The sound some of us have been hearing recently has been attributed to 20th Century Fox execs biting their fingernails and hoping that James Mangold’s “The Wolverine” would do well at the box office.
Well, the weekend has come and gone and the movie seems to be doing well (or at least it’s outdistancing the competition, which is not quite the same thing). Maybe now we can get some sleep.
But beyond all the hype and hope, was “The Wolverine” worth seeing? Here’s where Uncle Mikey feels all eyes turning to him . . .
And yes, as a matter of fact I usually do dress this way. You have a problem?
(Oh, but speaking of hype: it looks as if “Elysium” will knock “Man of Steel” from the number one spot in the Film Hype Sweepstakes. It hasn’t been released and I’m already tired of it.)
Anyway . . . seeing as how this is yet another Marvel Comics Movie Adaptation I must, once again, divide this into two sections and open with the:
Official Uncle Mikey Marvel Comics Movie Geek Checklist.
1. Back in 1982 Chris Claremont and Frank Miller wrote a mini-series depicting Logan’s adventures in Japan. What we have here is an adaptation of that story, but its been changed so that most of what you think you know about Mariko Yashida, Yukio, the Silver Samurai and the Viper can pretty much be tossed out the window. Depending on how much you enjoyed that storyline this will pretty much affect how you respond to the movie.
2. Looked and looked and looked. No Stan Lee cameo.
3. Logan spends a lot of time having Jean Grey flashbacks. Could’ve been worse, though. I mean, if you absolutely must have flashbacks . . .
4. Have I slept or something during class? I was under the impression that adamantium couldn’t regenerate. Ah well . . .
5. The end credit teaser film gets my vote for New Favorite. Even though the beans have already been spilled elsewhere, I’ll be vain enough to hope that I’m the only source of news you consult on “The Wolverine”. Suffice it to say (A) there are some Very Interesting Cameos, and (B) there’s some Serious Butt-Kickin’ coming to the Marvel mutant film franchise.
More Generalized Review.
Interesting choice of film for director James Mangold (even on the basis of his having done “Knight and Day” and the remake of “3:10 to Yuma”). But, after also contemplating “Identity” and “Girl, Interrupted”, maybe not.
Anyway, after seeing how he handled “The Wolverine”, Mangold gets my vote to direct James Bond or Mission: Impossible films. Several times I expected to see Daniel Craig go rushing past. Directing action adventure films is certainly easy. The trick is to make them intelligent and leave the audience hungry for more. I’m not saying the script by Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback and Scott Frank won’t make people forget F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it goes good with popcorn.
The story is tremendously enhanced not only by Mangold’s skill, but by the continued good luck the Marvel Comics Movies have in generally finding the right actors for the job. If I was a Fox exec I’d fall to my knees and give thanks that Hugh Jackman not only feels comfortable playing Logan/The Wolverine, but finds the character to be interesting. He has continually managed to mix a shadowed brooding attitude with cutthroat animal rage . . . or, putting it another way: he can act! The character of Logan is one which could’ve easily fallen apart with the wrong actor, and Fox dodged a big bullet here. A real big bullet.
Fortunately the story gives Jackman a lot more to do than stand around and growl and slice things to ribbons. The opening reveals how he was a Japanese POW in World War II (interesting untold story: how was someone like Logan actually taken prisoner?). He happens to be interred on the outskirts of Nagasaki when the A-Bomb is dropped and manages to save the life of a guard who had helped him.
Fast forward to years later. Logan’s trying to leave behind the hurt of recent events: up to and including having to kill Jean Grey at the end of “X-Men: The Last Stand”. His dreams are filled with the haunting illusions of Grey continually teasing him with the presumed peace of finally embracing death.
(Here’s where Famke Janssen makes the easiest money in the world. Her role in “The Wolverine” is little more than lying around in a filmy slip and murmuring to Jackman. I guess some things can’t be entirely left to CGI yet.)
Meanwhile, the guard whose life was saved by Logan is now the aged CEO of a major Japanese corporation. He’s also dying and wishes to personally thank Logan for having done what he did years ago in Nagasaki. His request is delivered by a woman named Yukio, who’s played by Rila Fukushima and who is easily the most watchable person in the film next to Jackman. Perhaps it’s because of the red hair color her character wears throughout the film . . . or maybe it’s something else. She has a physiognomy that immediately captures the eye. At one point in the film she’s referred to as a “doll”, and that’s one way of describing her: a human with the face of a genuine porcelain doll. Fukushima looks as if she literally stepped out of the pages of a manga comic. She carried a slight outer-worldliness about her and, if I were filming a version of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, I’d cast her in the role of Klaatu. Given that her role is that of part-ladies companion/part-assassin, her arresting looks are used to good effect here, and I’ll be personally watching out for further film work from this actor.
