky and very determined Yukio (Rila Fukushima) finds him on the behalf of Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a man he saved from the atomic blast back on August 9 1945 in Nagasaki Japan, who has a proposal for the immortal soldier that could change his life forever.
The studio’s aggressive marketing campaign for the sixth X-Men movie, and the second movie dedicated to everyones favorite adamantium clawed superhero, Wolverine, would have you believe that “this is the Wolverine movie we have been waiting for…”. While that is true to some extent, superfluous characters and horrible CG have been replaced with more interesting characters and more than passable effects work, the truth of the matter is that director James Mangold’s new film The Wolverine is still sadly a far cry from the Wolverine movie we have been waiting for.
The Wolverine as a character has never been all that interesting when compared to his X-Men brethren. His story is all rather straight forward stuff, his mutant power is that he is immortal, his power was exploited by evil men who turned him into a weapon and ever since then he has lived a tormented life where all he ever sees is the ones he cares about die or otherwise leave his life. There is some potential in that material to make an interesting movie, but thus far Hollywood has failed at doing so.
In an attempt to right those wrongs, this latest Wolverine dedicated film delves into the one thing that has robbed Logan of his right to live a normal life, his mortality…or lack thereof. While not that different from your typical Vampire or other supernatural being story of coming to grips with living an eternal life of pain and suffering, his struggle to live a normal life amidst never being able to die is the one character trait of his that makes him unique in the X-Men world, despite how uninteresting it is.
Yeah, it’s cool watching him slice up bad guys with his retractable claws while chomping down on a cigar and spouting out as many hurtful witticisms as possible, all punctuated with his trademarked “Bub”. But that only lasts for as long as his enemies do, before he wears them down or eventually kills them all and moves on to whoever is stupid enough to tangle with him next. What makes him tick, what makes him keep moving forward day to day instead of just falling off the radar and living a life of peace and anonymity, that is what keeps us invested long after the claws have been put away.
Mangold sort of gets that too. Watching The Wolverine, it is apparent that he also wants to explore the inner workings of Logan’s tortured soul and for some time, his new film is able to tap into that part of the character and provide us with an actual look at the man behind the claws. Peering into the soul of Logan, it becomes clear that this man has enough baggage to fill a dozen jet-liners. Some of his history was covered in Origins, but this is the first time we get to see him deal with some very real repercussions for the good (and bad) deeds he has done in the past.
While most fans who are expecting to watch Wolverine pummel his foes and send them to an early grave will likely get what they are looking for, it is the film’s more intimate moments with it’s title character that resonate the most. Seeing him revisit moments from his past such as saving a man from an atomic blast or still how he is haunted by the ghost of his former flame Jean Grey, these are the moments that we never really got to witness before and when we did, it was usually only in flashes. Only when a half-baked romance is introduced does the film begin to falter in this category.
However, as interesting as it to get a more personal look into the life of Wolverine, the real meat of the film comes in the form of Logan being faced with the reality that he can actually die and forced to re-evaluate his entire outlook on his immortality. It shows a vulnerability that was never really there before and that even a seemingly invincible mutant as himself can in fact be brought to his knees. Where the film falters a little is in how much of the science behind how any of this is really possible is questionable at best and unlikely at most, even in a world filled with mutants.
We learn early on that an old friend of Logan’s says he has the ability to give Logan that which he has sought after his entire life, a way to end it. It is sort of a cheat when this actually occurs though as we are never given any reason as to how and why any of this is even possible. For multiple films now we have had it hammered home that Logan is unstoppable with only a rare set of circumstances that can actually slow him down…but still never kill him.
Then we are supposed to believe that some old Japanese man has found a way to make him mortal and when that actually happens it just sort of…happens? Not everything needs an explanation, but this is like asking the audience to believe John Hammond can clone and breed dinosaurs without ever showing us that DNA video. It is an extremely lazy way for a writer to get around something that is difficult or near impossible to explain and isn’t clever enough to come up with a feasible way of explaining.
This sidestepping of logic also rears its ugly face when it is revealed that his almighty adamantium claws are vulnerable to destruction as well, which if you go by what the comic books say is an indestructible metal alloy. While tip toeing around these established traits of Wolverine’s immortality and indestructible frame, it may make for a more interesting story when it comes to how he deals with these shortcomings, it unfortunately doesn’t ring true when you realize that the filmmakers are bulls**ting the audience simply because they weren’t smart enough to figure out another way to tell this story.
All of this of course is only stuff that the geeks will get annoyed by, as everyone else out there won’t even give any of it a second thought. General audiences are looking for one thing and one thing only, to see Wolverine be a badass. Here’s the weird thing though, even though we see Wolverine rip through bad guy after bad guy…he still doesn’t feel like the badass we know him to be. There are two reasons for this, the first of which is the aforementioned “weakening” of him and turning him into a mortal for the majority of the film.
The second is a problem that has persisted since the first moment he graced the silver screen. When you have a character whose main weapon are a pair of claws that come out of his hands, you expect to see some serious damage done with those things. We need more than quick slashes that leave his claws bloodless. Wolverine needs to be let out of the cage, he needs to break free of his PG-13 shackles and finally show the world why he is a force to be reckoned with. He needs to be in an R rated film. It doesn’t need to be a gorefest, just give us something to remind us of how lethal he really is.
Violence isn’t needed to make a film good or even entertaining, but when you can clearly tell the filmmakers are holding back or having to use cheap tricks such as the dreaded shaky-cam to hide each impact of Wolverine’s claws into his victims, then that is a clear cut case of a studio trying to keep it clean to make extra green. Going back to their advertising campaign for just a second, if they really want to give us the Wolverine movie we have been waiting for, then they need to let him loose and let him go berserker all over our collective asses with R rated adventure worthy of his name.
As cool as that would be though, the likelihood of it ever happening is near non-existent. Until the impossible happens, we must put up with countless bloodless fights with a man who kills with sharp metal claws and try to not be distracted by the fact that no one really bleeds, or if they do it is a controlled bleeding as to not upset the MPAA. It’s a nitpick for sure, but a valid one.
As for the action scenes themselves, they are done well enough but aren’t really all that awe inspiring. There is a chase through the city streets of Japan that is a lot of fun and a really goofy but entertaining showdown atop a bullet train. But the real showdown at the end of the film can only be considered a let down. Not only because of how uninteresting all the villains were (Viper is lame and Silver Samurai feels like a leftover from Tony Stark’s villain roster), but there just isn’t anything all that exciting that happens. It’s just a lot of people running away from things over and over again until someone gets stabbed.
The Wolverine finds itself in a strange place. While Jackman is still fantastic in the role that made him a star and shows no signs of fatigue, he still needs to find a filmmaker who is able to tap into the character the way it deserves. Mangold’s film gets the more intimate and quieter moments right, but fails to deliver the action spectacle that we have been waiting for. As it stands, this is a marked improvement over the last Wolverine film but still not the one we have been waiting for.