July 27, 2013
With his colossal muscle “guns” and his thousand-watt smile, there is a reason the magnetic and charming Mr. Jackman makes the biggest bucks. It might about the reason he has played the same superhero more times than anyone else on film (six with The Wolverine, seven with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past).
He is known as the nicest man in Hollywood, extremely versatile and so well cut his muscles have muscles, so much so we, the audience, take his exceptional 44 year-old body for granted.
Not all his wolfish outings have been successful (X-men Origins: Wolverine sent fanboys exiting the theaters in droves) …but The Wolverine, a standalone adventure starring the wingy-banged grumpy immortal X-man, does a great deal to explain the continued faith Hollywood has in Jackman as a leading man and action star.
The movie, however, is far more than just a simple action-er and in its choice to add depth and complexity to the story and character, it follows the great trajectory so well established by recent movies like The Avengers and Iron Man 3.
The story follows a reclusive Wolfie (aka Logan) who is leading a hermitic existence in the wilds of Canada, looking like a filthier Outlaw Josey Wales, living in caves and wandering the days aimlessly after restlessly struggling through night after night of nightmares featuring his past lady love, whom he was forced to kill in X-Men: The Last Stand. She serves as tortuous delusion, popping up at the worst times to remind him how miserable he is, and how little use he has for his near immortality. He has lost his family, and everyone he loves dies. He is lost.
Enter a wealthy Japanese businessman, whom he outed himself as mutant saving him at Nagasaki, in an impressive sequence that starts by featuring Logan’s swoon-enducing male physicality and ends with the unenviable task of reproducing moments from one of WWII’s worst disasters. Mr. Yashida is now dying, we are told by Yukio, a mutant emissary in thigh-high red striped socks. He wants to say good bye, and offers a gift of thanks.
Out of that annoying sense of honor and duty he can’t seem to shake, Logan goes to Japan to see his old friend. Once there, he is offered the chance to feel physical pain, deterioration and mortality like the rest of humanity. It is in this newfound vulnerability that Logan finds himself and we, as the audience, connect more with him than ever before.
Mortality, love, vengeance and subjective morality are all themes that trundle this tale along, and they are none too light a set of subjects. There is the idea of Logan as ronin, or a samurai without a master, which thematically has been used in a variety of genres, and here, along with other clear influences, it is what integrates the movie’s desperate influences together. These influences separate The Wolverine from the superhero movies of the past.
Logan’s “man without a name” archetype brings to mind westerns like The Outlaw Josey Wales. The hyper-colorized scenes in Tokyo seem influenced by films like Happy Together and In the Mood for Love by Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai.
There is also an element of sparse expansiveness in the Japanese seaside scenes reminiscent of classic director Yahujiro Ozu’s work. That freaky do-it-my-way auteur Darren Aronofsky (of Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan) was originally attached to direct speaks to how far a departure they were planning for The Wolverine…
Giving credit where it’s due, without Hugh Jackman’s versatility, this kind of complicated blending of genres into a Marvel comic story would not have worked. Jackman has the ability to seem intense and off the cuff at the same time. Coming from another actor, some of the retorts he tosses out would seem somewhere between cliched and ridiculous.
They seem perfectly at home coming from Wolverine as a character, and it shows just how well Jackman can embody the role, reminding us how much we care about this troubled misanthrope with a heart of gold. Immortality breeds existential despair, as well as, apparently, perfect deadpan delivery of comic-book-ready pith and sass.
It was great to hear that Hugh Jackman found a way into the character’s bad attitude during the film shoots by starting every morning with an ice cold shower. No wonder he’s grumpy.
They have emassed a collection of pedigreed actors from all over the world to play supporting roles, with greater and less successful results. Rila Fukushima as Yukio, is immediately magnetic as friend and battle-ready companion (or as she calls it, bodyguard) to the reticent Logan.
She is a mutant with an unpleasant ability she wishes she could give back, unlike her hard won and colossal fighting skills. Her costuming and character are both unique and badass enough to inspire Halloween homages, to become this year’s “Hitgirl.” The relationship between her and Logan shows his goodness to the audience even before he finally sees it for himself.
The character of Mariko as Logan’s love interest, is less successful. Tao Okamoto does what she can with the role, but she is meant to be enigmatic, a mix of damsel in distress and femme fatale, and we as the audience never learn to care much about her in specifics, beyond the fact that she makes Logan feel again.
It is unfortunate that the climactic last quarter of the movie gets so buried in CGI and desperate measures to fill holes in the plot or explain character motivations that it almost loses us all to bleed to death in its own bluster. It is assumed that Hollywood required neater bows than the filmmakers would have wanted to tie, and as a result, the bluster and cacophony ensued. The rest of the film is inventive and unusual enough to compensate for the disastrous sections towards the end.
At the X-Men: Days of Future Past panel at San Diego Comic-Con, someone facetiously asked about Wolverine singing as part of the movies. After saying no one wanted to see that, he burst into a song, “I’m gonna SLICE ’em, i’m gonna DICE ’em…”, bringing laughter and cheers from the assembled masses. And speaking of Days of Future Past, stay past the credits, for a scene worth going to see the movie. It ties together the upcoming and highly anticipated movie to The Wolverine, and features big talent and big hints about the next year’s star studded release.
Aussie man-meat, sharp claws, an over-the-top balletic fight atop a bullet train, a nuclear explosion, an exciting clip from X-Men in 2014 that “plays the future cast,” and more…Wolverine. See it. It’s a howling good time.