Ok, so I really like Wolverine, I really like Hugh Jackman, and I really like Japan. This summer’s “The Wolverine” should be a dream come true, right?
It could have been. But it wasn’t. At all. Japanophile that I am I liked the setting, but….urgh.
As short as I can make this summary: Devastated after the death of Jean Grey (aka Phoenix) at his own hands, Wolverine (aka Logan) secludes himself in a forest with nothing more than a radio and liquor. Some drunk hunters and a Japanese girl who has been tailing him flush him out of hiding, and he flies to Japan with the girl, Yukio, to meet a man he saved from death in the bombing of Nagasaki. Yashida by name, this man now owns a humongous corporation and is extremely rich. He claims that he wants to repay Wolverine for saving his life and that he can do that (and save himself from cancer in the process) by taking away Wolverine’s regenerative powers. But things don’t go as planned when Logan refuses the offer. The situation gets even more complicated when Yashida dies and the Yakuza (the Japanese mob) go after his granddaughter Mariko, who has inherited the company. Even worse, as he tries to protect her Logan finds that his wounds aren’t healing like they used to.
I tried to make that short. I know the rest of this is long, but please read it.
Sooo, what’s so wrong with it? Sounds interesting, right? Wolverine without his super healing powers, struggling with the fact that he could die, wondering if he’d really want it? That’s what the trailer made it seem like, but that’s not what the movie was. It seems like it should be a really thought provoking movie, and in some scenes it tries to be, but fails. Why? Three main reasons: weak plot, superficial exploration of themes, and way too much fighting. But it’s a comic book action flick! you cry. It’s going to have fighting. Well yes, of course, but why so dang much?? Fight scenes can be cool, but too many can be ridiculously boring. Makes me think of the over-long swordfight in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” And the type of fighting–just hack here, slash there, kill one man, kill another. Everything went by so fast, there was no way to tell whether the fighting was skillful or interesting. Just dizzying. Other superhero movies have perhaps just as much fighting, but of a different sort, I’d say. Though I will admit, there is one scene Wolverine has that is slightly reminiscent of Boromir that is cool: a bunch of men are shooting him with arrows tied to lines (so as to secure him and slow him down) but he keeps on running. Until someone shoots him with an arrow dipped in a serum that knocks him out. But he had so many arrows in him. And the scene clip from below was kind of cool too.
I just wished they’d done more of the stylized martial arts type action with Yukio. C’mon, they have a pink-haired ninja-girl and they pass up the opportunity? Speaking of which, I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to mention part of the last fight scene that I thought was a nice touch (not nice as in pleasant, though). Yashida has enclosed himself in a big, adamantium, samurai-shaped robot. He can now seriously injure Wolverine, and in a way he does. In a very visceral scene, he slices off Wolverine’s claws. I shudder just thinking of it. And this has consequences: in the little scene after the credits, we see that Wolverine’s bone claws are no longer covered in adamantium, which obviously puts him at a disadvantage.
Another problem is plot weakness. The idea is that Yashida as a young man in the Japanese army shepherded as many people as he could to safety–even POWs–before the a-bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Being a ranked officer, according to their honor code he ought to have committed seppuku. But he hesitated while his superiors killed themselves, and Logan ended up protecting him from the bomb blast.Years later, Yashida has made good and earned quite a bit of money, presumably having his share of the good life. But he wants more, so he’s hired an American chemist, who turns out to be a mutant named Viper, to help find a way to live longer. Ever since he met Wolverine he’s been obsessed with how to gain this ‘immortality.’ So when Viper has found a way to transfer Wolverine’s powers to Yashida, Yashida first offers Wolverine the opportunity to voluntarily give up his power. Logan doesn’t take it. Yashida decides to take it by force.
Does this line up? The young Yashida who wanted to save even the lives of his enemies, willing to prolong his own at all costs? Since we don’t get to see much of his character at all, it’s hard to say; but it would have been nice to have seen a least a small progression from, “I naturally fear death but I’m a good guy” to “I MUST NOT DIE, REGARDLESS OF THE COST.” (In all those caps.) This segues nicely into the other plot problem. What the heck did Mariko have to do with any of this?
Yashida has a son Shingen and also a granddaughter Mariko. For whatever reason, Yashida decides to leave the corporation to Mariko. Her father Shingen somehow discovers this and hires the Yakuza to take out his daughter (think about the last part of that sentence for a minute). If Yashida truly dies, this may or may not make sense; since we don’t know enough about Mariko’s ability to run a business, we won’t ever really know. It may make more sense in light of what happens in the movie: Yashida probably leaves the company to his granddaugther because she doesn’t want it, and once he has become effectively ‘immortal’ he can more easily wrest the company from her than his son. Don’t ask me how he thought she would react to the fact that her grandfather was now at least as young as she is. So that seems flimsy. One might argue that Yashida used her as bait to lure Logan into his trap, which is possible. However, they concentrate so much on the Yakuza chasing Mariko that I feel like I’m watching two different movies. The ending comes as a surprise–the kind where it’s like, “wait, it was him? really? I’d totally forgotten about him” except once you remembered him it was so expected that it was a let down.
