Thom: If you asked me who my favourite member of the X-Men is, I would say Cyclops, a character I understand because he grew up shy and unsure of himself and became a hero through discipline and belief in a worthy cause. He’s also got a great design; if you see him in a comic book, that distinctive visor — something he needs to wear at all times to not kill anyone just by looking at them — tells you right away what his power is. If you asked me who my second favourite X-Man is, I would say Colossus, because he’s another example of great character design. If you asked me my third, I would say Sunspot — who’s more of an extended member as he was never a full-on X-Man — for the same reason (and I love Kirby Krackle).
If you were looking for me to say “The Wolverine”, we probably wouldn’t get there before my top ten. Maybe even top 15. There’s a part of me that actually hates Wolverine, simply because writers let him dominate the stories he’s in. He was the ultimate hero in the first, second, and third X-Men films. He’s one of the heavies when he’s with the Avengers (and in the comics, he’s an Avenger as well as an X-Man). There’s even a comic called Wolverine and the X-Men (which, to be fair, is actually pretty great, though I generally prefer the parts without Wolverine). And when he calls Cyclops a dick, people just accept that and say things like, “I don’t like Cyclops. Because he’s a dick.” I’ve always felt that way about Wolverine, but when the story shifts towards smaller and more personal, when his character’s allowed to shine through and he’s not stealing the spotlight from everyone around him, that’s different.
That’s what makes the first half of The Wolverine work. Wolverine’s an incredibly tragic character, constantly haunted by vague, often false memories. He is truly a ronin, a lost but committed warrior always working towards justice. He projects himself as a loner because he knows how dangerous it is for people to be around him, but he desperately wants to belong, to find a home and a calling just as badly as the rest of us. Combined with rapid healing, unbreakable bones, and claws that can slice through anything, and you’ve got a pretty cool character. I just think he works better in his own stories, a character who can work in a number of genres, but who doesn’t always make for the best superhero in the “capes and tights” sense. I guess I just like my superheroes really flashy, flying around, shooting energy beams, running around at light speeds.
The story of Logan returning to Japan to pay his respects to Yashida, a now dying man he saved in World War II, is a good, solid foundation, and even a compelling one. It makes sense for the character, fits into his backstory, and provides an organic reason to set a movie in Japan. And when we find he has a reason to stay, protecting the dying man’s granddaughter, Mariko, it’s still consistent with the character. The story builds organically with a reasonable amount of mystery and intrigue, moving quickly (or “with good story economy”) between scenes. The overall action is intense but measured, with strong camera work that doesn’t resort to quick cuts, tight shots, or shaky cam, and the danger is genuinely amplified when we find that Logan’s not healing right, all building to a spectacular set piece on the top of a moving bullet train that makes good use of Logan’s power set.
Soon after, though, when we arrive at Mariko’s home village in Nagasaki, weaknesses in the script start showing through, people who shouldn’t sleep together do, and everything falls apart pretty quickly. As much as Grace may seem to automatically hate people in movies getting together (and I could almost physically feel how happy she was when Raleigh and Mako didn’t in Pacific Rim), it’s an ire well earned this time. Logan and Mariko don’t belong together, at least not based on what happens in this movie, and that fact is further compounded by Jean Grey’s ghostly presence throughout. And the Logan-Jean relationship also doesn’t work simply because she’s always been with Scott (Cyclops), no matter how unhappy that made everyone in that triangle. As the movie heads full-on into “because this is how movies always are” mode — with teary goodbyes, questionable motivations, and over-the-top spectacle — the change in execution is jarring enough that you start questioning the whole thing. Why did they still go to Yashida’s ancestral village home, even though they already openly discussed how they’d be found there? What was Shingen’s plan (or was he just mad the whole time and had no plan)? Even the foundation of the story is questionable — why had Wolverine abandoned society (again) at the beginning of the movie? Just because he felt bad about killing Jean in X-Men: The Last Stand doesn’t mean he didn’t have a school to help run (especially with two major staff members and the headmaster having just died in that movie).
So that’s plot. As for characters, Mariko is a vessel for what she’s supposed to be in the movie, though even in that she’s a little inconsistent (sleeping with someone you just met despite your strict, traditional upbringing or killing your grandfather despite your strict, traditional upbringing), Shingen, her father, is a dick (and not in a meaningful or interesting way), and Viper, the most visible villain, was interesting but didn’t get to do anything significant. Yukio was pretty great at the beginning (and is played by an actress with a really interesting look), but she gets stupidly weepy towards the end, and Harada (basically confused, Japanese Hawkeye) was cool, but only because I wish we’d seen Hawkeye shooting arrows while jumping from building to building in the same way in The Avengers.
