REVIEW: Does ‘The Wolverine’ Redeem Ten Years of Awful X-Men Movies?

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I have seen The Wolverine! And boy was he shirtless a lot. This movie was half superhero film and half ringing endorsement for babyoil products. Hugh Jackman has returned as Logan for another round, and this time he’s surrounded by ninjas and on the prowl in Japan. Was it a good movie, though? Or was it like every other X-Men film from the last decade?

Spoilers below the jump.

wolv4 REVIEW: Does The Wolverine Redeem Ten Years of Awful X Men Movies?

Basically? I liked it. Viper’s hair is the wrong colour and the finale wings off into robot-based lunacy, but overall I thought it was a restrained Wolverine story with some high-flying set pieces and a consistent view of what Wolverine should be. It also managed to surprise me, and in ways I enjoyed rather than hated.

The biggest surprise of the movie comes right by the start, when we’re made aware that this is a film which follows on chronologically  from X-Men 3. Rather than telling a story of Logan’s past, the movie is actually going to dare to follow on from the repercussions of that Brett Ratner travesty. As a result, Wolverine is joined in the movie by Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey, who spends all her time existing as part of his subconscious whilst the camera strains to look down her top. It’s a reasonable framing device for Wolverine’s character progression in the flick, even if the white room she’s in doesn’t appear to be particularly hot.

Jean’s prior death means Wolverine himself starts off the movie as a right old mardy-pants, living in the middle of the woods, making friends with bears and staring at (black and white?) photographs of the various X-Men he apparently misses. This even includes Halle Berry’s Storm, proving that the grieving process really does leave you with rose-tinted glasses. This sequence actually manages to fit a large chunk of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s 1982 ‘Wolverine’ miniseries into the film very neatly as a result, however, and gives us a quick and satisfying redefinition of who the character is and how he lives.

Throughout, Claremont and Miller’s portrayal of Wolverine serves as the basis for the character in the movie.

wolv1 REVIEW: Does The Wolverine Redeem Ten Years of Awful X Men Movies?

I could’ve watched a whole movie of the opening sequence, which ends with Wolverine avenging his sadly murdered bear friend (the bear gets fridged very quickly, alas) by stabbing the guilty hunter through the hand with a poisoned arrow. If that doesn’t sum up Wolverine – a man who feels the need for honour even if he doesn’t go about achieving it honourably – then I don’t know what does.

The film moves away from this by bringing in the star of the film: Yukio, as played by Rila Fukushima. Fukushima steals every scene she’s in, and makes the interesting choice of underplaying her action scenes – The Wolverine is the first time since Iron Man that a hero has dispatched enemies whilst being completely distracted by something else.

She’s utterly mesmerizing in the film, which is good because once she brings Wolverine across to Japan? The cast grows a little less steady. Having said that this is set in Japan and features a load of ninjas, that doesn’t exactly mean that the film has given work to a load of Japanese actors. The casting department have gone all round Asia to assemble this cast, with Chinese and Korean actors all filling out Japanese roles in the movie.

I wouldn’t have expected Hollywood to differentiate between Chinese, Japanese and Korean people, but it does feel like a shame that a movie which is so clearly in love with Japan and Japanese culture couldn’t at least cast realistically.

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Because boy, this is a movie which likes Japan, and Japanese culture. Everything from ronin to nabe gets a mention, and we get sequences set at a funeral, a love hotel, and on top of the bullet train! Ninjas show up, obviously, and everybody is very concerned with honour. People get kicked through paper walls, and every character knows at least a functioning level of martial arts training. Sadly there are no scenes where everybody suddenly reveals they have the ability to fly, or the bingo card would be complete.

With Wolverine now living in Japan, we get to see a supporting cast made up of great roles and rubbish ones. There’s Mariko, most prominently, played by Tao Okamoto, whom he acts as a fairly ropey bodyguard for during the second half of the film. A fantastic lead role and performance, she’s a character who sits at the heart of the film and gives everybody else more depth for it. Without Okamoto’s restrained, smart performance, half the rest of the cast would be all the more ridiculous and half-baked.

Because while her fiance is played with a wonderful sneer by Brian Tee, her ‘long-lost love’ is a bloke who fires arrows and dies TRYING TO FIGHT A GIANT ROBOT USING THOSE ARROWS. This character, played by a despairing Will Yun Lee, is rubbish throughout the movie, never really having a clear purpose or agenda at any point. He seems promising right at the start, and has a great free-running sequence as he chases people across a rooftop. But then he starts double crossing, and he starts making weird choices for no apparent reason, and becomes the biggest liability in the film.

In the cinema I was in, people cheered when he conked it.