The biggest disappointment of all, for me, was how the movie failed to deliver on themes it promised. If it had delivered, I probably would have actually liked the movie despite its plot and fighting problems.
Theme Problem 1: Guilt-Tripping
The movie begins with the events in Nagasaki, which turn out to be a dream/memory Logan is having/reliving. He wakes up next to Jean Grey, who instead of trying to comfort him tells him it’s impossible to run from his past of killing. He then truly wakes up on the mountainside. What I object to here is that not only does Logan feel guilty and depressed about Jean’s death, this dream-Jean makes him feel even more depressed. Come here, come be with me, she says. She’s all about herself. At the end of the movie when Logan says, no, I’m going to live, she replies that she’s going to be lonely and all alone. She then leaves the room of Logan’s dreamworld.
The fact that this dream-Jean is so selfish leads me to believe that she’s simply a projection of his guilt and a manifestation of his own desire to be with her (similar to Cobb’s projection of Mal in “Inception,” thought not nearly as well written or acted). Her last comment about being all alone is a last ditch effort to guilt-trip him, it would appear. Logan doesn’t take the bait: in fact he totally ignores the comment and just tells her he loves her. However, the movie seems to treat her as something real, in an afterlife, considering that the last vision he has of her is almost a near death experience. If she were real (and I doubt it), then why would she be all alone in the afterlife? If there’s an afterlife for her why not for others?
Theme Problem 2: Logan’s Death Wish
Apparently Logan would prefer to die; at the very least he doesn’t spend his days as if he wants to live. He’s an exhausted mutant who’s lived for about 200 years now. He’s fought in numerous wars and had at least two women that he loves die, one by his own hands. Not only does he look older and haunted; he looks exhausted. And, according to the ghostly apparition of Jean Grey, Logan wants to be with her. All of this being so–why doesn’t he even consider Yashida’s offer of a normal life? He just rejects it outright. Now, I’m not saying I want Wolverine to die or kill himself or anything–far from it. I don’t even know that I think he should’ve accepted it even if he had considered it. But it would make some sense for him to at least consider it later in the movie. I will note that he does almost give in and die at one point. But he never ever thinks about Yashida’s offer. I think that’s one of the reasons that watching this almost feels like watching two movies. Which leads us to problem three.
Theme Problem 3: Logan’s Immortality
Logan’s brain just goes from “Yashida’s dead, I’ll go to his funeral, wait this girl’s in danger I’ve gotta protect her.” In this kind of movie the audience is in Wolverine’s brain a lot–the viewpoint is actually pretty first-person. The problem is “Logan’s got a brain, but what’s going on in his brain isn’t very interesting.” It’s like the audience can scratch the surface of his brain, but just when things actually get interesting they shut the door in his head and we have to watch from the outside again.
For instance, his (temporary) lack of regenerative powers does not seem to phase him at all. There’s no real discomfort on his part besides the fact that he’s like: what? I’m not healing? What the heck? and his fighting gets slower, although he doesn’t ever seem to be in any real danger except for at the end. The closest they get to considering the impact of his mutational malfunction is when Yukio says, “they can hurt you now, they can kill you.” Logan says nothing and then just gets out of the car and is back to threatening and fighting. You think it would phase him. I mean, even if didn’t care about whether he died, he’d still be so used to not dying or getting hurt that I think he’d wonder a little more, “wow…I really could die…if someone slices my jugular this time that’s it…nothing…is that really what I want?” Because human instinct absolutely rebels against dying, no matter how much we feel like it, and whatever mutations he has Wolverine is human. That’s how you know people who commit suicide are in an awful state. Since the plot is somewhat flimsy, delving into his mindset instead of just having him hack at people all the time would’ve helped a lot.
It would’ve also made the end of the move more understandable. Yes, he banishes the Jean Grey spectre by saying he’s not ready to die, but why isn’t he ready? He appeared to have somehow come to the conclusion that life was worth living, but nothing happened to help him to that. It could’ve been Mariko–but it’s clearly not, because he loves her and leaves her to fight some as-yet-unknown battles. With another woman. Who has a crush on him.
THEN he talks about this “I’m a solider, I’ve been avoiding that too long” thing. He’s been living for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS. He doesn’t really HAVE to fight any longer. The idea that he’s a soldier and can’t get away from that, has to be a fighting machine forever, is really, really depressing. Nothing else shows up to help him think that life itself is good.
So basically, the movie delved into some interesting issues, but these issues needed internal examination by the characters that was not shown. They opted for way too much fighting instead, and not even fighting with skill. Just hack, slash, kill that dude, kill another dude. They should have made it more personal and thoughtful. The kind of movie they wanted to make and the story they used require it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some good things about it, but all the problems plus the dismal script (which I forgot to mention) make it a generally dissatisfying watch. Even “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was better.