The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine (2013)

Some franchises die when they hit a blip in the road. And by die, I of course mean “get rebooted”. From scratch – new actors, same plots. It’s a shame, as sometimes you can just have a bad spell, which can be amended and made up for in future releases. However, that’s not Hollywood’s current modus operandi when it comes to films. It doesn’t make the money, or doesn’t go down well with fans? Can it and reboot it some time in the future. Look at Superman Returns, for instance. Fans didn’t like it, critics didn’t like it… end. Then we saw Man of Steel re-occur this year, which itself didn’t perform “as expected” at the box office. It only looks like that’s been saved by audiences’ lust for heroes and the addition of Batman into the mix in 2015. It’s probably this same lust that’s kept another franchise going… well, that and the fact that Fox needs to use these characters or they’ll lose them to Marvel. And these are some big characters… the X-Men. With perhaps one mutant standing above all others: The Wolverine.

The Wolverine (2013)

Now, Wolverine’s not been immune to being in some duds. X-Men: The Last Stand riled fan boys and girls around the world as not being that good. This was followed up with X-Men Origins: Wolverine… a film that was detested even more by the same set of fans. Me? Sure, both films went a little whacky and weird, bastardising plots and characters, but I wouldn’t troll along on some internet forum moaning about them. But Wolverine’s survived… and he’s back in The Wolverine. No mention of X-Men in the title, no mention of “X-Men” in the film… it’s a one man odyssey set in Japan, based on a very famous storyline from the comics.

Okay, so there are some (major) revisions to the comic storyline, but essentially we find ourselves with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in Canada as he comes to terms with what he did in X-Men: The Last Stand (namely, killing Jean Grey / The Phoenix, played by Famke Janssen). He’s still seeing her in his dreams, tempting him to try and do something he knows can cannot do… join her. You see, Wolverine is 200 years old by this point, but thanks to that regenerative ability, cannot die (well, except by drowning, but that’s not been disclosed yet in the movies). We then see Wolverine shipped to Japan to meet an old man he’d saved from the atom bombs being dropped during World War 2. Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) wants to repay Logan by removing his healing ability. Wolverine disagrees, but then gets thrown into a whole Yakuza storyline with him trying to protect Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).

The Wolverine (2013)

There’s a lot going on in the plot here, but overall… it works. For the most part. One of the problems levied against X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the fact that too many mutants were shoehorned into the plotting for the sake of it. Here the problem is yet again mutant based: Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova)… she’s pointless. She’s apparently hired as a biochemist / geneticist by Yashida to help him out with acquiring Wolverine’s powers. But she’s just a nuisance. Every single plot point pertaining to her could have been dropped and not had the slightest impact on the overall film. And her powers? Well, they just annoyed me.

Viper... Why?

Viper… Why?

Speaking of powers, one of the draws of this film is the promise of Wolverine losing his immortality. Normally, there’s no peril to be had, as you know he can heal from anything. Hell, in the comics he gets ripped in half, chewed up and digested by the Incredible Hulk (in a distopian future where the Hulk’s the head of a redneck clan of Hulks that rules the west coast of the US). But Wolverine heals and slashes his way out of the Hulk’s stomach. But here? Well, we have a very vulnerable Wolverine who CAN be killed. It makes for quite the interesting plot point and one that was pretty different. Sure, we still saw him pop his claws and tear the hell out of Yakuza (with no bloodshed), but he gets injured pretty damn well.

Hugh Jackman has to be admired for the commitment he puts into playing Wolverine, and he clearly loves the part. Physically you’ve got to hand it to Jackman, who at 45 still looks ripped when he plays the part. Indeed, some of the veins in his arms are actually quite sickening at one point – the guy is big. Some criticise the fact that “he’s not the Wolverine from the comics… he’s too tall, handsome etc.” – screw that. Sure, he’s not AS perfectly cast as Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man, but he’s damn good and delivers what we’d expect of him again. Sure, we want to see more of a feral, angry Wolverine – we all want that bezerker, but this is a 12 / PG-13 movie… we’re not going to get it.

