Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: The Wolverine

Who doesn’t love Marvel Studios?  Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers – those movies make money; they entertain; they sell toys; they help Disney stay in the black even when they produce stinkers like The Lone Ranger.  The most amazing thing is that this success has been achieved while focusing on what most would consider second tier properties.  Truth be told, the cinematic rights to Marvel’s two largest assets, Spiderman and The X-Men, reside with Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox respectively.  For fans of The X-Men, and more specifically Wolverine, this is an unfortunate situation, because try as they might, the fine folks at Fox just can’t seem to get Marvel Properties right.  If you need evidence, go back and watch Fantastic Four 1 and 2, Daredevil, X-Men 3, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The most recent miss in Fox’s version of the Marvel cinematic universe is simply titled The Wolverine.  The movie, which is set after the events of Brett Ratner’s stinker X-Men 3, marks Hugh Jackman’s sixth time playing the character.  The plot of the film is based on one of the most popular Wolverine story arcs, which finds Wolverine in Japan and embroiled in a battle between a Japanese conglomerate and the Yakuza.  When his mutant abilities are compromised, he must fid a way to protect an heiress (Mariko played by Tao Okamoto) with whom he has fallen in love with from harm, while struggling to reconcile the events surrounding Jean Grey’s demise.

So let’s get right to it.  What works best in this movie is the action.  It’s not “blow your mind” next-level stuff, but it’s solid and the shots are framed well by director James Mangold and crew.  The pacing of those scenes makes it feel like what’s happening onscreen really means something as opposed to the action-for-the-sake-of-action that sometimes takes over in big budget flicks.  It also helps that there are ninjas wielding bows and arrows and samurai swords.  Actions fans across the board tend to geek out when these silent warriors make their way onto screen so in this regard, they will not be disappointed.

What does not work quite as well is Hugh Jackman in the lead role.  This is tough for me to say because I am a big fan of Jackman.  He is a true triple threat as an actor as he can act, sing, and dance.  The problem then is not that his performance is terrible.  To the contrary, he sells the anger, remorse, and defiance that are written into the script.  The issue is more that it’s no longer Wolverine that you see onscreen but Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine.  While I am no X-Men purist, it’s become evident that the scripts are written with Jackman in mind rather than the spirit of the character.  This doesn’t necessarily cripple the movie, but it makes you wonder what makes this a Wolverine movie beyond the protruding claws.

As for what really hurts this movie, that distinction goes to writer Mark Bomback.  For two thirds of the movie, there is action and some exposition that for the most part does not offend.  But in the third act, when everything comes to a head and threads are meant to be tied up in a neat bow, the plot completely falls apart.  Too many transparent attempts at misdirection, a completely telegraphed twist, and some head scratching logic compromise what for the most part had been a competent albeit unspectacular action movie.  And while this should not completely obliterate all of what is good in this film, it’s hard to walk out of a cinema feeling entertained when the last act completely falls flat. 

As for the cast, it’s hard for me to really rip almost anyone and equally difficult to heap loads of praise.  Tao Okamoto (as Mariko) displays good screen presence and shares good chemistry with Jackman though at times her acting inexperience shows.  The same can be said for Rila Fukushima as Yukio, a trained warrior, who becomes something of a sidekick for Jackman’s Wolverine.  Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, and Brian Tee  are just adequate as one-dimensional antagonists in this film, but this is as much the result of poor writing as it is their respective active talents.

The lone cast member that I feel compelled to single out from this film is Famke Janssen as Jean Grey.  While her presence is clearly an attempt to tie the standalone film back to the original X-Men franchise, she never really played the character particularly well in the previous movies and in this one she is even worse.  Janssen delivers a performance that would be more suited for a really cheesy bitter film on Lifetime Network than a big budget theatrical release.  Every time she appeared onscreen, my eyes began to roll into the back of my head.

So when you look at all the different pieces in this film and how they work and don’t work to varying degrees, it becomes apparent that The Wolverine is a rental if and only if you enjoy action movies.  If you crave character development, intelligent story telling, and a clear and fluid arc, this is definitely not the film for you.  The good news is that if you are somehow roped into watching this film, it won’t stick in your memory too long.  It’s fairly forgettable.  In regards to superhero movies, Disney and WB have upped the ante, but judging by this outing the folks working with Fox’s Marvel properties never received the memo. 

Standout Performance:  The post credit scene.  It’s by far the most interesting part of the film and clearly is a lead in for Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.


  1. I heard someone say this felt like a Steven Seagal movie, and I agree. The writing was terrible and Svetlana Khodchenkova had the worst performance. The best performance was by myself, as Hugh Jackman's body double.