Have you ever actually seen a wolverine? They’re a pain to deal with I’m sure, but really not that threatening. Nevertheless, we can agree that the Marvel Comics character Wolverine is completely badass. In today’s Journal, I look Wolvie’s two spin-off films. Yes, that includes the brand new flick, THE WOLVERINE.
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 57
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2010) – The origin of Wolverine was kept secret for a long time. It was often questioned, but most comic fans agreed that it was best kept as an unsolved mystery. Marvel had other thoughts and drafted some of their top talent to pen WOLVERINE: ORIGIN, a mini-series that alleged to tell the mutant’s secret beginnings.
This film tells some of that story, but as has been the case with several aspects of the X-MEN franchise, it goes off in its own direction. We learn about Logan (Hugh Jackman again) and his half-brother Victor (Liev Schreiber), the mutants who will eventually become Wolverine and Sabertooth. The two are brought together through their mutual mutation and spend the next hundred years fighting in various wars. Logan is alarmed when Victor continues to exhibit ever-greater violence and cruelty. In the mid-20th century, after the two survive a firing squad, they are brought into the Weapon X program by Gen. Stryker (Danny Huston). Thus, we have the grafting of adamantium all over Logan’s skeleton. Logan grows to learn that Styker has been lying to him. He flees the program and tries to live a simple life. But when Stryker’s men destroy everything Logan holds dear, the animal in him takes over.
That’s a brief overview of the clumsily-titled X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (as if moviegoers were going to forget this was the main character of the last three blockbuster X-MEN films). But the film shoehorns a lot of other characters in there as well, including: Blob, Gambit (boy, that was a let down), young mutants that include Emma Frost and Cyclops, a bastardized version of Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and more.
And that’s one of the big problems about X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. The film throws a lot of stuff in there, but none of it with any sense that the filmmakers know or care what they are talking about. Lots of films, the X-MEN series in particular, make their own adaptations to the material. But this film seems to have been made with the specific purpose of pissing off its core audience. Worse yet, characters are thrown so haphazardly into the mix that it seriously weighs down the integrity of the storyline.
This film is a mess. There are some decent performances, with Jackman and Schreiber in particular doing fine work. But the film never progresses very far before some sort of clumsy scripting or execution pops up to make the viewer sigh and want to be done with the whole thing.
I actually enjoyed this film the first time I saw it. It gets worse with each viewing however and I doubt I will be visiting Logan’s origins again. ★½ (out of ★★★★)
THE WOLVERINE (2013) – Not another origin story, this is a spin-off film that takes place after the events of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. Haunted by the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Logan once again lives as a hermit and has renounced violence. When he sleeps, he still sees visions of the deceased Jean. Just as he’s about to go against his vow, a beautiful swordswoman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) intercedes.
She takes Logan to Japan where a Japanese soldier he saved from the blast at Nagasaki years before is finally dying. Yashida is now the operator of a major technology firm. He wanted to say goodbye to the man he owed his life to and comes up with a perverse bargain. Yashida offers to relieve Logan of his immortality by taking his healing ability as his own. Logan refuses. Soon however, Logan becomes embroiled in various intrigues within the Yashida corporation and winds up protecting Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from the Yakuza and other hired killers. Worst of all, it does look as though Logan’s healing factor has been significantly impaired.
THE WOLVERINE is a major improvement over X-MEN ORIGINS, but there are still plenty of problems. What works is the more adult storyline. The Japanese setting, with its clash of culture and traditions, makes for a unique summer blockbuster. Rarely has there been a tentpole release with more actors whose names can’t be pronounced by the Super Size Me audience members. A couple early action sequences get our hopes up. Logan fights members of the Yakuza at a funeral service and soon after, is swatting them off a bullet train in one of the coolest action scenes of the summer.
THE WOLVERINE is a film with female problems, most notably there are a lot of women in this film and very few are written well. The film isn’t guilty of the rampant shoehorning of X-MEN ORIGINS, but there is still some meddling and one can’t help but feel that this would have been a really good film if the focus remained on Wolverine’s protection of Mariko. But no, there are a ton of characters flying around, most gratuitously the mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), undoubtedly the film’s low point. The Famke Janssen scenes also feel like a clumsy attempt to convey what’s happening in Logan’s head, without actually relying on good writing. Mariko is an empty vessel, someone to be protected or rescued but lacking in any intriguing characteristics of her own.
It isn’t all bad news however, as Yukio is an awesome character I would like to see more of. Likewise, Rila Fukushima’s performance is by far the film’s best. Can this really be her first feature film? Outstanding work.
This is a more mature film overall, with subtleties and various double and triple crosses. The violence and sexuality are also enough that THE WOLVERINE comes close to R-rated territory.
And then Shredder shows up. I don’t have time to go into detail about the third act, but it’s a mess. Everything gets dumbed down. It’s as if they had a smart film and replaced it with the climax from the X-MEN ORIGINS debacle. Too bad.
THE WOLVERINE works, but just barely. It has several great things that almost make up for every misfire. Almost. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 255
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