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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Comic-Con 2013: Film Round-Up

Comic-Con 2013

Ah, Comic-Con… it’s that time of year again to get excited about being nerdy. What is this time of year you ask? Okay, I guess Comic-Con isn’t quite as well known as something like the Oscars, but it’s becoming increasingly known as the place where some of the world’s biggest movies are launched / previewed to the world. What type of movies? Well, look at the title of the convention will you? It doesn’t take a genius to work it out. Yes, Comic-Con is dedicated to the world of comics, which thanks to films such as Iron Man, The Dark Knight and The Avengers actually now dominates the world of movies.

A year ago from now, we put together a preview of what went down at Comic-Con 2012 and highlighted the big films coming out of Marvel and DC’s stables… well, this year we’re doing exactly the same! We’ve collated all the information that was released into one handy little page for y’all to view. We’ll also be offering a bit of depth to these announcements, as we know that you’re not as all nerdy / informed as The Phage. Failing that, look at this YouTube video for some girls in costumes… it’s also pretty funny to boot…

First up, it’s my boys and girls at Marvel. As regulars will no doubt know, this is my favourite publishing house and consequently produces the movies I get most excited about. Sure, we all wish that Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four and The Avengers were all held by the same studio and not this fractured mess we have between Sony, Fox and Disney, but hey… the movies look pretty damn sweet! So, let’s have a closer look shall we?

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Comic-Con 2013

I’m picking up with arguably the biggest franchise under the Marvel monicker… The Avengers. You know, the second highest grossing movie of all time? Yeah, that one. Well, its sequel isn’t due until 2015 (I know… an age), but we now have a title. And a title can tell you a lot of things! But I know what you’re thinking… who the hell is Ultron? Well, in the comics, Ultron is a robot engineered by Dr. Hank Pym (he’s Ant-Man by the by… a film scheduled for 2015 too). But the machine goes a bit sentient and decides that it must rid the world of humankind. Through this, we see the machine make its own humanoid machine: The Vision, in order to destroy The Avengers. Basically… lots of robot action.

Ant-Man, Ultron and The Vision... surely all three can't fit?!

Ant-Man, Ultron and The Vision… surely all three can’t fit?!

What are our thoughts on this? It’s interesting, if a little odd considering the chronology of Marvel’s films. There’s going to have to be some serious story deviations considering that Hank Pym / Ant-Man won’t be introduced until AFTER The Avengers: Rise of Ultron in the Edgar Wright-helmed film. Whether they totally retool the story, or bring in Pym in the sequel itself and expand post-Avengers, we’re not sure at the minute. Well, as I was writing this, it’s actually come up in conversation with Joss Whedon! This story arc will not follow the comics… so no Hank Pym in the new Avengers film. We’re getting hints that it’s going to come out of the pre-existing story… So… Tony Stark / Robert Downey Jr. creates Ultron then? I can already hear the fan-boys seething at the deviation, especially following the “events” of Iron Man 3… Maybe he makes Ultron to compensate for his lack of suits? Who knows, but time will tell…

What rumours do we have on this film? Well, Vin Diesel‘s been kicking up a fuss recently, as he does have a role in “a” Marvel film, apparently (although there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors going on here)… could it be in this film? Could he be The Vision? We also have Aaron Taylor-Johnson practically saying he’s Quicksilver in the Joss Whedon-helmed sequel (to go along with another new addition: The Scarlet Witch). Whatever happens, expect Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and Captain America to return with some new buddies to bring down a robot… and not Thanos…

Guardians of the Galaxy

Comic-Con 2013

Yes, Thanos was the guy teased at the end of The Avengers in the credits scene. Which scene? This one:

Now, many believed that was a hint to the direction of The Avengers 2… but that’s now totally wrong. Thanos is clearly too big a bad guy to launch into straight away. So… like Ultron… who is Thanos? Thanos is a cosmic entity from the moon of Titan, who’s constantly trying to court Death: his love. He’s a formidable character and is essentially a God, like Thor… but different. In the comics he eradicates all of the Marvel Universe of heroes. He’s pretty aggressive. But it seems Marvel are saving him for a future Avengers sequel. BUT… we know he’s confirmed to appear in James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy

Comic-Con 2013

Yes, this is what I was a little nervous of last year when it was announced. Now though, we have some casting and plotting at the very least. Starring Chris Pratt (Star Lord), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax The Destroyer), plus the CGI-ed Groot (big tree… no-one named yet) and Rocket Raccoon (little raccoon with big gun… again, no-one named yet), it’ll see this team of intergalactic renegades teaming up against a cohort of other intergalactic entities including Lee Pace (Ronan The Accuser), Karen Gillan (Nebula) and Benicio Del Toro (The Collector). God knows how this is all going to play out, as I have zero familiarity with this particular title. Regardless, this is going to Marvel’s most “out there” franchise to date… it’s a space opera with raccoons, trees and super-powerful beings. I’m very keen to see how this plays out… my initial scepticism is fast turning into excitement as August 2014 draws closer…

Thor: The Dark World

Comic-Con 2013

Well, this is a little closer to release than 2014! Yes, Thor will return to our screens in October (for the UK) and November (never mind, USA). Comic-Con showed off some new footage, but we already know essentially what’s going on here with Chris Hemsworth‘s Thor facing off against Christopher Eccleston‘s Malekith – a Dark Elf, who’s a pretty nasty character. We’re also seeing the chance of a team up between Thor and Loki to take down Malekith… will it hold? Will it hell. But this should be another top drawer movie now we’ve got rid of the “origins” story of Thor. Straight into the action? Yes please.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Comic-Con 2013

Similarly, we’ve dispensed with Captain America’s (Chris Evans) origin story now, so we can plod on with his narrative in Captain America: The Winter Solider in April 2014. What’s the story here? The titular Winter Soldier is a big clue. Remember the train scene from Captain America: The First Avenger? Where Bucky falls out of the train into oblivion somewhere in the frozen waste? Yeah… he’s not dead. He’s back with a metallic arm and a grudge against Captain America. Comic-Con got a first glimpse of the action here with a reveal of Bucky’s Winter Solider garb. Once again, we’re excited for it… although as with Thor, there’s not that much to explain here. We’re all familiar with the main characters. And these two? They’re hardly new announcements!

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Comic-Con 2013

Now we jump away from Marvel Studios / Disney to Fox’s Marvel movies… yeah, it’s going to get confusing. X-Men: Days of Future Past will pick up chronologically after this week’s The Wolverine, which itself comes after X-Men: The Last Stand. However, we’re going to see a melding of time lines to bring in the cast of X-Men: First Class. Yeah… we’re getting trippy here. The original storyline in the comics revolves around a future where mutants are hunted down relentlessly by Sentinels (large, anti-mutant robots at the behest of humankind). So, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page in X-Men: The Last Stand, and here) sends her consciousness back in time to alert her former-self to the threat that’s coming to try and stop the future. In the animated series, we saw Bishop head back in time (rugged black guy from the future, M scar on his face, loved wearing a red bandanna around his neck) to stop an assassination… and Bishop is cast in this movie…

The surprise of the day... all X-Men in attendance!

The surprise of the day… all X-Men in attendance!

But what did we find out this weekend? Well, who do you think’s getting sent back? Yes, it’s Hugh Jackman‘s Wolverine… the poster boy for Fox’s X-Men franchise. So, we’ll see the old cast of the X-Men (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry etc.) and the new cast (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence etc.) in the same film. This could either be a very special movie, or a very flawed one. We’re optimistic here. It’s ambitious… but if it works? Wow… it’ll be good!