Hugh Jackman... 45, and still ripped. Impressive work, bub.

Hugh Jackman… 45, and still ripped. Impressive work, bub.

I need to mention the constant recurrence of Famke Janssen in the movie. It’s a bit odd. Remember, X-Men: The Last Stand was released back in 2006… a good while ago. But The Wolverine places great emphasis on continuity. This is great, but also a hindrance. For anyone not familiar with the 2006 film, the appearance of this woman in his dreams is a bit peculiar. All they’ll notice is Janssen‘s cleavage coming on-screen every 20-30 minutes (she’s always in a bra or night-dress… with cleavage on show). Sure, we need to know he feels guilty, but too much reliance was put on this.

But what really bugged me with the movie was the conclusion. The final battles and what happens. Sure, it has a nice little twist to it, but it’s not what I was expecting. It also left me with a massive plot hole that was clearly shown on-screen but never discussed. Without spoiling anything… can someone tell me what Wolverine’s claws are made of now that battle’s over? Bone again? Hmm… I wonder if that’ll be forgotten by the time X-Men: Days of Future Past rolls around. Speaking of which… the mid-credits scene? Definitely worth waiting around for. Possibly the finest mid-credits scene of a superhero movie in quite some time. It’ll leave every X-Men fan buzzing for what’s to come – both the cameos and mentions of certain “Industry” names… Roll on 2014…

The Wolverine does some great service to ol’ Logan and finally gives him a starring role in a film that will overall be enjoyed by many. Having said that, it does have its flaws and struggles to hold a candle to even the weakest of the Marvel stable of films. I applaud its stripped down, character-centric approach and really liked the removal of his abilities for a while. It was still hampered by a lacklustre final showdown (as so many superhero movies do) and odd character inclusions. Still, credit to Jackman and director James Mangold… there’s life in the ol’ kanucklehead yet!

It’s ironic that the one mutant that’s capable of regenerating has yet to been rebooted in movie form. Some six movies on, we still have Hugh Jackman as Wolverine up on the screen. And it’s set to continue with next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past where we see the X-Men: First Class and X-Men: The Last Stand timelines merged with one another. This could FINALLY be the X-Men movie fans have been clamouring for. That, or we’re finally going to see true X-Men reboot… because unfortunately for Fox, they can’t just throw another hero that DOES earn money into the mix like Warner are doing with Superman / Batman… Damn studio politics!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

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A Superhero Movie Too Far?

Batman slaps Robin

If we don’t talk about it, we won’t jinx it!!

Batman 1999 v 2012

Batman ’99 vs Batman ’12: Pretty accurate portrayal of the public’s view of a comic book movie. From frumpy to bad ass.

If you mentioned that you liked comics back in 2000, people would assume one of two things: a) you’re a small child, or b) you’re probably a bit of a social pariah and that you should probably avoid a). Then a movie came along that changed everything: X-Men. It featured a relatively unknown cast of actors, spare a couple of big names such as Captain Picard and Gandalf (before he was Gandalf), and told the tale of a group of genetic mutants who had fantastic powers. And boy did it resonate with audiences. Sure, there was the brilliant Blade in 1998, which could be argued as the “first” big movie, but it wasn’t that much of a hit! The success of X-Men and Spider-Man two years later opened the floodgates to a slew of superhero movies from major and minor characters alike, culminating this year in the juggernauts of the box office that are Avengers Assemble and The Dark Knight Rises. But now the question is: what next? And more importantly, how much longer can Hollywood’s latest fetish survive before it implodes? Too big to fail you say? Now where have we heard that before…?

