August 13, 2013

The Wolverine Flounders Without X-Men to Lean On

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We meet up once again with our intrepid hero Logan (Hugh Jackman), better known as Wolverine, after the end of X-Men: The Last Stand.  Logan has abandoned society and has become a hermit in the Yukon wilderness.  Memories haunt his nightmares and disturb his already tormented conscience.  One memory is of Nagasaki, Japan, where Logan, a P.O.W., saved a Japanese soldier, Yashida, from the destruction wrought by the atomic bomb.  The other memory is of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Logan’s former lover, whom he was forced to kill.  She serves as the movie’s warm, sexy specter of death, haunting and tempting Logan with the idea of an idyllic afterlife.

Logan is pulled out of his funk by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a fellow mutant who has been sent by an elderly Yashida to bring Logan to Tokyo.  Yashida, now the CEO of a hugely successful technology corporation, is dying of cancer, and before he leaves this world he wants to thank the man who saved him so many years ago.  It takes some convincing, but Logan meets with Yashida, who offers him a gift: mortality.   Yashida believes that Logan’s mutation can be transferred from one person to another, and Yashida would like to use Logan’s healing abilities to stave off his death.

The request comes too late.  Logan needs time to think, and that night Yashida dies.  At Yashida’s funeral, members of the Yakuza attempt to kidnap Yashida’s granddaughter and heir Mariko (Tao Okamoto), but Logan manages to help her escape.  They quickly discover, however, that Logan’s healing abilities have been suppressed by Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a venomous mutant in Yashida’s employ who is trying to resurrect Yashida.   Logan is forced to fight his many enemies as a mortal.

Many films in the superhero genre benefit from an ensemble cast, engaging the audience with a variety of characters while disguising the banality of the story.  The Wolverine makes the mistake of relying too much on one character.  Wolverine was great as a brooding, sarcastic complement to the calm idealism of Charles Xavier and his mutants in the X-Men franchise.  In The Wolverine, however, when Logan is not fighting he’s sulking, his face constantly screwed up into an expression somewhere between pain and boredom, and the fight scenes are not engaging enough to distract from Logan’s ungainly moral development.  Logan is tired of the people around him, and the audience eventually tires of him.

It would have been nice if the writers of this movie had used Logan’s temporary mortality to introduce new, powerful characters into the mix. Alas, the supporting cast is mostly made up of tired tropes.  Mariko is the fragile flower of exotic beauty who is trying to honor her family, despite the fact that most of them are plotting to kill or kidnap her.  Mariko is only included in the story to provide balm for a troubled Logan, and they fall in love as expected.  She can fight, but, as usual, she is rarely given the opportunity to.

Viper is also an unsatisfying villain, a beauty with a poisonous tongue and a healthy dose of misandry whose motives are unclear and whose mission is not very ambitious.   The most promising character is Yukio, whose fighting abilities are better perhaps even than Logan’s.  But her character is also vaguely written and her skills are underutilized.  Because of the lack of good partners, Logan ends up doing most of the fighting, even as a mortal, and this involves one to many shots of a disgruntled Logan, having just been struck by an enemy blow, turning to stare menacingly at his attacker who watches Logan heal with horror.

The Wolverine takes place mostly in Japan, and uses the country’s scenery and bullet trains to great effect in the battle sequences. Unfortunately this movie is one more in a long line of films that have exploited the audience’s vague sense of Japanese history and culture, mostly stereotypes, to “challenge” their Western viewers’ vague sense of death, honor and loyalty.  Japanese traditions are mentioned, but the film never seriously attempts to engage with them, or even represent them accurately.  It is also ridiculous that the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki was included in a summer blockbuster only in an American soldier’s traumatic memories.   The movie fails to respect, or even acknowledge, the 80,000 people who were killed by that American attack.

The final word: Those who enjoyed the X-Men franchise should skip The Wolverine, and wait until the much more promising X-Men: Days of Future Past arrives in theatres in May 2014.

Original Author: Laura Boland