Friday, August 2, 2013

The Wolverine: Iron Man Logan

     Though X-Men Origins: Wolverine is known as one of the worst comic book films of recent memory, full of cliches and a plot that was predictable and a little tiresome, it was still far from terrible. And that's for one main reason: Hugh Jackman's portrayal as the character with razor-sharp claws. Jackman is one of those actors that is always watchable--his intensity, humor, and bursting-with-muscle-biceps cause both men and women to swoon and whoop with pleasure. So sure, viewers were ready for more. Only four years after his own origin story, we get another Wolverine film, one that brings in a new director and a fresher setting (Japan) to gash some life into a character that was (barely) growing a little stale. They mostly succeeded: although The Wolverine feels more like a side story instead of a brand new film and the final act succumbs to typical superhero-film-style overload, it's a fun time at the movies featuring Jackman at his sharpest and a bevy of solid slower character scenes and exciting action.
    When The Wolverine was first announced, the studio and Jackman wanted a fresher director that would inject some originality and innovation into the superhero franchise. So they signed on Darren Aronofsky, who worked with Jackman on The Fountain and has created some incredibly memorable modern cinema: Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out--Aronofsky wasn't willing to be away for his family the nearly-year-long shoot in Japan. In walked director James Mangold, whose wide array of films (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) impressed the studio.
      The Wolverine is based upon one of the more cherished stories involving Wolverine, Frank Miller's comic book arc from way back in 1982. It's not exactly what you'd expect: by focusing on Logan's constant inner battle about his own immortality and his persistent nightmares about losing his one true love, this Wolverine (though filled with plenty of raw battles) is a more thoughtful affair. At the start, Wolverine is imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp just before an atom bomb drops. When the explosion happens, he saves a soldier about the get annihilated by taking the brunt of the blast. The soldier--foreshadowing many events to come in the film--then witnesses Logan's incredible healing ability, the burning skin and wounds sizzling back to perfect form.
     But the rest of the film takes place decades later, when Logan--now living in a cave like a derelict--gets recruited to say goodbye to the soldier (now an extremely rich man on his deathbed). The man's one dying wish is to thank the Wolverine for saving him many years in the past (or is it?). Following Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a badass Japanese broad with serious hand-to-hand fighting ability, Logan travels to Japan. Clearly, once there, he gets mixed up in a vicious concoction of Yakuza gangsters, protecting a Princess, his regeneration ability going haywire, and a slithering bitch of a "nurse" by the name of Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
     Much of the second half of the film deals with Logan on the run, finally facing a question that he has never had to deal with before: when you've had immortality for so long, and that gets taken away, should you welcome death...or still fight with every last breath (or sharp claw)? A lot of parallels can be drawn with another Marvel favorite, Iron Man, specifically in Tony Stark's malfunctioning energy core heart and--like in the first film--a conclusion involving a mega-mech warrior creature and all-powerful billionaire. But The Wolverine still has plenty up its sleeve. Most of the action is fast-paced and occasionally innovative, like a fight atop a speeding bullet train and a very cool and memorable pre-climax surprise involving hundreds of arrows.
     What The Wolverine does wonderfully is make Logan finally feel human instead of a completely indestructible. It boosts some much needed actual tension into the proceedings. But still, it falls into some of the same traps as many other super hero films. The number of characters and villains sometimes becomes a chore to keep tally of (especially in the nearly half-hour long final section of the film) and one can't help but wonder what this could have been with Darren Aronofsky's unique cinematic vision (not that Mangold doesn't do a completely good and serviceable job). Still, there's no stopping Jackman's incredible charisma--it's easy to tell that he completely relishes this role. I just wish this had been a truly definitive Wolverine film instead of The Wolverine Travels to Japan.     (B)

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