The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine is a movie incredibly fortunate to have found itself in a position where, essentially, it’s impossible for it to fail. Following as it does X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film that was an embarrassing train wreck even for the chronically mediocre X-Men film franchise, even just “pretty bad” would be seen as an improvement at this point. You see, The Wolverine kinda sucks. But it’s the followup/reboot to a movie that really sucked, therefore “kinda sucks” still counts as a win.

The film follows essentially the same curve of quality that the first X-Men film did back in 2000, meaning it has a really strong first act, a decent second, and an abruptly awful third. It opens with a nearly beat-for-beat translation of the opening vignette from the comic book miniseries from which the film is otherwise loosely adapted. It involves Wolverine avenging the death of a bear that was illegally poisoned by irresponsible hunters. Good stuff, but unfortunately, after that, we have to get back to the actual plot, which is far less interesting than it should’ve been.

The script borrows the setting and characters from the original miniseries by Chris Claremont, but little else. The plot concerns an aging Japanese billionaire, Ichirō Yashida, whose life Wolverine saved from an atomic bomb back in WWII (how Wolverine remembers any of that remains unexplained, since it was very emphatically established in every previous movie that he remembers nothing before Weapon X).

Nearing the end of his life, Yashida offers Wolverine a dubious “gift”: he will transfer Wolverine’s immortality-granting healing abilities from him to Yashida, so Wolverine can finally die and Yashida can live forever. What makes Yashida think Wolverine is sick of living forever also remains unexplained; after all, Wolverine doesn’t even remember most of his 100+ years of existence. Also, calling it a “gift” seems like a clever bit of spin-doctoring, when it’s pretty clear from any angle that Yashida’s benefiting from this way more than Wolverine, even assuming he does want to die.

Wolverine, of course, refuses this rather asinine offer, but Yashida, being old and hard of hearing, apparently heard him wrong, because Wolverine wakes up the next morning to find his powers slowly slipping away. Yashida is also now mysteriously dead, leaving his vast fortune to his granddaughter Mariko, making her a target for many, including her own jealous and dangerous father. Wolverine elects to protect her, drawing him into a conspiracy involving ninjas, the Yakuza, and some snake woman we’re told is the comic book villain Viper (once again having little relation to her literary source, presumably because Fox doesn’t have the rights to HYDRA).

The Wolverine (2013)

The miniseries that inspired all this is notable for making a interesting character out of Wolverine, who was previously (and frequently since) a rather one-note brawler. It introduced Wolverine’s fascination with the culture of Japan, and the samurai tradition that sprung from it. The samurai honor code gave Wolverine a purpose, and a way to contain his feral urges. He no longer had to be a mindless animal; he could now channel that into being a noble warrior instead. It’s this struggle between his civilized and bestial natures that is the source of just about any good Wolverine story.

Tragically, the film does nothing with the concept, paying only passing lip service to it. The “show, don’t tell” rule is heavily abused, as we’re repeatedly told that Wolverine is a “ronin”, a samurai without a master, but none of his actions ever back that statement up. He shows no real interest in Japanese culture, seeming annoyed by their traditions more than anything. He doesn’t even speak Japanese in this version. He never makes any attempt to act honorably or according to any samurai ideals.

The closest thing is in the beginning of the movie when he remorsefully promises the ghost of Jean Grey, his lover who he killed in X-Men: The Last Stand, that he will never kill anyone again. That promise lasts for about 3 minutes of screen time, when he says “screw it” and tries to decapitate the first guy that pisses him off. After that, he spends the rest of the movie merrily dicing his way through dozens of combatants without even an ounce of restraint. This is for the fans, obviously, most of whom come to see Wolverine go kill-crazy, ride motorcycles, and remain gruff and cigar-chomping-ly detached about everything. Because that’s what badasses do: not give a crap about anything. Being emotionally engaged is for wimps.

