Blood on the Claws

I liked X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Now that I have totally obliterated most of my nerd cred with that statement, let me say that XMO:W is not a perfect movie. It has many problems, the biggest being that it is simply overstuffed. It feels more like an X-Men movie than the Wolverine movie it was supposed to be.

I mean, I would’ve been fine with just Wolverine and Sabretooth. Those two characters have a lot of comic-book history together, and Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber are good actors with good chemistry. But then, for some reason, the movie had to go and add Deadpool, Cyclops, Gambit, Blob, some dude who controls electricity, a teleporting guy played by one of those jackasses from the Black Eyed Peas (I really hate the Black Eyed Peas), some other dude whose mutant power appears to be that he’s really good with guns, Wolverine’s mutant love interest (“Mutant Love Interest” would be a good name for a rock band) and probably a couple others I’m forgetting.

There’s just no real reason all of those dudes had to be in the movie. There were simply too many of them, and the film’s relatively brief 107-minute running time just couldn’t really support the balancing act of having them all in there.

wolverine characters

TOO MANY. And that’s only like half the cast that’s on this poster. There’s so damn many they couldn’t even fit ‘em all in one poster. And when you have that many characters in a fairly short film, most of them don’t get much to do and end up distracting from the main character.

But despite this rather significant flaw, I still found XMO:W to be an enjoyable filmgoing experience. There were some good fights, the acting was generally good (even though many of the actors had little to do) and overall I found it entertaining enough. It does boast a fantastic opening credits sequence, showing Wolverine and Sabretooth battling through a century of war, from the American Civil War to both World Wars, and finally Vietnam.

 X-Men Origins Wolverine movie image Hugh Jackman

I for one would totally watch a movie called “Wolverine and Sabretooth Kill Nazis for an Hour and a Half.”

The good news is that the makers of “The Wolverine,” the titular hero’s brand-new movie, have taken the criticism of the previous movie to heart and made a much more focused, coherent, and thoughtful picture, which is evident in both the film’s title and poster.

 wolverine-poster

I love this poster. Simple. Elegant. Visually striking. Uncluttered by background characters. Lets you know what the movie is about- it’s about Wolverine, and it’s set in Japan, which is reflected in the distinctive art style. A simple, memorable, effective image.

Ditto for the film’s title. The title “The Wolverine” does a good job indicating the main focus of the film, with minimal fuss. The focus this time is squarely on ol’ pointy-hands, and the only other character to appear in this film who appeared in previous X-Men movies is Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey, and she only appears in dream/fantasy sequences (since she’s, you know, dead).

Anyway, the movie starts with a prologue sequence set in Japan near the end of World War 2, where a young Logan saves a Japanese Army officer from being obliterated by the atomic bomb (“Young” is  a relative concept for Wolverine since he’s already like a hundred years old at this point, but whatever). It’s a tense, effective sequence, and it gets the film off to an exciting start. Flash forward to the present day, where Logan is living in the wilderness in Canada, tormented by his guilt over the death of his love Jean Grey, whom he was forced to kill at the end of the previous (chronological) X-Men movie.

He is eventually found by a young Japanese woman named Yukio, who represents Yashida, the Japanese army officer Logan saved from the bomb in the beginning of the film. Yashida has since become a successful businessman, but as you might expect, he is now quite old and close to death.

Yashida makes Logan an offer: he’s kept tabs on Logan over the years, and he knows that Logan considers his immortality a curse since everyone he loves dies, so he offers to transfer Logan’s healing powers into his own body, which will save Yashida and make Logan mortal (For those of you not into comic book lore, Logan’s healing powers make him basically immortal. Also, to alleviate potential confusion, Wolverine and Logan are the same person, and I’m going to use the names interchangeably).

And this leads to an interesting question, namely, the age-old question of vulnerability. If you’ve read just about anything I’ve ever posted on this blog, you’re probably aware that I’m all about vulnerable protagonists. An invincible hero is kind of hard to root for, and I praised Guillermo Del Toro a few weeks ago for figuring out how to make audiences care about the giant monster-killing deathbots in Pacific Rim.

The character of Wolverine presents an interesting question: how do you care about a guy who’s an unstoppable killing machine with unbreakable metal coated to his bones and who heals from every grievous injury in a matter of seconds? This is, after all, a guy who is capable of surviving an atomic bomb detonation.