The cast are generally very able, with none of the clunkers that started wandering into the franchise around the time of X-Men 3 – Ken Yamamura makes a particular impression as Yashida, who has to make a very sudden jump from likeable acquaintance to nominal lead villain of the film. He conveys a likeability which is seen reflected through Okamoto’s dignified and independent Mariko, and never once foreshadows his later turn to malevolence. It’s a really enjoyable performance, and speaks to the overall tone of the movie, also. Although it does sometimes become downcast, this is an X-Men film where the characters really get to have fun and enjoy themselves.

wolv3 REVIEW: Does The Wolverine Redeem Ten Years of Awful X Men Movies?

Wolverine Origins was a film where every character was filled with self loathing and hung around, waiting for somebody to fight or kill them. In The Wolverine, the characters are happy about being alive, and actively fight to protect themselves. Even though Mariko has the least fighting ability, she does at least try to fight off her attackers during the several times they kidnap her. And wow, does she get kidnapped a lot. If it weren’t for the fact she feels like an actual person, stuck in a superhero World, then this’d feel a whole lot more formulaic as a film. Although she is a damsel in distress, she also has agency and her own sense of purpose – and that helps carry the film through.

The finale is somewhat disappointing when it rolls round as – despite a terrific fight between Yukio and a somewhat menacing but out-of-place Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper which ends with a fairly brutal moment – we’re ultimately left with Wolverine fighting a big CGI robot we don’t care much about. The reveal that Yashida is in the suit is fairly obvious from the moment we see the suit, and the decision not to immediately reveal him (and therefore up the emotional stakes) leaves the final battle feeling dry, and listless. There’s some fun moments, like Wolverine getting his claws lopped off, but ultimately it takes what was a more human and personal film…. and suddenly throws an Iron Man into it.

The X-Men aren’t meant to be like the Avengers. They’re best when facing off very personal threats, rather than generic villains. That’s why the Sentinels work so well as aggressors, but an anonymous robot version of Silver Samurai doesn’t. The finale loses sight of that personal connection, and suffers for it.

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Overall though, this is a remarkably consistent movie. It gives us a new setting and direction for Wolverine, effectively gives him a supporting cast I’d love to see return – especially Yukio – and brings some momentum back to a very stagnant character. Hugh Jackman is engaged and ready as always, but this time he gets a proper script to handle and… uh… sink his claws into. Sorry! He does due snarling diligence, but also handles lighter character moments and quiet confessionals without feeling like he’s doing pantomime (which is how I felt Wolverine Origins treated him – a pantomime character).

So I’d recommend The Wolverine, as a whole. I thought it was a strong film in general, escaping the epic smashing grimness of Man of Steel as deftly as it avoids the blockbuster bickering of The Avengers. It’s taken over a decade, but somebody finally realised that if you want to write a great Wolverine – YOU READ SOME RUDDY CHRIS CLAREMONT COMICS.

Although apparently you don’t credit him or Miller at the end of the film

 

Steve Morris.

Comments

  1. I should point out that I really didn’t like X-Men: First Class, despite some brilliant lead performances. Once it became clear every woman was there to look attractive and strip off for the audiences, and every person of colour was getting killed off or pushed onto the ‘villain’ side of the story, I lost faith entirely.

  2. Nothing on the post-credits sequence?

  3. andy randall says:

    One tidbit that Morris failed too mention was that there was an airport scene midway through the end credits that sets it up for the next X-men movie. In typical Marvel fashion they always put alittle something extra at the end of their movies. I won’t say what actually transpires during the sequence, but it was great seeing Charles and Magnito again.

  4. I also loved this movie and am surprised more people don’t like it across the board. I’m going to chalk it up to those people not liking Asian Cinema.

  5. Talk about your “when did you stop beating your wife” headlines. I’m sure the review is fine, but I couldn’t make it past that ridiculous headline.

    Bob

  6. Johnny Memeonic says:

    I should point out that I really didn’t like X-Men: First Class, despite some brilliant lead performances. Once it became clear every woman was there to look attractive and strip off for the audiences, and every person of colour was getting killed off or pushed onto the ‘villain’ side of the story, I lost faith entirely.

    You’re projecting. First Class was fine.

  7. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Steve-O; gotta disagree there, I thought Jennifer Lawrence’s storyline as Mystique was the best character arc for a female superbeing in any movie. Of course, being played by Jennifer Lawrence didn’t hurt.

    Your description of shirtless Wolverine has piqued my interest to see this film however.

  8. Key Lime Pie says:

    “Whilst”?

    Unless you have a Public School accent or write bad English pornography, the use of “whilst” just doesn’t work.

