Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Wolverine

2013, James Mangold - DVD

It's interesting to note that this is the sixth feature in which Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine (having a cameo in X-Men: First Class) but that it's truly the character's first solo endeavor.  X-Men Origins: Wolverine was such a convoluted mess trying to cram in as many cameos and sideshows as possible that any sense of character or individuality was left absent from the production.  It truly seemed less a Wolverine spotlight than a new mutant showcase.  This feature quite squarely puts the focus on Logan, applying a sense of meaning to who he is, what he's been through, and how his abilities, particularly his regenerative ones, affect him.

The film opens in 1945, just outside Nagasaki as American planes loom in the distance.  The sirens raise and the soldiers begin to flee.  Captives are freed, all the while, in what looks to be a well with a steel lid chained to the top, eyes peer out from a slot missing a brick.  One soldier thinks twice and opens the well screaming at the man inside to leave.  The soldier joins his commanding officers where they perform seppuku rather than face whatever horror to come, but the soldier loses his nerve, and the man from the well shields him from the firestorm.  Once
 
In the present day Logan lives a secluded life in rural Canada (northern British Columbia perhaps?), following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, he's taken a vow of non-violence.  He's haunted by the woman he loved, and killed, Jean Grey, and he can't seem to escape his own remorse and heartache.  Living a pained existence, alone, this does not seem like an unfamiliar situation for Logan.  But he's a man who will not be left alone, as the man he saved over 65 years ago is facing his deathbed, and has requested his presence in Japan.

There's a 1960's-style sense of wide-eyed adventure, of Japan feeling like completely foreign territory, much in the same way as James Bond's journey in You Only Live Twice.  Jackman plays it as foreign terrain and (unlike the comics) is oblivious to what is said about and around him, and yet he seems acutely aware of meaning through physical mannerisms and expressions.  It may be a different country and language but Logan knows how to read people.

Yashida, in the decades since he first met Logan, has grown staggeringly rich, one of Japan's most prominent businessmen.  He's spared no expense in extending his own life, and having sought out Logan, seeks to convince him that his regenerative mutant ability can be transferred.  Logan's dreams of Jean often end with a request of joining her in the afterlife, which he laments that he cannot... so Yashida's offer is intriguing, if only a little.  The old man passes that same night, with Logan as a guest in the household he's witness to all manner of ugly family matters, which only escalate later at the funeral.

Yashida's granddaughter Mariko is to be named the heir to his empire, much to his son, Shingen's contempt.  At the funeral Yakuza make an attempt on Mariko's life, unprepared for Logan, save for the fact that Yashida's nurse, the mutant Viper, was able to implant a device in Logan that slows and ultimately nullifies his mutant regenerative ability.  In fighting the Yakuza Logan takes bullets and a beating that continue to plague him.  It's naturally the crux of the tale, to see a near-invincible man suddenly deal with his own mortality.

It's a remarkably cracking three-quarters of a film, with great characterization, some honest intrigue, and a decidedly unique viewpoint for a superhero film.  However, partway through the last act (just after Logan gets taken out by a few dozen ninjas), the film gets bogged down in a conventional "boss battle" fight sequence, involving a giant robot suit of armor and that nurse Viper (a pointless character overall), where everyone apparently dies twice over.  It's a frustrating, tedious and nonsense fight that only exists because that's what happens in these things.  It's like the final act of Iron Man (and Iron Man 2, actually) which even more makes it feel less than unique.  The entire third act distances itself from the rest of the film, which is too bad, because there's an otherwise excellent film here.

The Wolverine is a drastic improvement over the twin abominations that were Origins and The Final Battle but it still could have been a much tighter, more satisfying film.  I do have to say though that the closing sequence -- finding Logan and the young pre-cog mutant Yukio boarding one of Yashida's jets, playing Ingrid Bergman to Mariko's Humphrey Bogart -- that I definitely wanted to see where the pair's adventures would take them.  Shame then that the mid-credits sequence, set 2-years-later find Logan alone, confronting Magneto and a resurrected Charles Xavier...not that that's not cool on its own other merits.

[David's take]