The Wolverine (2013)

Besides failing miserably to motivate Wolverine to not kill everyone who gets within clawing range, Jean’s ghost also serves as the barometer for Wolverine’s “find something to live for” arc. Despite turning Yashida down, Wolverine apparently does want to die, because Jean’s ghost keeps popping up to tell him he wants to die so he can be with her (once again, no regard for “show, don’t tell”). By the end of the movie, we know he’s completed his arc, because he tells Ghost Jean he’s found a reason to live. What that reason is or how he found it, I couldn’t tell you, but the movie insists he’s found it.

The plot is also needlessly convoluted and obfuscated. Sure, the original miniseries had its share of mystery, backstabbing, and surprise twists, but at least character motivations were clearly established to give you something to latch onto. Wolverine leaves you in the dark for most of its runtime. There are several factions at odds with each other, with multiple characters connected to one another in a variety of ways. But most of it isn’t revealed until after the climax, and in the meantime, you’re left watching a lot of meaningless action sequences that are impossible to get invested in.

And by the time they start giving us answers, the movie has already gone off the rails and become humiliatingly silly and stupid. I mean, it gets really, really dumb. It honestly starts feeling uncomfortably like a deleted scene from X-Men Origins: Cheap-looking CGI, nonsensical plot developments, and laughable execution. The only thing that prevents it from having the worst payoff to a mystery in a movie this year is the fact that Star Trek Into Darkness came out.

The Wolverine is not without merit. Hugh Jackman continues to make for a charismatic action star. The opening scenes, as I said, are strong, with good atmosphere and pacing. And if you’ve shown up to see Wolverine fight ninjas, you’ll definitely get that. But it’s not something you can really call anywhere near “good”. I’m once again left with the unshakable feeling that the only director who ever really cared about this franchise was Matthew Vaughn. I know everyone’s been harping on this for 13 years now, but: costumes. What kind of madness is it that Hugh Jackman has been playing a superhero for six movies now and has yet to actually wear a costume? You want to get me excited about a Wolverine movie? Bring out the yellow spandex, then we’ll talk.

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  • edharris1178

    I actually didn’t mind the first Wolverine movie that much (it’s a guilty pleasure for me), this one was sort of on the same level. Not really much story to get into, some decent action but little else outside of Jackman’s natural charisma.

  • nejiblue

    Yeah bring out his ridiculous looking yellow and blue spandex outfit and we’ll talk. Something comic book geeks will never get: What looks good in comics and animation is not guaranteed to look as good in live action. Not like avengers used hawk-eye’s costume, or thor’s cap. Hell, what hawk-eye was dressed in the avengers movie was not that different from the x-men outfits from the original x-men movies. I mean, did you need it to tell it’s wolverine? Is the fucking hairstyle and claws not enough to clue you in on who he is? I have the same response to you that I would to someone who bitches over changes from a book to a movie(how my father reacted to starship troopers the movie for example):

    Get. The. Fuck. Over. It.

    And if you can’t, reread the original comics or rewatch the 90’s cartoon show and stay away from anything new with the character.

    • Ok, first, we can do without the self-righteous attitude, thank you. Or at the very least, save it for when have some basic grasp on the actual issue in contention. Because you clearly don’t at the moment. This “you hate it because it’s different and you’re a GEEK!!” shit? Not gonna fly with me.

      So let me spell this out for you. The issue is not “this looks different from my preferred version, therefore it is inferior.” Wolverine not wearing a costume is not a problem because he normally wears one in the comics. It’s a problem because superheroes with costumes are infinitely more interesting looking than superheroes without. And leaving out the costumes is a problem because it belies the inherent timidity with which Bryan Singer and most other directors to tackle this franchise have handled things. They are afraid of the inherent flair and bombast of comics, and they make poorer translations as a result. Here’s something you realism fanatics will never get (since we’re making broad generalizations with regards to character): Comics are camp. Inherently, inescapably camp. Comics are loud, colorful, and melodramatic, even when they’re trying to be “realistic”. And it doesn’t matter to what medium you translate it, they remain camp, because camp is not a medium exclusive genre. And removing the camp is to remove it’s most vital element. So forgive me if “Stupid haircut and wifebeater man” is an infinitely less interesting look to me than a colorful outfit that screams of animalistic rage.

