Let’s Talk Movies: The Wolverine Was Half Of What It Could Have Been
If you suffer from “too long, didn’t read” syndrome, the video up above covers the content, courtesy of me! Below is if you’re unable to watch or would rather read.
Welcome to Let’s Talk Movies. Today I’ll be talking about the recent Marvel action film, The Wolverine. I know it’s a bit late by now, but I still want to have a small say on this movie, so I’m going for it anyway. After what I felt was a seriously lackluster attempt at reviving X-Men with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie that had some good ideas but completely crumbled in its second half, I was quite pleased with 2011’s X-Men: First Class, which I found to be a great movie that was basically a welcome mat to bring the X-Men back into cinema, and did what Origins failed to do.
Now, after seeing the initial trailers for The Wolverine, I was pleased to see a darker tone to the movie, because an all-appealing, campy Wolverine is definitely not something I imagine the character to be when at his best. However, I am very cautious in general when it comes to Marvel films as I know full well that their main priority is to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and while films like Iron Man 3 will have all dark and serious trailers, they’re pretty deceptive with regards to being accurate depictions of the tone of the film. Thor 2 is another upcoming Marvel film with a rather serious-looking trailer, but after Iron Man 3 I’m almost certain it will remain light-hearted.
Understand that I’m not painting these as flaws, but rather suggesting that Marvel’s formula is often not something I connect with, and while I can enjoy many if not most of the movies, with X-Men: First Class, Avengers and Iron Man 1 being my favourites, they generally don’t really stick with me or beg multiple watches or warrant more than popcorn entertainment. Perhaps only X-Men: First Class did that for me. But in general I prefer the Nolan trilogy, Amazing Spider-Man and Man of Steel approach to comic book heroes, but then again there are some flaws on that side too.
The entire point of me getting a bit off topic there, was to simply set the stage of my concerns going into The Wolverine. I knew that I wanted it to be a gritty take on the character, and was hoping it would be, but I was concerned that the trailers were inaccurate representations, much like was the case with Iron Man 3.
For me, The Wolverine started off pretty great actually. We saw an isolated, lost Logan haunted by the past and a mere shadow of what he used to be. The setting was unique in comic book films, taking us back to 1982’s limited comic book series Wolverine. There was a great scene for me in which a bunch of hunters kill a bear, a creature Logan had some sort of mutual understanding with partly due to them both being of the wild, and he gets angry at the cruel nature in which the beast was slaughtered, going on to take retribution against the offenders. There were some good flashback scenes where it showed Logan saving Yashida from the atomic bomb. And my favourite element of the movie was the basic premise of exploring The Wolverine as a mortal, with his healing factor removed. Maybe a fucking ridiculous mortal who can take numerous bullets with only a short-lived limp as punishment, but nonetheless the possibility of death existed and the character was vulnerable.
The first half was a really good depiction of what the movie could have been, for me. There was potential, the beginnings of a character study, more depth than your average Marvel film and a total focus on Logan. There was even a spectacular and creative action scene on the bullet train, one of my favourites in recent Marvel films. I very much liked Hugh Jackman in this film. He had an aggression and fire that really brought The Wolverine to life for me in the first half, but then again there was little doubt that he’d be anything short of awesome. And I do very much applaud the man for being able to depict Wolverine in new ways despite all his years of playing the character.
However, for me the film began its decline around the middle. The movie began feeling dragged, I lost sight of what the message was meant to be, and I felt that Viper was just there. At times it felt like there was little point to her other than that the film needed a villain. I don’t think she, the actress, was bad, but I felt that her role often didn’t mean much aside from her being there to take away Logan’s healing factor. As harsh as it may be to say, I actually got rather bored half way through the movie, as it just seemed to have lost direction and become strangely flat, like the ideas had run dry.
The biggest offender was that all of the interesting elements of the first half seemingly fell away for a more typical story. It stopped being a character study of Wolverine, and started to just be a regular action film. The romance between Mariko and Logan felt run of the mill, with little thought behind it. I stopped connecting with the narrative, and lost sight of what the message was. I felt that the Jean Grey flashbacks started to get a bit overdone, and wondered whether the writers realised that, while trying to add an extra layer of emotional depth to the film, they were obsessing over a character from a movie seven years old, which means many of the viewers probably wouldn’t even remember her. And so I watched on as everything the first half built began falling away.
