Friday, April 8, 2016

The Wolverine (2013) (Movie Review)


      It’s been long debated who the greatest comic book super hero of all time is, some say it’s Batman, others say Spider-Man, most say it’s Superman, and really it’ll always be up for debate. As I’ve said many times before, my personal favorite superhero of all time is and always will be Wolverine. This is the guy who stands apart from other hero’s, and just seems to have everything I want from a great character. Wolverines the ultimate outsider, and his greatest battle is the one within himself. He’s more wild, out of control and doesn’t really have a code in which to fight his enemies ... he’ll just waist them. However, underneath his beastly, bad ass persona is a warrior with a conscience to do what is honorable, and in the end he’ll always be there for his allies. He’s appropriately been the main character of the film series, but I’ve always felt he disserved more than that, like his own stand alone films. The first attempt at a solo Wolverine film was the 2009 movie titled “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, which was disastrous and didn’t do this iconic superhero justice at all. Thankfully in 2013, my favorite hero was given one more chance to shine in his own stand alone film simply titled “The Wolverine”. Strait to the point, this movie is to me what “X2: X-Men United” was for everyone else. Most people would regard this as just an average good superhero film, but I personally love “The Wolverine”, I think it’s one of the best films in the series, and a more then satisfying film for my favorite superhero.


      Back at the end of “X-Men 3: The Last Stand”, Wolverine was forced to kill Jean Grey, who was taken over by the Phoenix force, and threatened to nuke San Francisco. Unfortunately, that also meant killing the woman he loved, and this decision would leave a damaging impact on his soul. Years have gone by, he’s left the X-Men, lives like a bum in Canada, has frightening dreams of a ghostly Jean Grey haunting him, and has completely forgotten what it means to be a hero. During this time, his memories have slowly begun to resurface, and one particular memory involves a Japanese solder he rescued way back in World War 2. Soon, he’s approached by a young, sword wielding Asian girl named Yukio, who insists that Wolverine go to Japan to meet the very man he saved all those years ago.
The man’s old and at deaths door, so he wants Wolverines healing powers, and has the means to take them. This would give Wolverine the chance to live a normal life without the burden of immortality. The man’s also the leader of Japans most powerful company. If he dies leadership will pass onto his granddaughter Marico, which will make her a target to be assassinated by her wicked father, who aims to take the company for himself. Through a series of events, the old man apparently dies, the assassins make their move and Wolverine takes on the role of a watchful guardian and protector for Marico. Together they race through Japan fighting off Yakuza criminals, armed ninja’s and a deadly female mutant named Viper, who’s immobilized Wolverine’s healing powers. Now our hero finds himself in his most vulnerable position ever, yet a healing journey has actually begun, because the more he commits to protecting Marico ... the more it heals his once broken soul. Over time a relationship blooms between the two, secrets are discovered, and Wolverine finds himself rediscovering what it means to be a hero once again.


       It’s a far simpler premise for Wolverine, as opposed to a complicated origin story, and it focuses more on his personal journey, rather than just a series of random action scenes. I really love the tone and passing of this movie. Much like “Spider-Man 2”, it doesn’t feel like a typical comic book film, it actually feels like a movie that just happens to feature a comic book character. It’s not trying to “wow” the audience with non-stop comic book spectacles, and the passing is subdued enough without ever feeling boring. Unlike “X2: X-Men United”, this film still has a really nice kick to it, and has some great action highlights that are perfectly in-sync with the simplicity of the story. More than anything, I love the location of Japan, which actually feels like a character in of itself. I love the surroundings, I love the colors, I love the culture, and it really helps separate this film from the other X-Men movies. For the most part, those movies all have the exact same comic book feel and tone ... which I still love, but it’s just a real breath of fresh air to get an X-Men movie that feels more like a Japanese martial arts flick. I’ve always been a fan of martial arts cinema, and it’s great to see one of my favorite comic book hero’s in this kind of setting. The visual style in this film is also fantastic, as it looks like a Japanese comic or anime that’s come to life in live action. On a side note, I also like that there really aren’t too many familiar Hollywood actors. It creates an atmosphere where it feels like a real world with real people as opposed to watching popular actors play characters.