      • StevePotter

        I think a problem that a lot of people would have with the costume is that most people would find it ugly. Or at least I know I would. Yellow’s kind of a garish color, and I *do* think Wolverine’s costume is just very silly, even for a comic book. If Wolverine needs a costume, they should go the “Captain America” route, toning down the colors a bit and making it look more practical than stylish.

        Also, at this point there would definitely need to be a story reason for Wolverine to wear a costume. He’s gone five movies without one, he can’t suddenly don one without a reason.

        The obvious answer, of course, would be to introduce the costume in “Days of Future Past.” He could be wearing it for a reason that has to do with the alternate timeline (perhaps to inspire fear in the humans, or hope in the mutants, or to protect his identity (which wouldn’t really work) or something).

        Of course, I think a lot of people would find the mask problematic. I think it’s pretty easy to say that Hugh Jackman is one of the most, if not THE most conventionally attractive actors cast as a superhero- period. Covering that up would seem unjust to some, but not doing so defeats the purpose of a costume.

        I do think there is some validity to the fact that some things would work better on print than on screen. Wolverine’s costume seems like it would be extremely difficult to do right, and if they fucked it up (which is very, very possible), I think it’d be way worse than doing no costume at all.

        Besides, costumes alone do not make comic books campy. (Also, I think you should have said “SUPERHERO comics are camp.” Last time I checked, “Maus” wasn’t particularly campy). The banter between villain and hero, the overblown action scenes, the gadgets (like in Batman), the powers themselves. The trick is, however, not to REMOVE the camp, but to tone it in a way that is more acceptable to modern tastes, because these days campiness is NOT greatly appreciated by the wider audience (we still haven’t recovered from “Batman & Robin.”)

        I think the best approach to dealing with camp has been in “Captain America”, “The Avengers” or “X-Men: First Class”, where all of the campy elements were there, but they weren’t in your face, and there was a definite tongue in cheek about the whole affair. But at the same time, it was very affectionate, showing true love for everything they were doing. (None of this is meant to say that these are the best superhero films ever made, just to say that they’re probably some of the better “adaptations”, although faithfulness to the source material should never be the end-all be-all of superhero movie discussions, or any adaptations in general, because if you’re going to judge something SOLELY based on how close to it source it stayed, you are being rather close-minded and are intentionally distancing yourself from brilliant films with new takes and bold ideas. Sorry. Little digression about a pet peeve. Faithfulness to character IS important, but reinventions can be good, but only if done right. Anyway).

        Also, and this is just a minor thing, and you can call me all the names you want, but I am the son of an English teacher, and these things are important to me: You said “And removing the camp is to remove it’s most vital element.” It should be ITS most vital element, without an apostrophe, which shows possession as opposed to the contraction “it is.” I know, I know, grammar Nazi, but it’s a pet peeve of mine.

        Anyway. A bit of a more level-headed and conversational difference of opinions for ya there.

        • I agree wholeheartedly on Cap, Avengers, and especially First Class. Easily the best X-men movie so far, precisely for the reasons you said. It got the spirit of the comics right and wasn’t ashamed of what it was.

          I think there are several ways to bring the costume in. One would just be an outright reboot (which I actually thought First Class was, I was oddly confused when Bryan Singer came back and brought the old cast with him), but that’s unlikely to happen. You could use Days of Future Past as a springboard for a series makeover. Assuming it plays out similarly to the comics, whatever movie comes next (X-men 6?) will feature an X-men team who just barely stopped a mutant from publicly assassinating a senator, so mutants won’t exactly be in public favor over that. So maybe Cyclops or Emma Frost if she’s on the team then will decide they need a PR makeover, to ditch the black ops look and dress more like superheroes. So they start handing out the yellow costumes, and when Wolverine asks why his has a mask Cyclops can make a joke like “so no one can see you scowling at them” or something like that.

