Ten Word or Less Review – Hugh Jackman stabs people. Again.
It just occurred to me that The Wolverine marks the 6th X-Men movie, Fox’s 13 year old franchise about mutants living among us. Next to the wizarding adventures of Harry Potter, and maybe Saw, I’m not sure there’s been a more prolific series of movies in this young millennium. The first movie is slapdash but executed with determination. Its sequel stands as a high water mark in the ever expanding library of comic book flicks. The third movie is regrettably terrible. But then there’s the first Wolverine movie which is more terrible. The whole X-Men franchise looked to be about done after that turdy fiasco. Then First Class came along, free of expectations because everyone simply thought it would suck, and suddenly the X franchise has some vitality again. So determined not to go out looking like a one movie chump, Hugh Jackman leads the charge in getting another stand alone movie for his character off the ground and he claimed to have learned his lesson. Unlike the first Wolverine movie, the new film avoids painful action movie cliches, really bad FX and pointless mutant overpopulation. You paid attention Hugh and we applaud you for that. But instead of those attributes The Wolverine consist of dourness, tedium and, as proof that you weren’t listening completely, some pointed moments of real stupidity. So congrats Hugh. You’ve made your second lousy Wolverine film, and the first thoroughly boring X-Men flick.
To place The Wolverine in chronology among the rest of the series it takes place some time after the painfully bad X3. Wolverine is all bummed out and riddled with regret over killing the love of his life, Jean Grey. What choice did he have? She had turned into a mutant psycho bitch. Anyway, like any man who has killed his love because she went bananas in the head and started killing everyone by turning them to ash he’s retreated to the top of a mountain to be alone with his thoughts, a bottle of hooch and a friendly bear named Yogi. After a couple of dickhead hunters shoot Yogi in the ass with poison arrows for stealing their picnic basket Wolverine comes down from mount moody to dispense some justice. He’s quickly sidetracked by a character imported from an anime movie and told that an old friend wants to see him before he dies. Before all this drunk on a mountain with a bear stuff we saw Wolverine in Japan where he saves a soldier from the atom bomb by shielding him with his body. Apparently Wolverine can stop radioactive fallout too. The movie doesn’t get into that. But that guy he saved so long ago wants to see him. So anime girl and Wolverine take off for Japan. Yogi is still dead. Unlike most characters in movies like this he doesn’t come back. Which is too bad because he seemed like a nice bear.
They get to Japan and before you can say ‘Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto’ Wolverine finds himself caught up in the machinations of a painfully uninteresting plot that the viewer is supposed to enjoy because it’s less obviously shitty than the last Wolverine movie. The man Wolverine saved went on to become a billionaire industrialist. On his really cool deathbed he offers Wolverine the gift of mortality. I really need to emphasize the coolness of that bed. I mean it’s awesome. It’s like a Seely Posturpedic for God. It’s got all these rounded rods that respond to your every move. It’s so cool that you might even phase the movie out looking at it. It’s hypnotic. Anyway, Wolverine is pretty leery of this idea but seriously considers it because he’s been alive a real long time and killing people has gotten kind of boring for him. As he’s thinking about giving up the one thing that pretty much defines him as a person besides his knife hands the plot takes over. He sort of loses his healing powers. There’s a chase scene on a train that isn’t bad. But to cut to the chase, The Wolverine settles into an unshakable boredom usually reserved for dramas you watch for 20 minutes on Netflix before saying ‘screw this’ and turning on Wrath of Khan.
Wolverine mistakes dourness for integrity and protracted, redundant dialogue for drama. Director James Mangold does what he can to make a sharp looking film but he’s trying to breath life into a slab of marble. The pretty movie lurches along with scene after scene of Jackman looking lost and confused. He’s pretty much in a stupor for a good 45 minutes because every time he gets shot he gets woozy. That’s his big change in character this time. Instead of getting shot and pissed he gets shot and then gets woozy and the camera goes all fuzzy on us. His character has to spend an eternity figuring out what’s going on but the audience should have it pegged in about 5 seconds. And that’s the biggest mistake of all with The Wolverine.
Everyone involved seems very conscious of trying to transcend the limitations of the comic book movie but in its place they’ve constructed nothing more than a generic potboiler with boring Japanese guys in suits. If you took out the higher sci-fi elements you’d have the kind of mundane movie Wesley Snipes made constantly through out the 90’s. Then at the 11th hour, suddenly aware that this is a movie based on a comic property and that silly shit usually does happen in these things, The Wolverine shifts drastically back into silly comic book mode. Ninjas suddenly start jumping out from everywhere. A 12-foot tall metal samurai robot behemoth is unleashed. Visions of Robo Cop 2 started to dance in my head. A venom spitting snake woman sheds her skin. The movie suddenly becomes a goofy, transparent retread of Iron Man. Except for the snake woman bit. They came up with that all on their own. Way to go guys.
Roger Ebert lamented the X-Men movies to some extent because of their over reliance on the Wolverine character and maybe he had a point. I’m not sure Wolverine ever had a chance at being a compelling leading character because besides being surly and psychopathic, what is there to the guy? Knife hands? He’s got centuries of knowledge and experience behind him and all he can really ever think to do is stab people. Stabbing people is his solution for everything. When he goes to the movies and someone looks at their cellphone does he stab them? When he goes to a restaurant and the chef overcooks his steak does he stab them? When the dry cleaner ruins his shirt is it stabby time? Here’s an idea Jackman. I know this is Wolverine and stabbing people is unavoidable, but developing a character trait beyond that attribute may be in order if you’re going to keep shoving this character down our throat. Edward Scissorhands sculpted lawn art, could Wolverine maybe try painting? I may not know the plot to next summers next X-Men adventure but I do know this much, your character is probably going to stab a lot of people.