The Best & Worst Of ‘The Wolverine’

Features
by The Playlist Staff
July 29, 2013 2:19 PM
12 Comments
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The Outright Terrible

The Last Act
While the first two acts of "The Wolverine" are dodgy, they're still, more or less, good. They have their problems, but the intent is there and they are stylishly directed and well put together. Then the last act starts and things just go down the tubes. Wolverine gets his powers restored, which saps him of any of the intended dramatic arc and makes him an invincible killing machine once more (instead of a sort-of invincible killing machine, which was what he was for most of the movie) and then the entire story gets burdened by a lame reveal with the old man, who offered Wolverine his mortality, turning out to be the big bad, encased in an adamantium robot suit designed to keep him alive (or something). Also, the lizard woman shows up spitting venom and shedding her skin and some other stuff goes down. Honestly, it's kind of a blur. And after 90 minutes of trying, desperately, to distance itself from the "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" disaster, it becomes an "X-Men"-palooza, with mutants and robots and people precipitously dangling over the sides of really tall buildings. The fact that we never get a clear cut explanation of how, exactly, the old man intends on stealing Wolverine's healing energy, only adds to the muddled nature of the climax (especially since, even more bafflingly, it seems to work!). There are some significant stakes to this scene, after all Wolverine is robbed of his adamantium claws, but it’s ultimately revealed he still has bone claws underneath so... What was the point of that? Nice try? "A" for effort? Even original comic writer Chris Claremont couldn’t hang with the last act. “The third act wasn’t bad, per se, but it was a different tone,” he said diplomatically to Vulture. “That moment he starts motorcycling up the 400 kilometers... he was almost riding into a different movie. It would be interesting to talk to Mangold and ask why they felt they had to go in that direction.”

The Mess That Is The Villain Viper
Actress Svetlana Khodchenkova was terrific in the recent big screen version of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" as Tom Hardy's doomed lover, but in "The Wolverine" she's saddled with an unbelievably awful character who spouts some of the worst dialogue in the entire movie (which is really saying something). Ostensibly, Viper is supposed to be the big screen version of a longtime foil for Captain America and the rest of the Avengers (she's also known as "Lady Hydra," thanks to her association with the HYDRA terrorist group), but that Viper doesn't have any of the bizarre mutant abilities awarded her here. (This makes it seem like Fox just wanted to keep that particular villain away from Disney/"The Avengers" for a little while longer. Classy!) Not only can Viper spit acid (or something), but she also knows all about poisons and is immune to them, bearing an uncomfortable similarity to Uma Thurman's equally groan-worthy character in "Batman & Robin." Additionally, there’s zero motivation for her character other than doing her master’s bidding (twirls fingers manically and laughs). For a movie that strives, so hard, for a certain amount of comic book realism (or at the very least logic), Viper blows all of that out of the water, a WTF-flourish unworthy of "The Wolverine."

The Old Guy Gag
The reveal that the man who summoned Wolverine to Japan was actually the big bad is something that can literally be seen miles away, especially when the villain is encased in a giant robotic suit that obscures his face (who is that in there?). But the gag at the end, after Wolverine has ripped the big robot guy's head off, that—whoa!—the old man is still alive and able to suck Wolverine's powers out of him (through a bizarre and painful inner-bone-claw process that is never sufficiently explained) is the worst kind of "the killer's not really dead" cliche. It just adds to the cluster fuck cacophony of the third act.

The What Could Have Been? Sorta...
Maybe the most disappointing thing about "The Wolverine" is what it could have been. At one point, this was scheduled to be Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to his Oscar-winning sensation "Black Swan," but a number of factors forced him out (not that it was a huge surprise). While James Mangold is a perfectly capable, workmanlike director, it would have been great to see Aronofsky, one of the finest filmmakers working today and an unparalleled stylist, put his distinctive stamp on a big time superhero tentpole (he had been loosely attached to both "Batman: Year One" and "Watchmen" in the past). Little remains of what Aronofsky's intentions were; the script that he was working from by Christopher McQuarrie was so heavily reworked that McQuarrie doesn't even receive a screen credit on the final version and production artwork from the Aronofsky period has yet to see the light of day. So this could be the most tantalizing what-ifs in recent memory, yes? Mmm, not really...

The Christopher McQuarrie Script
Don’t get your hopes up that there’s a brilliant Wolverine still to be made from Christopher McQuarrie’s script. While the “Usual Suspects” writer's draft is significantly different from the final screenplay we see onscreen (by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank) and deviates quite a bit from the movie, it’s just as problematic, if only in a very different way. Hewing closer to the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller “Wolverine” mini-series that dealt with corrupt family politics, shady businesses, family honor and love, it’s still just as convoluted, throwing Viper and Silver Samurai into the mix to add layers of mystery and intrigue. One central difference is that Logan still hasn’t regained his memory, so one of the key ways to lure him to Japan is to intrigue him with the details of who he is and why he was given this adamantium exo-skeletal. None of the existential immortality themes, or a grandfather trying to steal Logan’s healing powers, are there, making for script that is arguably even worse with less emotional and dramatic texture. Maybe this is why Aronofsky bailed?