        
       On that note, the characterization of Wolverine is the absolute best in any of the movies, and I honestly think its Huge Jackman’s best performance yet. He’s still bad ass, but he’s also more grateful to the people he meets, he’s more honorable, witty, and very observant of what’s going on around him. Whenever he talks to a character regarding their personal backgrounds or Japanese culture in general, he’s very open to what they have to say, and it sticks with him. This movie also makes good on killing Jean Grey back in “X-Men 3: The Last Stand”. I initially hated that, but without that ending, this movie just wouldn’t have worked as well as it did. I think it’s awesome how Jean Grey makes these ghostly appearances throughout the film, and I like how she acts differently whenever she reappears. It really depends on what Wolverine is feeling, like it’s a part of his subconscious, and it further highlights that inner conflict he’s going through. Plus, it’s just great to see Famke Janssen reprise her signature role from the previous films.  


         I also really like the supporting cast, I mean I went into this movie just for Wolverine, but I’d really like to see more of these side characters. Marico is a mostly average girl friend character, but she’s very easy to like, and she just has this warm presence. Actress Tao Okamoto is very passionate in the role, she’s incredibly beautiful, and I’m not sure why, but for me Wolverine has always looked better with an Asian girl for a love interest. Which reminds me, let’s talk about Wolverines bad ass little side kick Yukio. She’s a mutant who receives visions of the future, and a skilled sword fighter. Honestly, it’s an exhilarating glee moment whenever she pulls out her swords and gets into the action. Despite her young age, she’s actually a perfect side kick to go along with Wolverine, and I love how the two work off each other. Actress Rila Fukushima also gives one hell of a good performance in the role, and just like Huge Jackman, I never see an actress there, it’s just that character alive and in the flesh. Now I’m sure this is very unintentional, but from this point on, a main character from the X-Men films will be played by an actor or actress from the “Game of Thrones” TV series. Yeah, Rila Fukushima played a priestess in the “Game of Thrones” episode “High Sparrow”, and ironically she shared a scene with Peter Dinklage, who would later play the main villain in the next X-Men film. There’s actually a moment in which the two exchange a silent look, and I’d like to think that right there the two realized they were both fellow actors from the X-Men film series.


        Now if the movie has any real short comings, it would probably be with the villains. I don’t hate any of them, but they certainly don’t hold a candle to other villains from the series. The malevolent Viper is our main antagonist, and has toxic powers ranging from poisoned fingernails, to acid spit. The performance is mega camp, and the character herself is about as generic as they get. In fact, I honestly don’t understand what her motivations are, or what she even hopes to gain from anything she does. Having said that, I’ve loved snakes ever sense I was a child, and the concept of an attractive villain with snake like capabilities and persona is actually really fun ... at least on some level. Then there’s Marico’s greedy father Shingen, who has no problem killing his own daughter, just to become chairman of his family company. For the most part, I actually really liked this character, and Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance is very good, but unfortunately he comes off like missed potential. The character is virtually abandoned and killed off way to soon, and I just feel like they could have done more with him. There’s actually a moment in which Wolverine spares his life, which could have led to a good reformation scene, and it would have added some emotional depth to the ending to see him turn good, reuniting with his daughter. Unfortunately, he’s just killed off and forgotten like an extra.

   
      Back to the positives ... the action scenes in this film are outstanding! Honestly, I think these are some of the best of the whole series. There’s no over blown effects, no obvious CGI backdrops, and every action takes place in front of the camera. The sets, locations and props are all interwoven into the fight choreography, and it’s a very impressive display of physical talents and stunt work. It’s also really cool to just see traditional sword fights.
In the previous Wolverine movie, the fighting came off like dirty street brawling with no rhyme or reason. In this movie the fighting is all done with expertly choreographed grace and rhythm, but with just enough urgency to make the danger feel real. Wolverine vs Shingen is honestly one of my favorite duels in the X-Men series. One of the stand out fights takes place on a built train, where Wolverine is stuck on the roof of a fast moving vehicle while fighting the Yakuza assassins. It’s exhilarating, creative and lasts just long enough without over staying its welcome.