The unique energy of Fukushima’s role doesn’t detract from the other major female character in the story. I don’t know how long it took to select Tao Okamoto for the role of Mariko Yashida, but it was another good choice. I remember the comic book version of Mariko: starting out as the Japanese version of what Helen Gurley Brown used to call a “mouseburger”, and later on taking on the mantle of Yashida Corporation CEO. Keeping in mind that “The Wolverine” only ran 126 minutes it was obviously decided to compress a storyline or two, and Okamoto plays Mariko as an outwardly and traditionally obedient Japanese daughter, but one who carries unplumbed depths. Which is to say she doesn’t immediately fall into Jackman’s arms when the chips are down (well, at least not at the beginning). Instead she finds herself playing Virgil to Jackman’s Dante, guiding him through the landscape and providing an education on Japanese culture (one of the better comedic moments in the film is when Jackman and Okamoto are obliged to take refuge in a “love hotel”). Okamoto carries a confidence with her which balances nicely with Jackman’s Logan personality, and they make a rather interesting couple.
(Speaking of wanderings through Japan: is it my imagination or has every recent movie filmed in Tokyo featured characters running through a pachinko parlor?)
If a mistake was made in regards to female roles (and in overall casting) it was in Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper. She’s a Big Thing in Russian film and television, and had a part in Tomas Alfredson’s version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” which was brief and rather pedestrian. Here in “The Wolverine” she tries her best to come off as sinister, but it doesn’t quite happen. Nothing wrong with her obviously blonde Western appearance contrasting among the mainly Japanese cast of the film . . . she just doesn’t quite know how to deliver villainous dialogue in an appropriately sinister manner.
(OK, pumpkins, let me try to explain it here. I can come up to you, for instance, and say I’m going to kill you. Which I won’t because I can’t afford to lose readers. But if I’m trying to be a Marvel Comic Book villain . . . or a James Bond or Star Wars or similarly-molded villain . . . then there’s a certain way I need to deliver that line. Bulging eyes . . . a delightfully sibilant hiss . . . the difference between merely threatening and scaring the absolute twizzlers out of your opponent. Consult Gert Frobe in “Goldfinger”: “No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die!”)
But getting back to Khondchenkova, it was getting to the point where I began wincing every time she opened her mouth. A sort of: “Oh no, she’s gonna try and act again”. She certainly wasn’t the Viper I’d grown up with in the pages of Marvel Comics, and it shows.
As regards to other actors, kudos once again to the Casting Department. And also to Mangold for muddying the waters so much that the audience can never get a clear grip on who the genuine bad guy is in the film. There are so many red herrings dragged across our path (Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, etc.). Unfortunately the denouement is somewhat telegraphed ahead of time but, when that moment arrives, you’re already deeply involved in the film and might as well see it through.
Action scenes are interesting, and by that I mean they tend to defy expectation. The fight choreographers might have some explaining to do. For example: a battle between Logan and practically every ninja in the world doesn’t come out as exciting as one might wish. Ditto the climactic fight between Logan and the Silver Samurai. By comparison a fight atop the roof of a Japanese bullet train becomes rather eye-popping (and if this scene is dropped from the video-game version of the film then the game designer is no lover of commerce).
The increasingly busy Marco Beltrami delivers the soundtrack, and this one found me playing more than usual attention. Beltrami’s work hasn’t grabbed me before, but this time it did because listening to it kept invoking the spirit of Ennio Morricone. Especially the piece “A Man with Harmonica” from “Once Upon a Time in the West”. I don’t know if Beltrami was consciously trying to make a piece which would compare the character of Logan to Harmonica from the earlier film, but it admittedly made for an interesting mental image.
“The Wolverine” might not entirely save 20th Century Fox’s bacon. But I’ve certainly sat through worst superhero films before and, barring the speedbumps I mentioned above, the movie makes for a decent time-waster: thanks in equal part to the people cast in the roles as much as in the skill of the director.
I Rather Liked The Movie!