Humble Beginnings

Undoubtedly, we’re right now riding the wave that is the Golden Age of comic book adaptations. Marvel Studios’ success with their tales of Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor, and Warner / DC’s success with Nolan‘s Batman universe have cumulatively brought in over $5,400,000,000 (you need the noughts just to realise how many McDonald’s cheeseburgers that could buy you), with the split being $3.7 billion to Marvel and $1.7 billion to Warner (so far; the Bat is still flying). But crikey Batman, how the golly did we get to such jeeperiffic figures? They’re just comics!

The secret to their success, I believe, is two-fold. On one hand you have a collection of stories that are on-the-whole believable, or at least plausible for the most part, which is something I’ll come to later. And on the other hand you can’t help but notice that they’re somewhat a symptom of the times: gloom. It’s the same perfect storm that results in fast food sales soaring during times of economic hardship; this manifests in the need for escapism and heroes at the box office. Sure, some of the first big hits came pre-2008 meltdown, but all the gargantuan films: the Dark Knights and Iron Man(s) came post-2008. Hell, if you were being really analytical, you could even say the threat of global terrorism following 2001 also fed the public’s need for heroes. That’s a controversial point, but I think it’s valid. So… so long as the world is still at risk of going bankrupt or blowing itself up, the superhero can do no wrong right? I mean, the public tolerated Nic Cage‘s antics as Ghost Rider (twice!), Superman‘s lacklustre return and watched the Blade, Spider-Man and X-Men franchises tie themselves in knots; yet all was forgiven when the latter two returned recently. Not sure we’re going to see Wesley Snipes stopping people “ice skating up a hill” any time soon though. Unless the IRS lets him… Or Twilight takes a hard left turn in its final bow later this year.

Blade: Breaking Twilight

But can the studios sustain this enormous momentum, or is something looming on the horizon that could bring the whole house of cards crashing down?

There’s a Storm Coming…

The Guardians of the Galaxy

The Guardians of the Galaxy: The Four Horsemen (and a Tree) of the Comic Book Apocalypse?

As I mentioned in my round-up of Comic-Con 2012, Marvel made some peculiar announcements this year, namely by choosing The Guardians of the Galaxy as a flagship film franchise. For those unfamiliar with this group, they’re essentially a cosmic group of heroes who fly around in space, preventing intergalactic tyranny. Sounds like a typical sci-fi film right? And there-in lies the problem. The most successful comic book movies have more-or-less had some semblance of reality, whether its being bitten by a spider, having genetic mutations, or building a high-tech suit of armour. Thor, who for all intents and purposes is classed as a “God” was explained through comparing magic and science and saying they’re the same thing (hokey, but it worked). So he’s essentially just a scientific freak who wears chainmail. And is ripped. But I haven’t got to the outworldy part yet… is the public willing to accept a living tree, some aliens and a talking raccoon (cumulatively known as The Guardians of the Galaxy) as superheroes? I know Disney are involved nowadays, but a talking raccoon and tree? Last I remember, the TV series The Raccoons ended in 1991… maybe that’ll have a resurgence? God I hope not.

And in the non-Marvel Studios stable, we hear rumblings that Warner is looking to open Pandora’s box and unleash all manner of oddities on the cinema-going public, now that their baby bat has flown the nest. The Metal Men? Lobo? Really? It’s a case of a studio reaching the “terrible 2’s”, seeing what Marvel has and saying “I want, I want”. Add this to the in-production reboots of failed franchises such as Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Green Lantern and you’re risking meltdown with the public, being the fickle beings they are, not caring any more.

What’s my opinion? Hell, I love the comic book genre, and was one of those little kids that read about Spider-Man and X-Men and religiously watched the cartoons on Saturday mornings. And I’ll no doubt watch every movie that comes out, even the Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance‘s, Elektra‘s and The Punisher‘s of this world. The only fear I have is that we’ll return to that pre-2000 mindset, where only us nostalgic fans remain… in our rooms… talking of the now mythical Golden Age of comic book movies. But then again, people have been predicting this bubble will burst for years now, so maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree. Possibly a tree that isn’t a superhero.

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