As much as it may not have suited audience expectations, I was really hoping for a relatively quiet movie in The Wolverine. Big action set pieces would’ve been fine (and the bullet train sequence was almost good enough to make the whole movie worth seeing), but I wanted to see a deeply personal story, especially after Man of Steel or the Dark Knight trilogy showed us that this was not only possible, but increasingly expected in superhero films. The first half of The Wolverine was well worth seeing, and I was ready to give it a nice, solid 8, but the back half pretty much dives straight off a cliff. Worst of all, when you find out what Yashida’s real plan was in inviting Wolverine to Japan, the moment not only underlines the stupidity of the movie’s conclusion, but devolves the overarching plot to the point where the whole movie is harmed.
Thom’s The Wolverine final score: 6
Grace: Right after I saw Sky High for the first time (I already told you about this; don’t even pretend like you’re surprised or disappointed with me), I thought about the superpowers I’d like to have. I think I briefly deliberated over flight, telepathy, and telekineses, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I would love to be able to shoot fireballs out of my hands, because why not. I may have concocted a number of ridiculous bordering on insane situations wherein my abilities would be needed—mainly, dudes being creepy at the bus stop. (It’s a serious issue.)
It’s a question I’ve long asked myself: if I had a superpower, what would it be? The fireballs switched to telepathy for a while, at least until I realized that I didn’t want to know what people were thinking about me. It was bad enough thinking they were thinking something; I didn’t need to know for certain. And at some point along the line, I realized that what I wanted and what I’d actually get in the event of bug bites, or radioactive exposure, or being given a green power ring, or having my parents gunned down in an alley and being raised by our butler, would be two very different things.
See, if I were to go into space today and come back with superpowers, I can almost guarantee you it’d be invisibility. Not because women are better when they’re silent and unseen, but because I like being in the background. I don’t like to be the centre of attention (which is probably why nobody’s ever thrown me a surprise party—at least, that’s the reason I tell myself). I don’t like people looking at me and thinking about me and forming judgements about me, and I’d like to just observe things without people observing me back. Also, it would allow me to creep on guys in the locker room at the gym. Assuming I ever went to the gym. Which I don’t. Because I’m not invisible.
The point of all this is, I’ve been a fan of superheroes for a long time. I always wanted to be one of them. And the X-Men were always my go-to group for general kick-assery and name-takery (Avengers who?). So it’s not a huge leap of the imagination to say that I was excited about the upcoming movie The Wolverine.
And then I actually watched it.
Did you ever see Spiderman 2? If so, I’m so sorry. But that means you’ll be able to understand what I’m talking about here. See, when people want to test invulnerable superheroes, they take away their powers. It’s not an original premise; Superman’s done it, a bunch of mutants took the serum, and don’t tell me that nobody’s ever beaten up Hal Jordan and stolen his green man-jewelry. It’s an old premise, and I’m kinda getting tired of it. There are more ways to test someone than to remove the thing that makes them so utterly watchable. ‘cause that’s just gonna make the movie boring. Which it did.
I think the directors of The Wolverine were mindful of that, though, because they only ever took one of Logan’s powers at a time. (And if you don’t already know who Logan is, get out now. I’m not doing a summary of the X-Men universe.) First he lost his healing, and once he got that back, his claws were cut off. Some people might see that as, “Wow, that’s just one thing right after another with him. How awful,” but I saw that as, “Wow, they’re trying really hard to keep people watching him with only half of what makes him awesome.”
That led to some confusion for me as to where his healing powers actually lie. It was something I’d wondered for a while, but now I just shake my head, because we didn’t need to know that it came from his bone marrow. And also that’s stupid. Oh, yeah, which reminds me, his bone claws would be hella sensitive now that they aren’t covered with adamantium. So you definitely don’t want to keep whipping those out, Logan, because if you touch them against literally anything, it’s gonna hurt like hell.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Wolverine. He’s played by the stupendous Hugh Jackman (I’ve already expressed my love for him elsewhere on this site) and he’s incredibly fun to watch, mainly because he leaves a swath of destruction behind him and has absolutely no more f*cks to give about anything. But I’m noticing a trend with him, and it’s starting to annoy me. Remember in X-Men, when he was having a nightmare and Rogue woke him up, and then he stabbed her? And remember in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, when he was having a nightmare and clawed his bed and also his girlfriend? And in this movie, he has a nightmare and almost stabs Mariko (the waif-like Japanese chick who’s important for some reason), who’s actually super casual about it and doesn’t seem to mind.