It’s a problem the late, great Roger Ebert had with the character too. Ebert described Wolverine as basically a vehicle for action sequences, since nothing can kill him. It’s a very valid point, and it’s one that The Wolverine’s director James Mangold cited as an influence on the new film.

How do you make him vulnerable, then? Why, you take away the healing powers. Or at least you suppress them, since Logan still gets shot quite a few times and survives, though at one point he does need a few bullets pulled out of him.

But even this is just one kind of vulnerability, and that is physical vulnerability. There’s more to the character of Wolverine than just physicality. No, really, bear with me. Yes, I am actually saying that there is more to the character of a guy with unbreakable metal claws in his hands than just physical strength. Logan is an emotionally vulnerable character. As The Wolverine opens, he’s living as a hermit in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, tormented by the knowledge of having had to kill the woman he loved, and not wanting to get close to anyone because it would be too hard to lose them again.

Wouldn’t that suck? I mean, the idea of being able to live longer than everyone else may sound kind of cool at first, but wouldn’t you eventually get tired of having everyone you’re close to die? Logan certainly is, so at the beginning of the film he’s distancing himself from the world, and is reluctant to accept Yukio’s invitation to take him to Japan to meet with Yashida.

So when the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) inevitably attack and Logan goes into hiding with Yashida’s lovely granddaughter Mariko, he’s understandably reluctant to open up to her.

The-Wolverine-Mariko-Yashida-Tao-Okamoto

Mariko is played by Tao Okamoto, a successful Japanese model making her film debut in The Wolverine. She gives a really great performance with a lot of heart, making Mariko more than just a damsel in distress. And she is in distress quite often, since various assassins are after her for a significant portion of the film. And though Logan does rescue her a couple times, she proves quite capable of taking care of herself.

I just really liked this movie. It did a great job of exploring different aspects of Wolverine’s character that hadn’t been explored in previous X-Men films. It’s the kind of film that you can enjoy if you haven’t seen any of the other X-Men films, while at the same time providing fan service to longtime X-Fans. The plot does go a bit off the rails near the end with a couple of WTF plot twists, but for the most part it’s a well thought-out, solidly entertaining movie.

This is Hugh Jackman’s fifth time playing Wolverine (sixth if you count his brilliant, three-word cameo in X-Men First Class), and he continues to demonstrate just how good he is in the role. Seriously, I hope the casting director who cast him as Wolverine for Bryan Singer’s original X-Men movie all the way back in 2000 got a nice paycheck for that one. Well done, sir or madam.

And even at 44, Jackman is as physically imposing as ever, if not more so.

 the_wolverine_20131abs

I mean seriously, look at those abs. I read an article in Entertainment Weekly where Jackman said he has to eat seven chicken breasts a day to keep up that physique. That’s some serious dedication right there, people.

The Wolverine is also a bit of a rarity in that Jackman is the only really well-known actor in the film. The rest of the supporting characters are played by mostly Japanese actors (as you might expect since the film is set in Japan) but it’s pretty rare these days to see a major summer blockbuster with only one big-name star.

The rest of the supporting cast is really great, though, don’t get me wrong. I particularly liked Tao Okamoto’s very likable performance as Wolverine’s love interest, and I also really liked Rila Fukushima’s performance as Yukio, who kind of becomes Wolverine’s sidekick.

The Wolverine

With her bright red hair and pixieish face, she kind of looks like an anime character. She’s a tough, likable, and very appealing sidekick who proves to be a surprisingly good sidekick for Wolverine.

The action setpieces in the film are also pretty great, including a creative battle atop a speeding bullet train and an epic final confrontation with the Silver Samurai, a well-known Marvel character making his first film appearance. He was pretty badass. And for the first time ever, there is a bit of red staining those razor-sharp adamantium claws after quite a few bad guys get slashed. Not a lot mind you, since the movie is PG-13, but still.

 movies-the-wolverine-silver-samurai

So by all means, go see this movie. It’s probably my favorite comic-book movie since The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers last year, which is really saying something. Also, be sure to stick around through the first part of the end credits, or you’ll miss the most exciting post-credits scene in a Marvel movie since Nick Fury first dropped by Tony Stark’s mansion to chat about the Avenger Initiative.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

 wolverine animal

Also, this is a real Wolverine. You should read about them, these little guys are capable of taking down a moose.

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