X-Force

Comic-Con 2013

A quick mention of this here… as it wasn’t officially announced, but we got confirmation that a script was being put together for X-Force. Now, who the HELL are these guys? They’re an X-Men off-shoot of mutants who’re a bit more cavalier in their attitude and fighting. We couldn’t possibly guess who’ll feature in this team though, as it’s a constant revolving door, much like The Avengers. We could see Wolverine, Cable (Cyclops and Jean Grey’s son… from the future), X-23 (Wolverine’s female clone), Deadpool (not the abomination from X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Archangel and a whole host of others. Although a load of those need their own backstories setting up. Especially Archangel… who was last seen with big fluffy angel wings as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand, instead of the blue-skinned, metallic-winged guy known as Archangel… we’ll see how this develops. IF it develops…

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Comic-Con 2013

I wish Sony had gone with a more inspirational title for this movie instead of just bolting a “2” to the end of it! But this is what we get I guess. Here, we’re following up from the original The Amazing Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield as the titular hero. But this time, instead of Rhys Ifans‘ Lizard, we see him up against Jamie Foxx‘s Electro, Paul Giamatti‘s Rhino and potentially Chris Cooper‘s Norman Osborn / Green Goblin… well, it’s certainly a busy time for Spidey! Whether it suffers from villain overload, we’re going to find out, but again… I’m optimistic. I was underwhelmed with the original Amazing Spider-Man, as I thought it was too soon for a reboot. But the teasers released for Foxx‘s Electro? And the footage aired at Comic-Con? We could be in for a treat. Electro could be a great villain, unlike the ones we’ve seen before… Check the clip for the reveal…

Man of Steel 2 / Superman vs. Batman / World’s Finest

Comic-Con 2013

This was perhaps the biggest shock of Comic-Con that no-one really saw coming, and for once… it wasn’t from Marvel. We knew a sequel to the recently released Man of Steel would be inevitable… but few could have predicted this. Zack Snyder waltzed onto the stage to announce that the next instalment would feature both Superman AND Batman… a rebooted Batman, free of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale. Want something else? They’re going to be at each other’s throats. Wow. And again… Wow. I’m not even a DC fan, but this is impressive news. No-one has any specifics yet, except for the fact we’re going to see the return of Henry Cavill and the cast of Man of Steel and that it’s going to drop in 2015… It seems that year’s hotting up now… with The Avengers: Age of Ultron and now Man of Steel 2 hitting in the same summer… ALONG with Ant-Man at some point too. Sheesh… it’s going to be a busy one!

And we can’t wait…

Les Misérables (2013)

Les Miserables (2013)

Back in a former life, before Film Phage was born, I actually worked in the record industry. I scouted bands on a national and international basis for a rather large record label. As such, I’ve got a pretty discerning ear for music. Most music. And if I had started a music site, it’d be called Phonic Phage. Maybe one day we’ll mutate into that, so hands off the name – same for Flick Phage if I ever decide to start reviewing books! All that being said, nothing terrifies me more than the prospect of a musical film. I don’t even like it when someone sings a solitary song in an otherwise tuneless film, so with that weighing heavily on my mind I headed out to see Les Misérables

Les Miserables (2013)

As I say, I’m no musical film fan. I remember seeing Sweeney Todd a few years ago and being mortified by the endless churning out of songs! Even my great love of all things Matt Stone and Trey Parker was tested with South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which featured a whole slew of songs. Some enjoyable, some less so. But saying that, I’m not averse to musical theatre and I’ll be one of the first to see The Book of Mormon when it hits the UK in a couple of months… but me and musical films? An entirely different kettle of fish.

Before seeing Les Misérables I was ready to write this off. For me, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine and not Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe is Maximus Decimus Aurelius and not Javert and Anne Hathaway is now Catwoman and not Fantine. And Sacha Baron Cohen? Well, his role’s pretty accurate: bizarre. And certainly none of them sing. Wolverine certainly doesn’t sing. But the film caught me off guard… Although I may have checked my watch a couple of times.

Wolverine needs to get his act together and have a shave before July!

Wolverine needs to get his act together and have a shave before July!

