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The Wolverine

The Wolverine

Why so surly all the time, Wolvie? Aren't you
happy with all the cute Japanese girls fawning
all over you?

dir: James Mangold


Yes, yes, another superhero flick. Your eyes just glazed over thinking about it the way mine did as I was typing it.

The Wolverine, at least, is a more modestly ambitious superhero flick than the four thousand or so we've watched in the last year. In fact, you could argue it’s not even a superhero flick, in that it’s just about a guy with weird hair and the magical ability to heal instantly who kills a bunch of Japanese people. So it's an action flick, more than anything, with nary a mention of the X-Men or most of anything that happened in all of the other films, with the pointed exception being the fate of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) at the end of X-Men 3.

Now, when ranking X-Men flicks, it would seem to make sense to order them from best to worst, but, to my mind, worst to least mediocre is probably a better methodology. The cumbersomely-named X-Men Origins: Wolverine might seem to be the worst, but I have a special hatred for that third turd of a flick, being The Last Stand, which was anything but the last stand, since the tedium rolls on and on.

Let's just agree that both movies are pretty terrible in special, unique ways, and leave it at that. Fortunately, nothing about Origins plays a role here, and I'm assuming in the timeframe this plays out some years after Last Stand.

As the film begins, we're watching curious footage of two bombers approaching a seaside town. Some Japanese guard at a POW prison camp circa 1940s starts going berserk, screaming presumably "The Americans are coming, the Americans are Coming! Quick, abuse the prisoners some more and then quickly commit suicide!" My Japanese is a bit rusty, so I might be slightly inaccurate on that score. Most of the guards are running around like Japanese chickens with their heads artfully decapitated with the precise deadly beauty of a katana. One guard is still trying to kill POWs, as if there's any percentage or value in doing so. One of them, though, seems to value human life a little more than his brethren, as he tries to help the prisoners escape before the bombs drop.

This one also, with his cherishing of the sacredness of human life, looks towards a pit in which presumably the most recalcitrant and disobedient prisoner in the concentration camp is being kept. All we see are his eyes, at this stage, and the fact that he's suspending himself in the air using only his claws stuck into the walls of the pit.

So I guess this is our hero? Or is the Japanese guy our hero? Anyone who's seen not a second of X-Men flicks wouldn't have any idea, and wouldn't get much of an idea for the rest of the flick.

Japanese soldier releases prisoner, the bombs drop, turns out this town is Nagasaki, turns out the bombs are atomic bombs, turns out Logan / Wolverine wants to save this Japanese guy's life as well, and does so, his miraculous healing powers holding both of them in good stead despite the fact that I can't fathom how this was meant to work. Some movies wait a while before they 'nuke the fridge'; here they did it in the opening goddamn minutes.

In case you don't know, and you really shouldn't, 'nuking the fridge' refers to one of the most egregiously awful moments in any film involving George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford in any combination, coming from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a movie I've tried and failed to blot from my consciousness using litres of industrial-strength alcohol, to no avail but much merriment.

As absurd as this moment is, and I'm tempted to list each and every reason why Logan/Wolverine 'saving' this Japanese guy just by holding a piece of metal over the blast front of a nuclear explosion is easily the most ridiculous fucking thing I've seen in many a year, I'm prepared to let it go, because I'm feeling generous today, and because Australia's Own Hugh Jackman's just so wonderful in the role.

It cuts to the present, or at least the more recent past, and this crazy bearded guy is in bed with Famke Janssen, against which there should be laws. It's a dream sequence, don't get too freaked out, but it points to two things: Logan feels guilty about having to kill Jean in a previous film when she went crazy and tried to destroy the world, and, on some level perhaps, Logan wishes he could just die.

An embittered and mournful Logan hides out in the Canadian wilderness, which is the best kind of wilderness. He's really doing it rough, with big hair and bushy beard. He eschews the company of other humans, and frankly, given how shitty they are, who can blame him. He marks his territory the way his neighbour the grizzly bear does, and he just wants to do his thing without being hassled by the Man, or the Bear either, one guesses.

Events transpire, a tiny redheaded Japanese girl called Yukio (Rila Fukushima) has been following Logan, taking snaps of him, basically being very creepy. No-one minds when it's a 'cute' Japanese girl doing the stalking.

She reveals during or maybe just after a barroom brawl that she is the envoy of the Japanese guy Logan saved at the beginning of the movie, who lays dying, and wishes to thank Logan in person before he moves on to his eternal reward. Turns out the guy Logan saved and hasn't thought about in 68 years became a wealthy industrialist.

That doesn't bode well, does it? "Dying wealthy industrialist" is shorthand for Bond villain usually, but, who knows, maybe he's of the nice variety, and plus, we know Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) values life above all else.

