Note to the producers and filmmakers of The Wolverine: Not everyone is an X-Men aficionado. Though rabid devotees of the series know their lore from A to X, the rest of the audience may be perplexed by the film’s timeframe, or lack thereof. Or why such fascinating characters as Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) and Colonel Stryker (Danny Huston) from 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine have disappeared into the cinematic haze.
While this Logan-centric movie gives us one elaborate fight scene after another, couldn’t any of the three credited screenwriters have thrown the viewers an informative bone? Guess not – too many battles to stage, too much unnecessary 3D to layer on in post-production.
Without further ado: The Wolverine occurs several years after 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand in which Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) had died. Think of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and this current movie as bookends to three of the four X-Men installments (X-Men, X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand). [The outlier is 2011’s X-Men: First Class in which the early lives of Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) are explored.] To make things even more complicated, this koi-out-of-water story is based on a four-issue mini-series created in 1982 by writer Chris Claremont and graphic artist Frank Miller (Sin City, 300). Whew. Let the onslaught begin.
Flashing back to a virtual flash: While Nagasaki goes up in flames from the A-Bomb, Hugh Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine is hanging out at the bottom of a deep well, ultimately protecting a young Japanese soldier named Yashida from the nuclear fireball.
Such heroics no longer interest the moody Wolverine of today. We meet up with the mangy mutant as he sulks his way through a bleak wintry forest, preferring the company of a grizzly bear over humankind. When Logan’s Jeremiah Johnson act is interrupted by a sprightly, sword-wielding waif named Yukio (Rila Fukushima), he can’t help but acquiesce to her mysterious demand that he fly with her to Japan in order to bid farewell to someone who knew him way back when, circa Nagasaki, 1945. Natch, it’s that soldier Yashida, now a rich and powerful corporate magnate, living out his last days in a hyperactive, neon-lit Tokyo.
And Jean Grey is still dead.
It’s not that the filmmakers aren’t talented. But as reflected in this particular project, no one shines. Not director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma), or initial screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), or ensuing writers Mark Bomback (Unstoppable) or Scott Frank (Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty). Did we really need the screenwriters to tell us not once but three times that Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper messed with Wolverine’s recuperative abilities?
As for Jackman, a 126-minute scowl is a poor substitute for a character. The fact that this is Jackman’s sixth tour of Logan – constituting the most times one particular actor has portrayed the same comic book hero – suggests that the actor could capitalize on Logan’s 100-plus-year story arc, ultimately delivering a performance of greater complexity and depth. Certainly not less.
Like the mutants themselves, this movie is neither fish nor fowl. It’s not an ensemble of X-Men, nor a singular X-Man. Instead we get a story centered around Wolverine with a feeble side serving of the mutant villainess Viper. Who is she? What’s her story? Anyone? And though the self-ascribed bodyguard Yukio has a mutant-like way of sensing the future, it’s a slight skill at best. If only Jean Grey weren’t so goddam dead.
Action-wise, The Wolverine is so utterly steeped in the Ninja/Yakuza/Samurai world, it’s as if we’re enmeshed in the latest remake of Ninja Assassin as rendered by the shaky cam of Paul Greengrass. That said, the one high-powered action scene on a speeding bullet train is almost worth the price of the ticket. Almost.
Three writers notwithstanding, the story itself never engages. Given the fact that we can’t care about the characters, the action suffers from too much, all the time, with not enough breaks to develop any meaningful relationships between the players. Even the brief romance between Logan and a kidnapped heiress (Tao Okamoto’s Mariko) looks like a last-minute obligatory crumb, thrown out to appease the female demographic.
What with the paltry sequels we’ve experienced so far, it may very well be that the summer of 2013 will be known as the season of the rearview mirror. A season that inadvertently reminds us to look back, to reminisce on how we once enjoyed the trip. Between the disappointing Red 2, the humorless The Hangover Part III, a so-so Iron Man 3 and now, this disaffecting installment of The Wolverine, we might have to readjust our vision. To throw away the 3D glasses and look beyond the headlights, peering into the future, into a better, brighter September. We can only hope.
Rating on a scale of 5 X-treme X-amples of claws and effect: 2.5
Release date: July 26, 2013
Directed by: James Mangold
Screenplay by: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank, Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi
Running Time: 126 minutes