So, a real summary? Essentially, Wolverine / Jackman / Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread and is jailed / enslaved for an illogical length of time in revolutionary France. He’s overseen by Gladiator / Crowe / Javert – an Inspector who swears to monitor Valjean for the rest of his life to make sure he doesn’t reoffend. But Valjean flees. And does quite well for himself after changing his name – a total character reformation. But Javert never gives up – he’s a lot like Wile E. Coyote constantly chasing that roadrunner. Or General Ross who constantly chases The Hulk. He’s remorseless. There are also several subplots woven in here to add more songs. You’ve got Anne Hathaway‘s impoverished quest to get money for her daughter (who’ll become Amanda Seyfried) who’s in the care of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Oh, and you’ve got the whole French Revolution underclass being led by Marius (Eddie Redmayne).

OK, a tough plot to summarise, I’ll concede that. That’d be why it’s a three hour West End / Broadway musical then, split up into three acts. As someone who has no clue about what happens, I found Les Misérables particularly interesting and the plot intrigued me. I was dubious of how Hathaway‘s somewhat short time on screen could tally with all the praise and awards she’s been nominated for / received. But that dubiousness evaporated pretty sharply… Wow…

Les Miserables (2013)Much fuss has been made of the singing calibre of the cast. Praise has been rightfully doled onto Jackman, who is fantastic as Valjean – he really sells you every emotion that his character feels throughout the film. And Valjean has some major highs and lows in his life. However, less praise has been given to Russell Crowe as Jalvert. Some are saying his singing is awful, out of key etc. etc. However, I’m going to go on record as saying I thought Crowe was perhaps my highlight of the film. I loved his character and just think he conveyed it brilliantly. I’m no thespian, and my talent scouting days are from more popular music genres, but I still thought he brought the goods. I’m a fan of Crowe in general though. He’s often mocked, but I still hold him in high regard. In my eyes he’s on par with Jackman here. Maybe less emotional, but certainly as entertaining.

The other roles? They all do their part. I need to of course focus back onto Anne Hathaway. She looked incredibly distraught and beaten down and really sold me her plight with stark emotion, but she was somewhat “absent” from most of the movie, as fans of the musical will be well aware. Cohen also merits mention for providing some great comic relief. His accent lurches from horny Frenchman to cockney geezer to Ali G, but he definitely plays his role with aplomb.

Les Miserables (2013)

You’d be surprised just how accurate College Humor’s send up is… But it’s not necessarily a bad thing!

What was slightly more confusing is the choice of extras / minor parts. Why were all of the peasants in revolutionary France either from Yorkshire in the north of England, or from the east end of London? Yet all of the middle class were clearly from somewhere around Hertfordshire. I found it quite laughable that they still use northern accents / cockneys to play the impoverished. Some of the singing sounded like a track from the British punk band Gallows (see below for a great, aptly-titled, tune).

That wasn’t my only gripe either. I mentioned earlier how I was checking my watch. The film is simply too long winded in places. Its run time pushes 2 hours and 40 minutes, so it tests your resolve. If you love the stage version of Les Misérables then you’ll surely see time fly by. But for everyone else? Well, let’s just say that the third act drags quite a bit. Further to this, I just found some of the filming techniques a little dull at times. A lot of emphasis has been placed on the close up of the person singing. That’s great… but this is a film, and not a stage musical. I don’t need to see every mouth movement. I want to see the scene and put it in context. Films have such a large budget for a reason… use it.

Having said that, Les Misérables was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t think I’d stay awake for the entire film, let alone enjoy it. I think a good deal of that enjoyment comes from the fact that I’ve no prior exposure to the plot, so as a film lover I could enjoy where events would take us next. The singing was just “there” in my eyes. Yes yes, it’s all delivered live to film and it worked well, but that wasn’t the reason I enjoyed the film. And I really think more credit needs to be given to Russell Crowe – people are being too snobbish about his performance. He’s an actor. A damn fine one. He’s not a musician.

So whilst my past is shrouded in mystery, you now know me as The Phage that used to dabble in music: the Phonic Phage. But much like Jean Valjean I’ve been on the run from my past for too long. It’s good to have it out in the open. But what I won’t do is sing a merry little song about it. For two hours. Because although I enjoyed Les Misérables, I hope Hollywood doesn’t jump on the bandwagon of making all musicals into films. It’s not a two way street, nor should it be! Just look at poor Spider-Man!

Phage Factor:

4 Star