The Wolverine reminds us why 20th Century Fox should stop making Marvel movies.
Marvel seems like an invincible studio these days. Fresh off the billion dollar successes of The Avengers and Iron Man 3, one might assume this was always a sleeping giant just waiting to be awakened. Few will remember the reality, when in the late 90's Marvel was nearly bankrupt and in a fit of economic desperation, sold the distribution rights to several of its top characters. Pawning off X-Men and Fantastic Four to Fox, and Spider-man to Sony seemed like a way to keep the Marvel name out there, even if the comic book side died entirely. Since then, two camps of nerds have emerged to debate its merits: the comic book purists and the movie fans. None has received the backlash of groans and disdain more than 20th Century Fox, who created a great-looking series of X-Men movies, but failed to adhere to the nearly 50 years of established canon. On the way to making the accidentally great X-Men: First Class, they also created the unpopular (Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Elektra) and the incoherent (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), further angering fans who just wanted to watch great movies. Has Fox reversed that trend with their newest film, The Wolverine? Sadly, no.
Here's the plot: Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Real Steel) is given the chance to lose his Adamantium claws to save the life of Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), a man he previously saved during WWII when Nagasaki was bombed. Along the way, he gets involved in a deadly turf war involving the Yakuza clan and an assassination plot of Yashida's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) by her father. Underneath this layer is the mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), whose infection of Wolverine with a device that keeps him from regenerating forces Yashida's adopted pixie daughter Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to defend Logan while helping to uncover the plot. In the end, the three sides meet, with Logan saving the day while battling the machine Silver Samurai, whose host is not whom you would expect.
The Wolverine wants desperately to be taken seriously, and for awhile we're buyers. The story early on is deep, the characters dynamic, and the idea of a mortal Wolverine plays pretty well. Playing in his fifth X-Men movie, Jackman is Wolverine - from the scowl, the 'bub' mockery, and the brooding - there is no doubt that he is the perfect fit. Jackman occupies the role totally and without equal, although many females in the audience will be lulled into enjoying his chiseled physique while missing several key quality control issues which ultimately derail the film. Simply put, The Wolverine suffers from terrible CGI, offers nothing new action-wise, and introduces terribly contrived mutant enemies for our hero to battle. These problems become apparent early on and painfully stick around like the disease infecting Logan's body. Moreover, when the predictable third act is presented, our villain is so poorly inadequate to the task of defeating Logan and his team that we're left wondering why Fox picked a character for whom Wolverine never fought in the particular comic that the movie was based on. That might seem picky, but I think movie and comic fans alike can agree on the idea that a great action film starts with a thoroughly hated bad guy. When Logan comes upon Viper, we're not impressed in the slightest, and The Silver Samurai - depicted here as a cross between Thor's Destroyer and Iron Man - could have been easily beatable by almost anyone associated with the X-Men franchise.
And then there's Wolverne's Adamantium claws, which supposedly cannot be broken by anything once they've cooled and hardened - not even from Samurai's hot Adamantium sword. Fox rewrites its own movie canon established in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, further confusing the audience and demonstrating that their idea of canon is whatever it wants to be at that particular time. Take away the stunning post-credit scene (one of the best of any Marvel film), and most will probably stumble out of the darkened theater feeling extremely disappointed. Failure here lies squarely on Director James Mangold's (3:10 to Yuma) shoulders, as well as Writers Scott Frank (Minority Report) and Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard), who apparently forgot that a film has three acts, and that a deep story like The Wolverine must by balanced with superb action and a great villain to keep audiences from staring at their watches.
The Wolverine does a decent job of getting our hopes up, only to fall way short of its early high laurels. Perhaps it's time that Fox give back these properties to Marvel, so that any lingering anger and confusion among fans can finally be put to rest. We deserve better, although we're probably destined to see many more of these before Marvel takes more aggressive steps to get the rights back. For now, I'd wait for it as a rental - it's just not worth your time. The Wolverine is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language and has a runtime of 126 minutes.
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