News, Views, and Reviews
This is a great time to be a fan of super hero movies. It seems like the camp and cheese originally associated with super heroes is all but gone, and fans and non-fans alike can enjoy some truly amazing films. But, as every movie studio tries to outdo each other, raising the bar for special effects and visual story telling, as well as creating elaborate connections between numerous sequels and spin-offs, there are other dangers of alienating would-be movie goers: making it TOO complicated.
After years of hard work and careful planning, Marvel Studios has the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” that ties the Thor, Hulk, Captain America, and Iron Man movies together with The Avengers. Meanwhile, Fox Studios has been trying to re-assemble it’s X-Men movie properties into a more cohesive collection, bookended by “X-Men: First Class” (2011) and the super-sequel “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014). The new X-Men related movie, simply titled “The Wolverine” fits into this continuity, but remarkably exists outside it. In other words, it helps to have some awareness of the previous X-Men movies, but it’s not required.
Story: “The Wolverine” smartly pulls its hero out of his usual “good mutants versus evil mutants” struggles, out of North America completely, and throws him into an elaborate modern-day Samurai adventure in Japan. Part of what makes this movie successful is that the “Wolverine” character can almost be substituted with another character, and it would still be an interesting “Samurai” adventure movie. Near the beginning of the movie, Logan even has one of the characters tell him that he is a “Ronin” or a Samurai that no longer has a master. What follows that conversation is an intense character study OF The Wolverine, bringing up deeper themes of right and wrong, justice and mercy, and immortality and death.
The other part of the success is contributed by this not being an origin movie. Like some of the recent super-hero movies such as “The Dark Knight Returns” or “Iron Man 3”, “The Wolverine” doesn’t have to ask the nearly cliché question of “why does this person become a super-hero?” No, these movies can ask a more interesting question: “why do they CONTINUE to be super-heroes?” For Logan, this question is brought down to an even more primitive level: “why does he even want to LIVE anymore?” See, Logan has an overwhelming sense of justice, which leads him to do some nasty things for “the greater good” of others. But, because his main power, his healing factor, keeps him relatively immortal, he has to live with that guilt – for a very, very long time.
Characterization: Dealing with these complex issues drives the story, and pushes Hugh Jackman into one of his best performances yet. If I had to give a criticism of Jackman’s characterization here, it would be that he’s almost too serious. Sometimes, he breaks the tension with a witty comment or expression, things we’ve appreciated in previous X-Men and Wolverine movies, but not nearly enough in my opinion. “The Wolverine” has a more serious tone, however, so is it probably an artistic choice. With such a character-driven story, it’s good to have a small supporting cast that lets the main character shine, yet provide enough depth with their own characters to really fill out the entire story. After all, part of the inner struggle for Logan IS his interaction with other people, so, we have to care about these characters. Mariko (Tao Okamato) and Yukio (Rila Fukushima) are well developed, but I think some of the other characters are a little thin. The plot does contain a few plot twists (that I don’t want to give away) which may have had more impact if we cared more about these characters. Or, they are perhaps intentionally ambiguous characters so we don’t see the plot twists coming? Regardless, this is definitely a movie about Logan, first, and everything else is secondary – including the special effects.
Visualization: Believe it or not, this is not a very flashy movie. There are some great fight scenes, and they are choreographed and filmed well, but this is essentially a “ninja” movie, so expect a lot of hand to hand combat and not a lot of explosions. It’s also rated PG-13, so don’t expect much blood. There is a fight scene on top of a bullet train (featured in many commercials) that’s almost too unbelievable compared to the rest of the movie. Still, if that’s as “over the top” as it gets, that’s saying something about how “grounded” the rest of the movie is.
3D: Much to my disappointment, this rendered the 3D format nearly useless. Like the “Man Of Steel” movie, “The Wolverine” never really uses the format, even to establish depth or clarity. So, save your money and watch the 2D version.
Sound: Following the subdued tone of the film and the action sequences, there’s not much to say about the sound effects. However, I was pleased to find I was correct in guessing that it was a Marco Beltrami soundtrack. His music seems to be showing up in a lot of movies lately, and I think the quality speaks for itself. I really appreciate the use of “themes” in movies, as I’ve stated in several of my reviews, and Beltrami delivers. There’s also a great compilation of other artists, which gives the movie a lot of variety and a nice modern-eastern flavor.
Conclusion: If you love comic books and super-hero movies, or don’t usually care for them, you’ll enjoy “The Wolverine”. It’s subdued tone may be a little too serious at times, and the lack of flashy action may disappoint some people, but I really appreciated it’s singular, character-driven approach to one of the most popular super hero characters. Experiencing Logan’s struggles, fantastic as they may be, can help us discover something about ourselves. We may not be immortal or mutants or super heroes, but we do occasionally have to face our mortality and morality, and question our purpose in life. If a thought-provoking movie that focuses more on character development than special effects sounds good to you, then you’ll really enjoy “The Wolverine”.
Note: There is an additional scene during the credits, teasing the “X-Men: Days of Future Past” movie!
The Wolverine was released on July 26th, runs 126 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language.