          And I’m not particularly picky about costume details as long as it’s (see, I can use “It’s” correctly, lol) recognizably Wolverine and not self-conscious. Captain America’s Avengers outfit is a great example to draw from. And as for Hugh Jackman’s gorgeous face, typically Wolverine’s cowl is very easily removed like a hood just like Cap’s, so you could easily have it down during dialog scenes and up when it’s time for the action. Putting his “game face” on, as it were. And there’s a variety of options for the “ears”, if they can be called that. They were significantly smaller when the character first appeared and have fluctuated in size since, depending on the artist. Personally I find the Wolverine costume from the animated series “Wolverine and the X-men” a good model to follow, since that series had a rather cinematic feel to it anyway.

          • StevePotter

            Yeah, the continuity errors in “First Class” make it seem more like a reboot than anything. The movie had the good fortune to be entertaining enough to make it forgivable.

      • tedzey71

        ‘Comics are camp. Inherently, inescapably camp. Comics are loud, colorful, and melodramatic, even when they’re trying to be “realistic”.’

        Yeah… this is a problem for me. It’s also a generalization that comes with animation. People like Harvey Pekar, Art Speigelman, Marjane Satrapi and Daniel Clowes would spend their careers making comic books that contradict this generalization. However we can also look at superhero comics the same way as well. John Constantine never wore a costume. Morpheus from the Sandman comics never wore a costume, and I’m almost certain this list would go on and on. Sure, you can argue that “Hellblazer” and “The Sandman” weren’t traditional superhero comics, however I would happily disagree. Outside of crossing over into other DC comics with other heroes as well as similar tropes that to me make it alternative superhero comics… but still in the spectrum of superhero comics nonetheless. Hell, my favorite superhero comic is “The Incredible Hulk” for most reasons that the character really isn’t a traditional superhero. As often as Marvel tries to make him more of a traditional superhero actually works against it’s favor. Back to the point… I thought it was a pretty ballsy move to take away logan’s costume that actually worked for the best. The tone of the X-men movies Bryan Singer was constructing called for it. Like Batman, the x-men are characters that can change with time and have gone through different transitions be it campy 60s’ fare, the EXTREME 90s’, and now the dark and grounded tone of today’s comic books. I guess the point that i’m trying to make is that some comic books (even superhero comics) don’t have to be “campy.” It’s not exclusive to comic books, and doesn’t have to be because comics are a medium that’s stories don’t have to be restricted to “camp.”

        I think this is just my way of saying “No… for the love of god, no! Don’t put Logan in that damn wrasslin’ costume from the 70s’!” You’re my boy, Josh! From one boother to another, there’s no reason to have him in a costume like that!

        • If we saw Hugh Jackman in yellow and blue Satanic Mickey Mouse spandex, people would probably say: “I didn’t know Boy From Oz was getting a film adaptation!” :P

        • Okay yes, as StevePotter said, I probably should’ve specified that “Superhero comics are camp”. But camp they are. Also, though I never got around to actually reading Hellblazer, Sandman was absolutely camp. albeit dark camp. This is where I think you might be misunderstanding my point. Camp doesn’t necessarily mean “comedy”. It does not exclude the possibility of drama or intellectual, thought-provoking discussion. This is because, despite how the term is often used, “camp” is not a genre, it’s a style. It simply means over-the-top, grandiose. And Superhero comics are very much that, by their very nature.

          (Also, what do you mean Morpheus never wore a costume? You don’t call long, flowing black robes and a HR Giger helmet a costume?)

          • tedzey71

            I wouldn’t say Morpheus has “a costume.” Doesn’t wear it all the time, isn’t used as a symbol or identification throughout the comics, and is often wearing different clothes like in “Men of Good Fortune” for each different era or any of the short stories as a matter of fact. That, and he doesn’t have an identity or alter-ego.. it’s just Morpheus, an endless entity for dreams… a construct, not a person. In short, it’s not a costume when he changes appearance depending on how others see it.

