Reviews

'The Wolverine': Not So X-Men

The movie develops Logan as a complex individual, rather than just using him as to provide still more X-Men backstory and empty action.


The Wolverine


Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Will Yun Lee
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Fox
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-07-26 (General release)
UK date: 2013-07-25 (General release)
Website
Trailer

True to the mutant healing power that makes him nearly immortal, the Wolverine has proved remarkably resilient on film. Starting with the first X-Men movie, which kick-started the age of cinematic superheroes that continues today, Hugh Jackman has played Logan six times (including cameos), making him almost as well known as icons like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man.

The Wolverine even survived X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, hit movies shoddy enough to keep the X-Men label out of the title of his newest adventure, simply called The Wolverine. Moreover, the movie -- which opened this weekend with mixed numbers in the US and overseas, feels strangely new, an X-Men movie mostly unencumbered by the rich and sometimes convoluted X-Men mythology.

The film opens on World War II-era Nagasaki, where we first glimpse Logan as a pair of eyes, peering out from a boarded-up well, while bombers approach and a small group of Japanese soldiers prepares for ritual suicide. The reason for his appearance here remains elegantly unexplained, but when Yashida (Ken Yamamura) hesitates to kill himself, Logan protects him from the bomb's blast.

Years later, following the events of the original X-Men features, an elderly Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), now a powerful businessman, summons Wolverine, who has been living a solitary and tortured existence as a mountain man/hobo. There, on his deathbed, Yashida offers to relieve his savior of those pesky healing powers. Of course, Yashida has an ulterior motive, predictably drawing Wolverine into a shadowy web of family business, Yakuza assassination plots, and malfunctioning superpowers; specifically, Logan's healing factor begins to slow just when he needs it most. Through all of this, our hero attempts to protect Yashida's innocent granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) and also gains a sidekick in Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who dresses like a fanboy fantasy but acts like a capable action hero.

The plot mechanics are more serviceable and plentiful than inspired, though they do offer a nice respite from the usually epic stakes of other X-Men adventures. Director James Mangold and credited screenwriters Scott Frank and Mark Bomback develop Logan as a complex individual, rather than just using him as to provide still more hokey backstory and empty action.

For example, when present-day Wolverine first shows up, he's in the same Canadian forest we've seem in so many other Fox superhero productions. But this movie makes good use of the setting in a wonderfully quiet shot where a bear emerges in the background to walk through the forest alongside Wolverine, keeping a respectful distance and setting up a dichotomy between Logan the man and Wolverine the beast. Even the movie's most obvious instances of franchise service, scenes where Logan's deceased love Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) appears to him in dreams, illustrate his melancholy more than they extend the brand. As before, Wolverine is by turns angry, taciturn, alienated, and wisecracking, but here, these traits aren't generic characterization, but instead, show how his post-X-Men life is haunted and withdrawn, spliced with just enough superhero vigor to stave off self-seriousness.

The scaled down approach also helps to refresh the movie's action-adventure quotient. Mangold's last big action movie for Fox, Knight and Day, featured some neat ideas for stunts, but disappointingly cheap executions. The Wolverine doesn't try to throw too much spectacle on the screen. Instead, it integrates small and big moments, building from one to another: a villains' attack on a funeral turns into a multi-character shoot-out before running into a street chase, which then leads into an elaborate fight atop a Japanese bullet train. Though it offers the movie's least convincing effects, this scene is also inventive and exhilarating, as Wolverine and his foes must stab into the roof of the train (the bad guys with knives, Logan with his claws) to keep from blowing off the train into the air.

If this sounds like kind of a silly moment for a movie about a soul-searching outcast running afoul of the Yakuza, well, that is how The Wolverine works: it pauses for reflection in between moments of athletic action choreography. There may be a little too much of each: Wolverine's conversations with Mariko don't display much color or wit, and he engages in too many bloodless claw-stabbings. But even such excesses feel controlled and in sync with the comic book source, making Jackman's version of the character look ready for another issue.

7

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image