       Then there’s the climax in which Wolverine battles a giant metal robot called The Silver Samurai. This admittedly is the only part where the film really feels like a typical comic book movie, and it’s very out of place with the overall tone and feel of what led up to this. Having said that ... this is still a pretty awesome final battle. Seeing Wolverine go up against a robot soldier three times his size is nothing short of bad ass, and the indoor location of this giant tower is really cool as it allows the characters to cover a lot of ground. Not to mention, The Silver Samurai poses a real threat to Wolverine, and he’s the only adversary who can actually cut through his metal claws. Now this portrayal of The Silver Samurai is nothing like it’s source material, which might bother some fans. In both the comic books and the cartoon TV show, The Silver Samurai was actually one of Wolverines most interesting and iconic foes, but I’m all for changes in the movie, as long as it’s done with purpose. See, there’s a twist reveal as to who’s in The Silver Samurai’s armor, and while it’s very predictable, it also works for the story, and I really couldn’t imagine the film ending without this specific confrontation.


       Before I get to my final verdict of the movie, lets first talk about the un-rated extended cut titled "The Unleashed Extended Edition". If you’re going to watch this movie, I highly recommend watching this extended cut over the theatrical version. It’s honestly one of my favorite extended cut’s I’ve ever seen of a movie. Obviously there’s more action and bloodshed, but there’s also more conversations added back into the film that actually carry a lot of meaning and help develop both the story and the characters further. This extended cut also puts my favorite action scene of the whole movie back into the film, and that’s the scene in which Wolverine battles the Black Clan ninjas in the abandoned village. In the theatrical cut, it just showed Wolverine getting captured, but in the extended cut we see the full fight, and it is firkin awesome! There’s ninjas driving motorcycles on rooftops, chain whips, explosions, Yukio drives this massive snow plow and literally shreds the villains in her path ... it’s just crazy awesome! The setting is also really cool, and it’s just a real treat to see both Wolverine and Yukio take on this armed clan of ninjas.


     Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the final after credit scene, and personally I think this is one of the greatest after credit scenes to ever be featured at the end of a superhero movie. Seriously, not even any of the Avengers movies delivered an after credit scene as exciting and epic as this. Two years after the events of the film, Wolverine finds himself at an airport where he sees a TV advertisement for Trask Industries, which foreshadows the villain of the fallowing X-Men movie “Days of Future Past”. Then completely out of the blue, Wolverine is confronted by his arch enemy Magneto, who’s played once again by Ian McKellen. After “X-Men First Class”, I never thought I’d see Ian McKellen back in his signature villain role. Interestingly enough Magneto is actually asking for Wolverine’s help to battle something evil that’s on the horizon. Then I really lost my shit as none other than Professor X played again by Patrick Stewart arrives on the scene. Yeah, after being nuked by Phoenix back in “X-Men 3: The Last Stand”, it was a real thrill to see him alive and in person once again. Now how the heck did he survive, and how did this come to be? Well, neither the movie, nor the series as a whole really explain this, which is annoying, but honestly I don’t care. I was just glad to see Professor X alive and played again by none other than the great Patrick Stewart. 


      In the end, “The Wolverine” is personally one of my favorite films in the X-Men series. It’s an exciting martial arts action thriller, and a worthy stand alone outing for my favorite superhero. It’s by no means a “Perfect” movie, but then again no movie truly is. There are some small things that could have been changed around a little, and some predictable plot turns, but the characters journey is still engaging enough, and the action exciting enough to make the film worthwhile. I think common summer movie audiences might be put off by the films lack of big spectacles, but I sincerely find this film to be such a refreshing off set to all the overly explosive and derivative “Transformers” and “Expendables” movies that we get so often. If you were one of the many people disappointed with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, you’ll be more than satisfied with this film. How can the "X-Men" series possibly get any better? Well ... we'll find out next time when I review “X-Men: Days of Future Past”.

                                           
                                                  I give “The Wolverine” 4 stars out of 5.                                     
                    

     

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