Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hugh Jackman loves Wolverine–and it’s hard not to agree!


If, after 2014’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, Hugh Jackman plays the immortal mutant Wolverine one more time, he will have played the character more times than anyone has played James Bond in the official 007 films.* He’s been playing this character for thirteen years now. And, unlike Milla Jovovich**, his significant other isn’t the brains behind the franchise. Perhaps a better comparison would be Vin Diesel and Riddick. Vin was pretty cool as space criminal Riddick in PITCH BLACK, and when THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS blew up in 2001, Vin and director David Twohy thought they had a big new space superhero on their hands. Unfortunately nobody really gave a shit about Vin’s Space D&D saga, and it took us THREE other mega-successful F&F entries starring Vin before he got the leeway to go back to Riddick – with a distinctly more modest budget, at that. How jealous must Vin be of Hugh, who pretty much got to play his favorite character non stop for the last decade?

THE WOLVERINE is a loose adaptation of the Chris Claremont-written, Frank Miller-inked 1980s X-Men spin-off miniseries simply called, well, WOLVERINE in which Logan goes to Japan and some ninja shit goes down on rainy rooftops. You know, Frank Miller stuff.

In James Mangold’s THE WOLVERINE ninja shit happens in Japan just like in the funnybooks, and it’s actually pretty cool. Maybe it’s because I’d forgotten there were ninjas in the actual movie by the time they show up, but once they do show up, it’s like watching Cirque du Soleil with knives or something. It’s really impressive how those stunt guys just quietly fill the screen without making any sounds on their footie pajamas. Yes, I am aware that sound editing exists, but it’s still a pretty cool thing. The ninja attacks are actually pretty emblematic of the movie as a whole. They’re low key, they’re cool, they’re efficient. If I were more cynical, I’d make the more negative comparison that they’re both also low-hanging panderfruit (omg ninjas so awesome – omg the wolverine in japan story so awesome!!1) but I am not that cynical sir!

Now that we’re speaking of pandering; CONFESSION TIME! When I first saw the trailer, I was struck by the appearance of model-turned-actress Rila Fukushima as Yukio, the Yashida Clan envoy sent to whisk Logan to Japan. While I wasn’t actively upset about a female comic book movie heroine being played by someone I found unattractive looking, it was the first thing my brain registered about her. “Huh, look at that. Not hot. How weird.” I publicly say this because Fukushima’s actual performance makes me doubly embarrassed for that visceral first reaction. Yukio is probably the best thing about the movie besides Wolverine himself. To bring in the Bond comparison again, here were two models trying their hand at acting for the first time and, unlike say THUNDERBALL or YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE***, they were able to deliver English lines without ADR, and with a decent amount of pathos to boot! One of the most tangible niggles I had with the film was that the resolution of her mini-arc is, for some reson, taken out of her hands and given to Wolverine. This is strange and unnecessary, especially given the fact that the movie even attempted to give her a personality (she’s certainly no Go-Go Yubari or Miho) and motivations.

Let’s also talk about the character of Wolverine and his inherent problem for movie adaptations. The guy’s superpower is he has knives coming out of his hands with which he stabs people. That’s tough stuff for a PG-13 superhero movie, and nobody’s putting enough money in these movies for him to exclusively fight bog monsters and androids. Luckily, James Mangold is pretty adept at artful suggestion. The movie pushes PG-13 to its limits a few times, but most of the violence is off-screen, obscured by convenient dragon statues or implied by squicky ADR. No awkward Nolan style Matthew-Modine-lies-down-for-a-nap deaths in this one!

Even though the film opens at fucking Nagasaki at detonation time, it’s a pretty low key movie compared to stuff like MAN OF STEEL or PACIFIC RIM. For a summer tentpole, there really is a lot of talk of regret, loss and honor. It’s all a bit melodramatic, but I honestly found it refreshing. And again, Jackman and his Japanese co-stars are capable enough actors to carry it. While Wolverine is sad, he’s never whiney, and his inner turmoil does not artifically hold up the story’s progression. The finale does go a bit… broad, but I found it to be enjoyable comic book broadness, and not at all in betrayal of what came before. Another Marvel character gets the Mandarin IM3 switcheroo treatment here, although I don’t know if anyone will give as much of a shit. Luckily I didn’t even know anyone who got upset over the Mandarin thing, so I am sorry for your lots if you do. Treat them to an ice cream or something.

THE WOLVERINE won’t change anybody’s life, but it’s a solid bit of genre filmmaking with assured direction, good (in some cases pretty broad, but appropriately so) acting, a couple of fun set pieces and another good case for Hollywood to stop giving Marco Beltrami work.

*A hypothetical 8 – Roger Moore’s the most prolific Bond with 7.

**5 turns as Alice with a 6th one coming up.

***Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (in)famously cast lovely looking models for any female parts in early Bonds without ever really knowing if they even spoke English well enough. Plenty of dubbing going on in those first movies!

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