  9. Whilst may not exist in American-English, but I’m not American. I’m fine using it to add a little coloUr

  10. Simon Jones says:

    X-Men First Class had a lot going for it, and frankly had the best performance from Michael Fassbender since that Guinness ad he did (check it out, it’s on Youtube). However it suffered from a problem which afflicted the previous Wolverine movie and The Last Stand (Apart from the not being very good. Neither of those were).

    There seemed to be a curious compulsion to introduce characters, introduce their powers and then instantly kill them off before anyone has had the opportunity to get to like them. From a story and character point of view, this makes the deaths entirely meaningless. Why not kill off a barely indentified character that we have only got to know by virtue of their mutant powers? See the death of Darwin in X-Men First Class for an example.

    I haven’t seen The Wolverine. I was pretty much on the fence about seeing it after the trailers came out, but even the lure of shirtless Hugh Jackman couldn’t lure my wife to see it. I saw the World’s End though. That was good. The Wolverine will be one for DVD I think.

  11. Andrew Farago says:

    “I also loved this movie and am surprised more people don’t like it across the board. I’m going to chalk it up to those people not liking Asian Cinema.”

    Actually, familiarity with Asian cinema weakened the film for me. The action sequences felt really subdued compared with some of the really well-choreographed action movies that have made their way to the U.S. in the past decade. Wolverine fighting a bunch of ninjas who really didn’t seem to be the best there are at what they do didn’t really cut it.

  12. To be a little nitpicky, Logan wasn’t staring at B&W pictures of X-Men to pass the time in his cave. What actually happened was Yukio handed him a research folder that he quickly thumbed through, which included a photo of Storm that he responded impassively to.

    It’s a minor point, but I think makes a big difference in character set-up.

  13. I haven’t seen Wolverine yet but really loved First Class – I thought the stuff with Darwin was highly problematic, and didn’t like the way women were mostly sidelined, but Mystique’s prominence and portrayal plus McAvoy and Fassbender’s performances were excellent.

    I liked the first X-Men film now I think upon it, one of the earliest to move comics into more serious mainstream ground, and the opening sequence of X-2 was phenomenal (Nightcrawler!).

  14. george says:

    Re your headline:

    The only X-Men movie close to “awful” was the third one, directed by Brett (No Talent) Ratner. And even it had a few good moments, most of them provided by Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde.

    The first two (directed by Bryan Singer) were fine movies, and X-Men: First Class was a decent movie, too. I passed on the first Wolverine solo movie back in 2009, and haven’t decided whether I’ll see this one.

  15. There’s nothing “anonymous” about this version of the Silver Samurai, and he’s not really a robot in the strict sense of the word. Without giving away a crucial spoiler, the Samurai’s true nature is important to the movie’s theme about the nature of mortality.

    Agree that the character of Harada (Will Yun Lee) was something of a dead end, though.

    Re: the Chinese and Korean actors– even if they don’t look precisely Japanese, so what? Do we need to become so anal that every ethnic subgroup *must* be played by a member of that subgroup?

    That would deny us, for one thing, of the pleasure of seeing the half-Jewish Werner Klemperer satirize Nazism in HOGAN’S HEROES by portraying the (implicitly non-Jewish) Colonel Klink.

  16. george says:

    “Re: the Chinese and Korean actors– even if they don’t look precisely Japanese, so what? Do we need to become so anal that every ethnic subgroup *must* be played by a member of that subgroup?”

    It used to be much worse. In the ’30s and ’40s, Asian characters were routinely played by Caucasian actors in grotesque makeup. And before that, black characters were played by whites in blackface. (See “The Birth of a Nation,” if you can stand the racism.)

  17. george says:
  18. Silly But True says:

    I wonder if you guys just nailed the real reason Brandon Routh’s Superman didn’t connect with movie-going audiences.

    He’s not really Kryptonian.

    Silly But True

  19. He. Apart from X-Men 3, or whatever they called it, how did the other X-men movies suck? I really liked them.

  20. luminous says:

    If it does well internationally you think there will be a sequel. The case with Superman Returns was not entirely true. (RIP) Or another reboot/retcon venture. Hey who know Marvel movies follow the same pattern as their comics, in the Fox world at least

  21. sham butt says:

    so judging by the writers wordings and enthusiasm……no point watching at the cinema cause all the pictures look like a CAM Print!!!i’ll rather stay home and watch it over my 42 inch plasma t.v. with a decent level of surround system…..it this…or smurfs 2…OH GOD!!

  22. I just saw this movie and really i didnt like it..it was mostly his shirt off whoch come on this aint a chick flick shit but any wat it was to slow its like they are just pushing shit out there i thought finding nemo 3d was 10 times better than wolverine :/ expected more got nothing..peace thats my opinion

  23. Elskidor says:

    X2 and First Class are both rated extremely high. X men original wasn’t bad either, so that comment was just silly. X3…bleh. I didn’t think there was anything special about The Wolverine though. I also didn’t get the hate over X Men: Wolverine origins, or whatever, but I did like 2009 woverine over the recent one. Looking for Days of Future Past!

