Review by Throwback
After the awful effort that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I honestly never expected another Wolverine movie. We’d see him in more X-Men stuff, but you can only subject a character to so much abuse before you permanently damage the brand. Origins had enough abuse to crush any future aspirations. Apparently, there was still enough in the tank for a sequel. This is what we have with The Wolverine (PG-13).
The Wolverine’s plot takes place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. Logan has essentially isolated himself from human contact until he is brought to Japan to meet a colleague from decades ago who is now dying. Logan is offered the chance to grow old and die. The temptation to end his loneliness and suffering is tempting, but he declines and instead finds himself reluctantly stripped of his healing powers and embroiled in a yakuza plot to assassinate his colleague’s granddaughter.
The character of Wolverine has a lot going for him. He has a unique power set and back story. He’s got depth and complexity. He has a very broad appeal. If you’re going to be making a super-hero movie, you could certainly do a whole lot worse than this guy. However, you have to take advantage of all the positives because Wolverine the character isn’t Wolverine the film franchise.
Wolverine the franchise has some major problems, though. I already mentioned Origins, which wasn’t very good. X-Men: The Last Stand was just execrable tripe, and The Wolverine is a direct sequel to it. This leaves it with a certain amount of baggage. While I can appreciate the efforts to tackle The Last Stand’s aftermath head-on, there was a bit too much. A couple of side references would have been plenty.
That being said, the first ¾ of the film provided an almost profound meditation on the meaning of life and death and what provides meaning to either. I’m not a big James Mangold fan, but as director, he milked the material beautifully for this part of the story and did so without being boring. This was a big accomplishment because it’s far too easy for any director, in an effort to make source material like Wolverine “meaningful,” to drown the audience in cheese or navel-gazing. This is conspicuously absent in The Wolverine. The character stands on his own and is developed accordingly.
Casting was a weak point. Not Hugh Jackman, of course. He IS Wolverine now (other than being about a foot taller than the comic book version). Tao Okamoto (as Mariko Yashida) and Rila Fukushima (as Yukio) are the only other prominent characters. They are not horrible, but they don’t bring anything special to the table. Okamoto, especially, seems incapable of changing facial expressions. Then there’s Svetlana Khodchenkova as the Viper. She is as plastic as they come. Her lack of prominence in the first 75% of the movie is a big reason it didn’t stink. As her significance in the plot grows, the quality of the film declines proportionately.
Notice above when I praised that first 75% of running time. I single it out for kudos because the last quarter stinks. I mean really, really stinks. All the profundity and depth is drained away in a horrible mess. Viper suddenly becomes a major part of the show. There are some ninjas. That's right. Ninjas. Stuff blows up. None of it really makes a lot of sense, but it offers a lot of fighting. It’s as if Mangold, instead of looking to make the material “meaningful” with sappy sentimentality, decided that people only go see comic book movies to see things blowed up real good. After all, who needs plot and coherence when you’ve got ninjas?
There are some very good lessons for Catholics in the pre-collapse elements of the film. We know what the meaning of life is: to know, love, and serve God in this life so that we can be happy with Him in the next life. How would we illustrate that to the unbeliever, though? What would the practical effects of immortality be? The Wolverine begins with the concept that immortality is only a curse because death gives life value. It closes with a rejection of the claim that only immortality can make life worthwhile. Between these poles, the Catholic can point to the absurdity of trying to find value in life based only on self-referential criteria. One must look beyond the self for an answer to the question.
Content-wise, I went in concerned about what the level of violence might be. It was surprisingly bloodless. Logan might slash into some people, but it tends to be from a vantage point where there isn’t a lot of gore. As usual, to garner the coveted PG-13 rating, there is a gratuitous f-bomb. Thankfully, there was no blasphemy. While there is no graphic sex, there is a scene with some scantily clad women (prostitutes) fawning over a man in his underwear and another scene with a man and woman in bed together. Nothing explicit happens, and they are both brief.
In conclusion, the whole thing was oddly disappointing. After liking the first part so much only to see it crash and burn with such extreme prejudice, “disappointment” is probably an understatement. Expectations going in – low. Opinions after 100 minutes – riding high. Final result- shocked at how quickly it went bad. Maybe a matinee at best (yet still light years ahead of Origins or Last Stand).
Oh, and there is an awesome post-credit scene.