            Also… i’m just in disagreement towards all superhero comics being campy. I don’t think it’s denial since campy refers to things being absurd, play up for laughs and most of the time self aware that it’s phony. That’s the definition of “campy.” To paraphrase, “To describe what’s amusing because it’s intended to be strange or shocking seeming to ridicule itself.” http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/american-english/campy It’s synonyms include “daffy, foolish, gagged up, jokey, hammy, melodramatic, silly, tomfoolery, wacky…” all of which aren’t words I can describe superhero comics that Alan Moore writes. Some comic books have things that allow you to suspend your disbelief, sure. However depending on the tone of the story, it’s taken seriously. Is “V for Vendetta” campy? No, it set s a relatively serious tone throughout the story. If one moment is played up for laughs, does it become “campy?” If you look at the story as a while, not entirely. Hell, “The Dark Knight” as silly as the joker is isn’t really “a campy” toned movie, and I love it as an interpretation of Batman.

            I don’t know, for me to say that superheroes are by their very nature campy contradict stories that certain writers write for characters sillier in one story line, and serious the next. It would mean that they’re inevitably absurd all the time, which seems like a generalization. Looks like you’re going Cronenberg on me!

          • Okay, I think you’re splitting hairs a bit on the word “costume”. It doesn’t matter if he has a secret identity, or if there is some instory explanation for why this is a totally normal thing for him to be wearing. Just because you call Superman’s outfit “traditional Kryptonian armor” or Aquaman’s shirt “Atlantean chainmail” doesn’t mean they cease to be costumes. And just because Hulk’s costume is just his skin tuning green and growing inhumanly large and muscled instead of an outfit he wears does not set him apart visually from costumed heroes. What matters is that they have outlandish appearances that set them apart from the mundane. And even when wearing era-specific clothing, Morpheus is always a striking, supernatural figure with pale white skin, glowing eyes, and wild black hair.

            Also, there are several ways to define camp: http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=campy

            But the one common thread is that camp is the characteristic of being over the top. You don’t think Watchmen is over the top? Rorschach’s deliberately corny film noir dialogue, meant to emphasize how he takes himself far to seriously? A naked blue god, making a 2001-esque transcendence to higher understanding? A grandiose Shakespearean antagonist with a goofy silver age plot pumped up with a healthy dose of nightmare fuel and mindblowing, far-reaching consequences? You don’t think V for Vendetta is over the top? A phantom of the opera-like masked figure plotting to bring down the government with elaborate traps and psychological torture, all using a great flair for the theatrical? Dark camp is still camp (see Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, for example), and camp can still tackle serious issues. And yes, Nolan’s Batman has as much of the camp factor sucked out as possible, but traces of it remain.

          • tedzey71

            I think this is a conversation I’ll save for Skype. Up to this point, this is what I believe:
            1) Don’t put Logan in those damn tights for these movies.
            2) Camp does not always used to describe an over the top movie
            3) Not all Superheroes are campy. What you use to describe the premise to V does not make it campy when the movie set in tone is dark and dystopian-like. Therefore 1984 would be considered “campy.”

      • Thomas Stockel

        I dunno. I thought the outfits in the X-Men movies looked decent, although I think the more colorful First Class uniforms looked much nicer. And yeah, part of that was because they were more colorful.

        So I do think you can have a decent compromise between a realistic approach and the comics and they shouldn’t be afraid of throwing in some yellow and blue in there. It’s true; Wolverine out of costume does look kinda dull.

        • The_Stig

          I’ve always thought that the Ultimate version of Wolvie’s costume would translate way better to a film.

  • Cristiona

    How much of it is the script and how much of it is just the fact that Wolverine isn’t much of a lead character? I know there were a few arcs with him that were supposed to be really good, but he’s a supporting character, not a lead.
    They keep making movies focused solely on him. I don’t care how charasmatic Jackman is, it’s just not going to work. It’d be like making a movie staring the Minions from Despicable Me………

    • I get what you’re saying, as I acknowledged, Wolverine as a character is often very one note. But I’ve seen him in rare cases written in a interesting way, one of said cases being the comic that this movie is based on.