Point is, he keeps hurting a lot of people he means to protect. And that’s a serious problem that makes for a great character flaw. But then the directors of this movie went and ruined it by grabbing Logan and Mariko and going, “NOW KISS.” If that’s supposed to be protecting her, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong, Logan.
I’m not sure who the viper lady was supposed to be, but I feel like she was a pretty bad choice to be the movie’s initial villain. She’s not interesting enough, even if she is venomous, sexy, and able to shed her skin (which seemed unnecessary, in retrospect). Japanese Hawkeye was a poor supporting character, and even Redheaded Schoolgirl couldn’t hold my attention (that may have been because her power was in her head and never actually shown to the audience, so she’s basically like everyone else).
Overall, this didn’t feel like an X-Men movie. There weren’t enough mutants, for one thing (I think I counted three). There wasn’t any shiny technology or great, overarching issues that spoke to the world today. It was one man’s struggle to find meaning in a life that had gone on too long, and while that was poignant, he also found that meaning in a girl’s pants. You don’t expect an anti-suicide message when you come to an X-Men movie, mostly because superheroes are sacrificing themselves for the good of others all the time. Don’t get me wrong, suicide is a serious issue, and if you’re struggling with thoughts like that, there are people who can help. (No, I don’t take that lightly.)
But all of that means that wasn’t X-Men for me. It felt like a martial arts movie starring Hugh Jackman. And while that was pretty enjoyable, it doesn’t stack up against all the other X-Men movies, including Last Stand. But according to Thom, this movie is a way for the filmmakers to get back on track with their story and move on to alternate universes and time travel and all that sh*t that I laughed at for years. They’ve done a set-up for that, reintroducing (SPOILERS) Professor X and Magneto, and I refuse to believe that Jean Grey is really dead. (Although I do question the wisdom of making the after-credits piece happen two years later, and I think it was too damn long.)
I guess what all this means is that, even though this movie didn’t mean all the things I wanted to, I’m still going to wait in anticipation for the next X-Men movie. Because I’m an idealist, an optimist, and a superhero fan. But if they stick Jubilee in the movie, I’m out, because Jubilee is the Aquaman of the X-Men.
Grace’s The Wolverine final grade: B-
- Thom: Considering his jump-straight-into-gunfire fighting style, Wolverine’s white wife beater undershirt budget must be through the roof. Though the shirt still looked pretty clean even after he got thrown through a concrete wall.
- Grace: The love hotel! WHY DOES JAPAN HAVE ALL THESE WEIRD AND AMAZING THINGS. I DON’T EVEN KNOW.
- Thom: I would’ve felt much better if Yukio was driving a Nissan GT-R instead of an Audi R8. Especially an R8 cabrio.
- Grace: “Let’s start with up.” No. Just… no, Logan, okay? You can’t just say to take the plane up. You have to book a flight pattern and make sure you have enough gas and run everything through the proper channels at the respective airports to make sure you’re not a terrorist. I realize you don’t know much about flying because you hate it, but dammit, Logan, get your sh*t together.
- Thom: You’d think women would be less prone to sleeping with Logan, if for no other reason than he often wakes up in a confused rage with razor sharp knives coming out of his hands.
- Grace: Has no one thought about the fact that Wolverine is putting his claws back in his body when they’ve got blood all over them? Seriously, what if one of the guys he killed has HIV? “So, doc, what’s wrong with me?” “Well, sir, it appears you have all the diseases. How curious.” “Well, damn.”
- Thom on the after credits and Days of Future Past: I don’t think the producers could possibly have chosen a less elegant, more verbose way of revealing Magneto’s back (with powers) and Professor X is still alive and they need Logan’s help.
- Grace: The old lady at the country house should’ve been scandalized out of her socks and sandals by the shirtless Hugh Jackman at the door. Instead she’s like, “Oh, hello, demure child I watched grow up into a modest young woman. You have a sexy man-friend with muscles, and he should help get rid of this tree that fell in the road. I’m certain there are absolutely no shenanigans going on here.”
- Thom on Days of Future Past: This is probably the only X-Men movie I’ve ever genuinely been excited about; it seems more ambitious and really takes our teams outside of their comfort zones. Hopefully it won’t be too Wolverine heavy.
- Grace: Why does Wolverine keep picturing Jean in a slutty nightdress? If you love her so much, give the woman a gorram pair of jeans, would you? It’s called respect, douchewad.
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