  24. IJustDon't KNow says:

    okay so i am considering watching this or The Lone Ranger. I am not the kind of person to watch japanese based movies but it might be good. i just want the emotions movies should give. like sadness, overwhelmed happiness, or just a good laugh. i want to be intrigued. if i watch either of the films, i’d want to be intrigued and not sleepy. i like X-Men First Class. i actually love it :P #judgeme haha but i’ll watch it anyway….

  25. The character of Yukio played by Rila Fukushima was excellent. Her personality and ability in the martial arts scenes, along with some sword action, carried the whole film. Without her, I would have felt a disappointment. I recommend getting the dvd just to see if there is more action and dialogue scenes with her in it. She is remarkable not only because she is a precognitive mutant that has an interest in learning human martial arts capabilities, but because we really don’t see this type of action movie characters with her unique abilities and looks enough in any sort of movie out there. She represents the strong female character that is represented in all the x men movies.

  26. First and foremost I must say that I absolutely loved this movie. But as I will cover in my review it may largely be due to the fact that I have always held the source material of this film in very high regard. Having said that, I do recognize that their may be a sliding scale of enjoyability for this film. If you are a fan of the 1983 Claremont/Miller miniseries of Wolverine then this is the movie you have been waiting for. If you are fond of the character Wolverine and interested into delving deeper into his chronology and exploring his inner conflicts, you will certainly enjoy this movie. If however, you have no familiarity, or no desire to familiarize with the character of Wolverine, you may find yourself not caring about many of the slower moments and longing for a more evenly paced action film.

    Fans of Claremont’s Wolverine rejoice, this Wolverine does it right. The film does its best keeping characters intact while deviating from the comics in the sake of a self contained story and grander character development. There are several of the shots in this film that are near recreations of the comic’s original panels, and although story lines have been shifted and shuffled in some places, its all there. Mariko, Yukio, Harada, Shingen and Viper may develop differently than in the comic series, but their relation to each other and contextual significance is intact. As a Wolverine fan it was also nice to see a meaningful relationship blossom between Wolverine and Mariko, unlike the comics where it really is love at first sight. Instead here Wolverine falls in love not entirely with the character of Mariko, but rather with the idea of being a protector, a take that is a welcome addition to the Claremont storyline. The characters of Silver Samurai and Viper undergo the largest facelift in this film, but it isn’t entirely out of place. Let us not forget they were involved in the X Men issues directly connecting to the Wolverine miniseries. Although their characters have undertaken slight adjustments in order to incorporate ideas from the Fatal Attractions storyline, the plot does well to take from Wolverine’s side of this storyline because it was one of the few times in the series where Logan did feel vulnerable. Many fans will recognize that the plot device and character of Master Yashida cannot be found in any of the original comics, but one must keep in mind it serves as a useful device to connect all the developments of Logan’s journey. All in all I think its the best character study of Wolverine that any fan could ask for. Wolverine struggles with his animalistic urges and his commitment to reform, he grapples to find meaning in his endless immortality, and he ultimately finds purpose and resolution that he had not before. None of these developments are significantly or profoundly discovered, rather they are slowly revealed, which may turn casual movie goers off from enjoying this film. As a thoughtful exploration of Wolverine’s character and a grand homage to incredible source material though, how can any Wolverine fan say no to this movie? It is the best X-Men movie and one of the best comic based movies.

    For those who would not consider themselves fans, but are rather moviegoers intent on enjoying a superhero epic, be warned. This film is a character study, it does not grapple with any conflicts outside of Wolverine’s internal struggles. The world is not being threatened, and not many lives outside of Logan’s are even being threatened, so the storyline does not crescendo in epic suspense like the Avengers or the Dark Knight. So for those not invested in Wolverine’s personal self discovery, some of the action can seem unmotivated and the pacing an obstacle to satisfaction. The film does its job in providing action sequences, but it intersperses several moments of symbolic soul searching, cryptic metaphors and relationship building that serve as pavement for Wolverine’s self discovery. This movie can still be enjoyable without interest in Wolverine’s inner conflicts however. With an outstanding supporting cast, a beautiful setting, and gripping and intense action sequences, it plays a lot like a token Bond film for those unfamiliar with Wolverine.

    Whether you are familiar with the original comics or not, this movie will certainly provide entertaining thrills and intriguing themes. If, however, you are a fan of the original comic books, this film is a wonderful achievement.

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