What follows is mostly of the overcooked and melodramatic variety. Yashida dies, and has a granddaughter who perpetually either wants to off herself or keeps getting kidnapped by yakuza thugs. Why is she being kidnapped by the yakuza thugs? Because Wolverine needs a faceless army of guys to kill (in bloodless and mostly edit-hasty ways). Is there a better reason than that? Why does Wolverine give a good goddamn? I'm still not sure. The granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is possibly the blandest, most boring woman I've seen in a film in centuries. Wolverine fixates on her in what I thought was a protective mode, but it ends up going ludicrous quite fast.

There is a point that the story is trying to get across, at least in terms of character moments, or character motivations for Logan. The old guy, before he died, mentioned to Logan that he could give him what he craves, which is death. We know, at least those of us unfortunate enough to have watched all the movies or read the comics, that Logan is effectively immortal. The screenplay tries to give a plausible explanation as to why something like this might be appealling to Logan at this late stage of his deathless life. And once, purely coincidentally, his healing factor stops working, for some reason, and he starts suffering wounds he can't instantly recover from, it goes some way towards making him a more relatable character, or at least a more human one.

The most touching moment, once Logan and his charge hide out in some small seaside town known as Nagasaki, is when the locals require his help in clearing some debris from a fallen tree. He works a hard couple of hours, and feels exhausted, that bone deep tiredness that comes from hard physical work. It's something Logan's never experienced before (Canadians being allergic to hard work, apparently) since his healing factor would have meant his muscles regenerated instantly, avoiding fatigue. The pleasure he takes in this feeling is actually a sweet character moment, one Jackman sold well, one I enjoyed.

It's far sweeter than anything else between Logan and Mariko. Let's just say I didn't find their 'relationship' very engaging or believable, with zero chemistry. Mariko is such a boring character and boring performance that I found myself drifting off even with those stupid 3D glasses on my head.

That's not true, but her line readings were pretty affectless. My favourite piece of dialogue she delivers is when Logan asks a reasonable question about some really dumb actions she and her family are taking, and she replies, "You wouldn't understand, you're not Japanese", but she says it as if someone was showing her colour swatches so she can decide on a new paint colour for the upstairs bathroom, but she doesn't really care that much, since she's dead inside and doesn't care about the difference between Ivory and Eggshell White. So she responds the way you do when you don't even have the energy to be sarcastic or passive aggressive, and can't even muster a 'whatever'.

Logan had far more chemistry with his little firecracker of a redheaded 'bodyguard' Yukio, who's a mean fighter as well. She kicks a whole bunch of ass as if she was the redheaded Japanese equivalent of Hit Girl. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Logan should have hooked up with Yukio instead or as well. Frankly the sight of a man in his mid forties cracking onto Japanese girls thirty years his junior fills me with nothing but dread, but that's enough about my hangups.

Focussing on the melodrama and the idiotic plot machinations makes it seem like it's not an action fest, but that's my fault, not the film's. There's plenty of action, don't worry, action heads. The question is whether it's decent action or not.

There's a fight at the funeral, sure, but the big scene is probably the fight in and on a bullet train, which looked smashing, and, despite implausibilities, worked tremendously well. Sure, the yakuza goons are a faceless, characterless bunch, and their motivation makes so little sense, but it sure looks great when Logan is killing them at 500 kilometres an hour.

The plot gets a bit bogged down in pointless wheel-spinning, which mostly is only revealed at the end to have been a whole lot of pointless busywork, because the 'real' villain and their 'real' motivation renders everything that occurs earlier on pointless. I can't say I was surprised at the reveal at the end, but I can say when the final 'form' of the villain is revealed, the feeling I felt most was 'profound disappointment'.

I thought the point of the flick was bringing Logan down to a more human scale, getting him to feel his own mortality, making him a more believable figure in a more believable world, which, with the exception of his abilities, should have just been regular people doing slightly amazing things in the pursuit of a common goal, which should have been something interesting.

So then why's he fighting a giant samurai robot with giant flaming katana swords at the end? Why did a certain character, a certain ninja-like character, who swears to the camera and no-one else, that he's going to defend Mariko with his life, reveal himself to be in cahoots with the villain, and then, for no reason, changes his mind spontaneously at the end? Why did the villains conspire to rob Logan of his healing abilities, thus making it more likely for him to die before the climax, even though they needed him at the climax in order to extract maximum value out of him?

It's... it's not good. It's a bit lame, I have to say. Jackman is fine throughout, everyone loves the dour character, don't they? Most of the Japanese people are fine, the action is great, but the plot is, how shall I put this delicately, oh yeah, it's fucking retarded. My apologies to fucking retards everywhere.

I certainly didn't hate the flick, because it seemed like they were trying to take the time to make it something different, especially since every other superhero flick has the protagonist having to save the whole world every time. He was just trying to save a girl, in order to make up for the one he couldn't save, and that should have been enough. It wasn't though, and this just became an exercise in futility, to me.

6 times when will Japanese people learn that giant robots can't solve everything out of 10

- "You look nice."
"I feel violated." - you and me both, by this convoluted and shitty script - The Wolverine