“The Wolverine” *** (out of 5)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Wil Yun Lee, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, and Famke Janssen
Written by: Mark Bomback and Scott Frank
Directed by: James Mangold
Sometimes, being the good guy isn’t the best thing. Hugh Jackman has now played Marvel’s Wolverine character five times in full, and briefly appeared in “X-Men: First Class”. I like Hugh Jackman, and for all intents and purposes, the Aussie star seems to be a genuinely good, hard-working guy. However, not one moment has passed where I have considered his portrayal of the most popular Marvel mutant to be as defining as, say, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, or even Patrick Stewart as Professor X.
Could it be the character of Wolverine, and not the actor, that I find less interesting? It’s entirely possible. Wolverine is virtually indestructible. His ‘weapons’ are attached to his skeleton in the form of adamantium claws. So, in essence, it requires very little skill for him to succeed at doing what he wants, because nothing stands in his way (other than an adamantium bullet, according to the last film). He’s been alive for a few centuries, but what he’s seen and done haven’t driven him insane, or kept him from trying to function over and over again. I guess Wolverine might be the most boring ‘immortal’ ever. He never catches a break, but it never seems to completely drive his character over the edge.
This particular film incarnation of Wolverine isn’t a ‘bad’ film, by any means. It’s very nice to look at, and there is a smattering of memorable scenes, such as a flashback scene to World War II-era Nagasaki, with Logan as a P.O.W., an evenly matched battle between Logan and the adamantium-armored ‘Silver Samurai’, and a fun, if unbelievable, fight sequence on top of a bullet train.
Unfortunately, like most other X-Men entries, this is an incomplete film. It’s not “the Wolverine film we’ve been waiting for”, as some critics have opined (were we waiting for one?). For all the extravagance of the aforementioned scenes, it’s the other pivotal scenes that don’t work as well. For example, an old friend offers Logan the chance to join us mortals, an opportunity you’d think he’d relish no matter the cost, but he passes. A new lady friend gets close to Logan, and they end up being intimate (how old IS she?) despite her engagement to a politician, and despite his apparent loyalty to Jean Grey, but later he violently chides the politician fiance for doing the same thing he did earlier- violate the commitment of that relationship, even if it was set up. Hypocrisy with Wolverine doesn’t sit well with me, especially since the filmmakers have always asked us to give this violent, moody character the benefit of the doubt- this time it’s inexcusable. On top of that, Jean Grey (or Phoenix, depending on your level of anal retentive-ness) appears throughout the film, but do we ever get a solid reason for why she’s around, other than Logan dreaming about her? Does she exist on some spectral plane, or just as a figment of his imagination? I didn’t notice an explanation either way.
As I mentioned before, X-Men films are generally incomplete. Even the best of the series, “First Class”, occasionally rides on too much style and not enough substance. I’m convinced that the series needs fresh faces in charge, and someone to ground the fantastical abilities of the characters in a more believable reality. We’ve been shown many scenarios throughout the six films which pit the mutants against the homo sapiens, but never on a level that I can imagine would be appropriate in real life. That’s the big failure of the series, in my opinion. There is significant conjecture about the ‘outcasting ‘of mutants, and the ‘brewing war’ between humans and mutants, but aside from a couple random scenes, when do humans and mutants actually square off? Here’s hoping that Bryan Singer finally graduates from director of pretty decent films to elite director with next years “Days of Future Past”, and with the mutant hunting Sentinels, we actually HAVE the ‘brewing war’ alluded to in previous films. I’m not holding my breath that it will actually happen, though.
I think we desperately need a new style of film for the X-Men. Gritty, dark, and grounded would be a perfect approach for me. That’s what we were promised with “The Wolverine”, but I only see dark, with the imitation of gritty and grounded, much like the other films in the saga. My suggestion? Why not hire Darren Aronofsky again, and see what he comes up with? He was the original director on “The Wolverine”, then bolted. The same thing happened before with “First Class” helmer Matthew Vaughn, who worked on “The Last Stand”, and left. Aronofsky is an elite filmmaker. James Mangold is not. He’s Bryan Singer, Brett Ratner, Gavin Hood, and Matthew Vaughn. He’s good but not great. He’s a fine filmmaker that hit on the brilliant “3:10 To Yuma”, but had two super heavyweights heading the cast. Hugh Jackman is not a heavyweight. This movie isn’t a heavyweight. After six entries, shouldn’t we get something more exciting? Is it possible that the X-Men, simply, aren’t that interesting to begin with? The best conclusion I can come up with is that the X-Men are just as interesting as most comic characters, but to this point, no filmmaker has taken the cinematic version of these characters to the next level. I say it’s high time someone did.