The failings of the second half of the movie is really illustrated in the final act, which sees things totally descend into cliche and contrived land, with some bad writing to boot. The worst part of the story was essentially the “twist” in the end, where Yashida was revealed to actually be alive and manning the robo ninja Adamantium suit. What was probably conceptualised as a plot twist meant to surprise the viewers for me turned out to be just plain silly, with little else to say about it. I’m all for plot twists, but good plot twists are either built up to or work within the established logic of the story. The Wolverine’s plot twist is flat out bad because it’s established a very, very long time before that Yashida had passed away, and there was absolutely zero indication that he would have anything to do with the story personally again.
His death had become a driver to move the narrative along, and all viewers put the man out of their minds after that. He no longer was considered. Until literally the last part of the movie where he is revealed in a contrived, yet sadly not surprising way. It may not have been “expected” by all viewers, but I find it hard to believe that any members of the audience would be “mind blown” or gawking in admiration or surprise over that turn of events. It felt pointless, as though if it had been removed the story may have even looked better. It also hurts the narrative in the sense that the audience’s image of Yashida was one of honour, and when he reappeared as a villain in the end, it seemed so ridiculously out of character and awkward that it was hard to take seriously. Perhaps it may have worked in a kids’ comic book, but in a more grown up and mature take, it just seems awfully contrived.
To draw an analogy, the plot twist unfortunately reminded me of Prison Break’s finale, and Michael Scofield’s death. Basically, his tumour gets removed and becomes a buried part of the narrative. The audience no longer views it as an important part of current events, and it is taken out of the story and out of the audience’s minds. However, during the epilogue time jump, Scofield is dead from the revived tumour, which does not come across as tragically bitter sweet as was intended, but rather flat out random and bad writing that makes the story look worse, whereas the alternative would have sat well with the majority of the audience.
My point is that, grand plot twists capable of turning a story on its head simply do not work when you try to bring them out of nothing, especially when that nothing involves a buried part of the narrative that you blatantly tell the audience not to think about anymore. At this point in The Wolverine, I just sank down in my seat and wanted it over. And it had nothing to do with my bursting bladder due to those jumbo-sized slush puppies.
So in summary, what do we have? Well, a movie that does most of it right in the first half, but completely crumbles in the second. Fair enough, it does stay true to the comics and entertains its casual audience, and it is much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but not as better as I hoped for. It’s sad because it feels like Marvel can’t seem to decide whether they want dark and serious or kid friendly, and they end up doing both in their need to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. With regards to entertainment factor alone, the Marvel movies work just fine, but with narrative depth and mature stories, they really don’t and this is relevant because many of the movies half-try to, and this is relevant because it feels to me like they think that if they do half and half then everyone will be happy.
I feel that X-Men should have this liberty to give in to a more mature story, because the latest X-Men movies, that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: First Class, didn’t quite achieve the same level of financial success that other Marvel franchises and DC franchises do. Despite X-Men: First Class being extremely well received critically and being one of the best Marvel comic book movies of late for me. Sure they’re successful, but not quite on the same level, and I feel that should open them up to more risk taking. First Class was great, and admittedly did dabble in the more serious and mature side of things, but it wasn’t a risk taker. The Wolverine could have been one, for me.
If I had to describe The Wolverine in few words, I’d describe the first half as promising and the latter half as typical, because that’s really what it felt like. Just another action movie with no spirit or ingenuity left in it. And considering the way the movie started, this was a real downer for me, and left me feeling not disappointed, but rather devoid of much of an opinion about the movie, not wanting to discuss it that much. And that, is not a good feeling to walk away from a film with.
Before I end off, let me say that the end credits scene was cool, and I look forward to reading the Days of Future Past comic to get a feel for the upcoming story. As a point of interest though, did you know that Darren Aronofsky was actually signed on to direct The Wolverine back in October 2010? He’s the great director responsible for the excellent movies Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan. All exceptional, all extremely dark and powerful. I didn’t know this little fact, but unforeseen circumstances led to the movie being delayed and his departure.
Imagine the possibilities of this movie had he been directing, hey?