The most inconsistent franchise in the movie world, the X-Men have brought us some gems (2011''s X-Men: First Class, one of my favorite films) and some lesser works (2000's X-Men, 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand). So when there's a new X-Men movie in town, you never know what you're going to get. I went into this week's The Wolverine with optimism, as someone who likes the character, and as someone who actually liked X-Men: Origins- Wolverine. Plus, I enjoy movies set in Japan typically. The trailers for James Mangold's superhero flick have promised the film that will FINALLY fully delve into the psyche of a man that is immortal. A film that will push him to the limits of his ability and strength. A movie that would take away his immortality. Well, I'm here to tell you that The Wolverine is not about that. At all.
The real story of The Wolverine has elements of the story hinted at in the trailers, but never goes through with it. After the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is hiding out in the Canadian woods, having nightmares about how he murdered his old love, Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) and only returning to civilization when he has to. However, Logan is soon approached by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), the adopted daughter of Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a man that Logan saved during WWII. Yashida wants to repay Logan for saving him before he dies so he offers to get rid of his immortality. He also appoints Logan as the protector of his daughter, Mariko (Tao Okamato). Soon Logan's flesh becomes weak and he goes on the run, stopping at nothing to protect Mariko and find out what happened to his body.
And that's just the half of it. While many websites have proclaimed this film "The Wolverine movie you've been waiting for!", it's not. Honestly, this movie is more about the character of Mariko than it is Logan. The whole plot of this movie is setting up a relationship between the two characters, which is fine. It's perfectly fine, and often interesting, if a comic book film focuses on relationships. The Spider-Man films prove that they can be very entertaining. But The Wolverine is the textbook example of how focusing on relationships over plot can be really, really bad. There is no need for Mariko to be in this movie. There is no need for all the villains and plot baggage she carries along with her. She is a completely useless character.
However, besides plot, it isn't all bad. The style of the film is really spectacular. The Wolverine is set in Japan and features lots of stunning shots that look right out of The Last Samurai. It's spectacular cinematography and I love movies that are set in Japan and look like that. Just a weird thing of mine. Secondly, the action is really good. The first few action scenes in Tokyo, when I still cared what was going on in the movie, are really great. The third act has some impressive action, but once again, like Man of Steel, if your plotting and story lose me, I really don't care about your film's action. Take notice directors of Hollywood.
In addition, the performances are solid. Hugh Jackman is solid as usual, but in the climax of the film, I really felt worn down by his character. I was just tired of the screaming, the grunting, the yelling. Jackman is a great actor and I hated to see him reduced to that. He has some great lines and some great character moments, but the Wolverine's welcome has worn down a bit. I hope X-Men: Days of Future Past can do something good with the character. However, there were two other performances I wish to point out. Rila Fukushima is great. She's very entertaining and if the movie had just focused on her and Logan traveling through Japan, it would have been much better. Also, while he is barely in the movie, Hiroyuki Sanada has great screen presence and I really wish that he was in more films.
Also, I was very engaged by the first forty five minutes or so. When it was Logan, and Yukio, and Yashida himself, I was very engaged. The first few action scenes were very exciting. Then I saw where the movie was going with its plot and just sunk into my theater seat in frustration. Wolverine is now some protector? I thought this movie was about him, not some Japanese lady?
But when you look past the technical material, The Wolverine starts to fall apart. I plan on posting a spoiler review later in the week to delve deep into the story and point out how stupid it is, but for now, I will just say that it's so muddled, so full of characters, that it is borderline incomprehensible. Other people may not feel that way, but I was just so riddled with frustration. And the movie makes you ask so many questions, and never seems to give the answers. That doesn't make it more interesting, that makes it stupid. The producers tried to take a simple plot and add a love interest (because it's not a superhero without a love interest!) and made a bad film. It's as simple as that.
In addition, The Wolverine screws itself over by adding a bunch of characters who are explained in one word sentences. Literally. Logan asks Yukio at least six times: "Who's that?". And she replies: "That's blah blah blah." And we're supposed to remember them. Yeah, right. Plus, there could have been good villains in this movie, but they chose to put in a guy with a bow and arrow and Viper. Seriously, Viper is the worst villain in comic-book movie history. The absolute worst. There's no method to her madness.
When The Wolverine is focuses solely on the character of Wolverine/Logan, it's good. When it gets into the meat of the plot, it is bad. I don't know how else to put it. As I said, I was very much into this movie for the first hour. I could see where it was going, and I liked where it was going. However, there were a few tidbits that hinted at a plot that would be much less entertaining. And of course, the film just has to go the route of being boring. It just has to. Whoever wrote this film needs to be fired. Because there is so much good stuff going on. There is so much to like about this movie. The actors have charisma. Hugh Jackman is great. Rila Fukushima is great. The action is stunning. The setting is perfect. The style is great. Everything is good about this movie expect one thing. Unfortunately, that thing matters above all else. Story. The story in The Wolverine is muddled as all get-out. There were times when I wasn't even sure why anything was happening. I'm not sure if it was from shock, that the film hadn't gone the route I expected, or if it was just a poorly told story. It was just baffling. A total miscalculation by screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.
Another issue that is pervasive throughout all the X-Men films is that they pack the films with so many different character threads that you can't always keep up. But, they're fast paced fun, so it's easy to get wrapped up in the plot. But in The Wolverine, the middle act is so slow and that's when all the confusion comes in. That's where the bad part comes in. And it just kills this movie.
That's what The Wolverine is. A total miscalculation. What should have been a cool, simple story told with visual flair and action packed fun, is ruined by a dumb love interest and muddy plotting with a bunch of characters none of us give a crap about. Just bad. But, hey, the fanboys in my theater seemed to love it, so the movie has that going for it. But still, skip this one. You can live without it. See something else. The Wolverine isn't a movie I will actively stop people from seeing as I think that the action is good, but it doesn't get a recommendation and it's easily forgettable.
THE FINAL GRADE: C- (4.9/10)