      • That Scottish Guy

        I Think its well, unqiue Costume Wolvie wears in the FoX-Men films. [YES, I SAID COSTUME, ZOMG , WHAT COSTUME YOU ASK?! pray tell young one, it is the jacket.] its a conssitant fit that works with the character, h honestly said “screw the black leather” and pretty much wore jeans and a jacket,and honestly it fits the personality of Wolverine as a character. I know, I know, your going to bitch and moan about the yellow spandex, and mask, as much as I would LOVE to see that, it ain’t gonna happen with FoX-Men. However it seems the new X-men film IS going to have costumes, and Magneato did have a costume in the “prequal/UniverseA” and “Original Films/UniversB” So I honestly don’t get all the NYA-ing about costumes for all of them are, and the black leather and spandex was also pretty consistent and worked as a uniformity continue the universal brand that the School & universe FoX-Men set itself up for. [or as bad as it is, its still a costume,just one most people don’t like because it doesn’t feel special or unique as the rest of the team is.]

  • hod

    I think the overrated heroes tv show is to blame. There were no costumes and they wanted everything to be serious. Even smaillville had the no tights no flights bs.

    • hod

      smallville

      • ThatScottishGuy

        Until the End, AND it did broke its no flights rule in season 4. [or was it 5?]

  • greg

    seriously what flaws did the third one have that weren’t in the others

    • The_Stig

      For one thing it was directed by Brett Ratner.

      • michael

        that’s not a flaw

        • The_Stig

          Clearly you’ve never seen a Brett Ratner film. Lucky bastard.

          • greg

            I’ve seen most of them
            I liked a few
            I hated a few
            I was indifferent to the rest
            As a director I give him 6.5 out of 10

    • DaMischi

      I also never understood the hatred for X-Men 3. It might be because I haven’t read all 2000 issues of the comic. Everyone complains about Angel, and how he sucked.. I asked: who is angel? The other guys, I knew, from previous movies, and the movie in itself seemed to conclude said previous ones, pretty well. I think people tend to get bothered with the third (or the LAST) part of any successful trilogy, mostly with little nitpicky complains: Spiderman 3 (That stupid Emo hair and the 5 second of dancing), Return of the Jedi (these Ewoks..), Back to the Future 3 (Clara clayton? Doc doesn’t need a girlfriend), Matrix Revolution (suddenly part 2 seems good), Return of the King (all these endings, and why didn’t they just fly into Mordor), Dark Knight Rises (Why Bane? And Batmans voice is now stupid…still…)
      These are all good movies, in my opinion. Not necessarily better than their predecessors, but nonetheless still watchable and a bit unfairly rated.

  • greg

    I agree with you about the yellow spandex

    that line in the first movie about yellow spandex was really insulting because it implied that the costumes would look dumb on film but the fifth one had what was essentially yellow spandex and that looked all right

    • The_Stig

      It’s not the lack of yellow spandex that ever bothered me, what bothered me about it is what they chose instead. Black leather jackets and pants. Man, that’s just lazy. The sequels got a LITTLE better with the costumes, but not much. The sooner the X-Men film rights revert back to Marvel, the better. Maybe we’ll FINALLY have a real X-Men movie in which actual X-Men are actual characters rather than window dressing to show off how cool Wolverine is.

      • tedzey71

        I don’t know, I always felt a leather jacket and jumpsuit with yellow stripes was enough as far as a get-up for these films. No need to jump the shark even further after “X-Men Origins…”

        • David F White

          I am still hoping for a Stand-Alone Magneto Movie!! Magneto is my favorite character!!

  • Cyvaris

    On the “he shouldn’t remember this”, it seemed to me that he didn’t remember a good deal of his past with Yashida, at least at the beginning when stereotypical Japanese School girl showed up to gift him the Katana of awesomeness +5. After that…things sort of broke down, but you could chalk that up to him slowly regaining some memory.

  • MichaelANovelli

    Personally, I’m holding out for the Preacher movie. The one that will never come…

  • imright

    Thanks for another bitch session. You obviously don’t know anything about wolverine or samurai. Samurai killed, they didn’t talk it out over tea. Have a nice day.

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