Monday, July 29, 2013

The Wolverine review

Is it possible to write a review of The Wolverine that doesn't mention how bad X-Men Origins: Wolverine was? Probably not, so let's get that out of the way first.

I've been a fan of the character since I was in middle school, and I remember being really pleased with Hugh (maybe a bit too tall) Jackman's performance in the X-Men movies. I'm actually one of the few who didn't hate the third X-Men movie, even though I think that it was the weakest of the three.

I had high hopes for a solo Wolverine movie, and the trailer made it look like it would be pretty cool. Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment. I don't remember much about it being particularly bad, aside from the horribly bad CGI claws and lame explanation as to why he lost his memory. The main problem was that the whole thing just felt like it was going through the motions, and I couldn't get invested in any of the characters, especially considering that they were trying to cram as many mutants in there as possible, even if they had no reason to be there. (Hello, Gambit.)

My hopes for a good Wolverine movie were rekindled when it was announced that Darren Aronofsky was going to be directing a new one. It had a lot of good things going for it: a good director, the fact that it would be a stand-alone story, and it would be based on the great Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine mini-series from the early 1980s that I read and loved as a kid (that still holds up pretty well). My enthusiasm began to wane when Aronofsky dropped out of the project, but when I heard that James Mangold was going to replace him, I figured that there was a good chance that they'd make something decent.

I started to get a little bit skeptical when I saw the previews. Yeah, it took place in Japan, but the plot didn't seem to be the same as the one from the mini-series. Also, the reviews haven't been fantastic, even though it's currently at a 66% on Rotten Tomatoes, which still counts as "fresh" and is 10% higher than Man of Steel. I guess you can say that I approached this movie with cautious optimism.

So what did I think? I really liked it...a lot. Do I think that it's a great movie that's destined to be a classic? No. Do I think that it transcends the genre like Christopher Nolan's Batman movies? No. However, it's at least as good as any of the X-Men films, maybe even a little bit better. The one thing that might put it over those films is that the action scenes are really well-done (and that's the one thing that I think that the third X-Men movie did better than the Brian Singer-directed ones). They were pretty intense, and even though some critics have complained that they come one after another, it just felt relentless to me - but in a good, adrenaline-spiking sort of way.

The most important thing that this film does well is that it made me feel invested in the characters, Logan in particular. The problem with the last one was that I just simply didn't care about what happened to anybody, and that to me is the worst thing that a movie can do. I can overlook various plot problems if I feel like what's happening matters. I remember the moment in the last Wolverine movie where his love interest died and I felt absolutely nothing. I didn't care about her, and I didn't care about his reaction.

Like any good superhero movie, this one really digs into why having superpowers would probably as much of a burden than anything else. In the case of Wolverine, it was cool to see his apparent immortality be explored in a way that I don't think they've ever really done in the comics. Also, while he's lost his powers here and there, I've never seen it done to such an emotional effect as how this movie handled it. What really worked for me is that the hero was given an actual character arc here, and I didn't feel like he was the same guy at the end of the film as he was in the beginning. He learned to finally accept who and what he is, and I hope that's reflected in the next X-Men movie.

I should also mention how this relates to the original mini-series, for those of you who have read it. It's definitely not a straightforward adaptation. However, it's clearly inspired by that story, and it touches on all of its major themes (Wolverine as a Ronin) while introducing some other pretty interesting ones.

Overall, I say that if you're a fan of the comics and/or the character, you'll enjoy yourself in the very worst case scenario. If you're normally not into this sort of a thing, this won't do anything for you. I always like to give my wife's perspective on these, as she will almost always go and see them with me, but there are only a few that she really likes a lot. In the case of this one, she was entertained, and even called it a "great" movie on her Facebook status. Maybe it's just because that Hugh Jackman fella is pretty handsome though.

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