There are a number of other nuggets to dissect in regards to "The Wolverine," both good and bad. On the good side, there's the movie's scale and pace, which was unusually deliberate for one of these giant Hollywood monsters; Marco Beltrami's score, which is wonderfully evocative, and the Japanese setting, a flourish that turned out to really prove distinctive. On the other side of things, there's the occasionally iffy computer effects and digital photography, which sometimes makes a very expensive movie look very cheap, and the sidelining of Yukio who is far more interesting than the bland Mariko. - Kimber Myers, Drew Taylor, Kevin Jagernauth, Rodrigo Perez, Gabe Toro, Cory Everett

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12 Comments

  • Frank | August 14, 2013 8:14 PMReply

    I agree with JD. The cyborg samurai was pretty unnecessary, but falls in sync with the marvel movie trend of giant robot finales, so I wasn't too surprised. If anything, it introduced mega-machines as a threat to x-men universe in a way that will be hopefully better realized in Days of Future Past.

    My only other gripes were that there should have been a longer ninja fight in front of the castle and that Muriko could've apparently spared wolverine from that whole ordeal by showing him the back door.

  • Frank | August 14, 2013 8:13 PMReply

    I agree with JD. The cyborg samurai was pretty unnecessary, but falls in sync with the marvel movie trend of giant robot finales, so I wasn't too surprised. If anything, it introduced mega-machines as a threat to x-men universe in a way that will be hopefully better realized in Days of Future Past.

    My only other gripes were that there should have been a longer ninja fight in front of the castle and that Muriko could've apparently spared wolverine from that whole ordeal by showing him the back door.

  • Frank | August 14, 2013 8:13 PMReply

    I agree with JD. The cyborg samurai was pretty unnecessary, but falls in sync with the marvel movie trend of giant robot finales, so I wasn't too surprised. If anything, it introduced mega-machines as a threat to x-men universe in a way that will be hopefully better realized in Days of Future Past.

    My only other gripes were that there should have been a longer ninja fight in front of the castle and that Muriko could've apparently spared wolverine from that whole ordeal by showing him the back door.

  • JD | August 3, 2013 3:23 PMReply

    I would probably disagree with most of the above. I wasnt expecting much when I went to see this movie but I was very pleasantly surprised. I thought the train sequence was very well done. I found the romance between Wolverine & Mariko believable. I liked how the middle part of the film, once they got off the train, slowed down & was more character based. The romance was allowed to develop between them. The only thing that I didnt like & I would agree with the above assessment was the last part of the film. That robot thing wasnt interesting. It was very much like the fight between Superman & General Zod - too much special effects. I'm surprised that ye didnt bring up the scenes in which Japenesse characters sometimes spoke Japenesse to each other, then english other times. They had subtitles when they spoke in Japenesse. Would have been more believable if they continued to speak Japenesse to each other. Apart from those two issues & maybe that it took Yukio far too long to come to Wolverine's rescue at the end (why didnt she come up with him when he rode the bike up), I really liked this film.

  • Rick | August 2, 2013 12:03 PMReply

    I figured his "want to die" is not the same as "sure, take my power." Although one would facilitate the other, Wolvie who is depressed and guilt-ridden most of the movie would rather live in his own purgatory than grant his power to someone who may not be able to handle it. Sort of like Joss Whedon's Angel, a vampire cursed with a soul and would lose that soul if he ever found true happiness. Since he has the soul though and all the guilt that comes with it, he avoids true happiness so as to not become an evil creature again.

  • CJJ | July 31, 2013 6:38 AMReply

    This was a great film, one of the best superhero films I've seen, maybe my favourite X-Men film and practically all of these criticisms are bull, and I will explain why. Wolverine stuck around for the funeral and because he lost his healing ability. It's understandable for him to want to stay and find out what the hell happened to him. I don't remember the 'wanting to die' theme continuing, just him trying to find out what to live for. He was pretty vulnerable without his healing and against an adamantium enemy, he was greatly at risk. Remember how the Silver Samurai cut off his claws? This is set after The Last Stand so of course he's pretty hung up about losing the love of his life, someone whom he actually killed. I liked the romance, it was pretty well done imo. Only perhaps Viper was extraneous, other than her, there weren't too many characters, there were like six, don't know how you thought that there were too many. We didn't need to see blood gushing all over the place, I hate this complaint. Blood wasn't really necessary to see. It would've been cool but it wouldn't affect the quality of the film and would only alienate a lot of people with the upped rating. The post credits scene wasn't cheesy at all and it didn't undo anything that preceeded it. The last act was the weakest part of the film but still pretty entertaining. Wah wah about Aronofsky, that guy who made one liked film so he definitely would've made an incredible Wolverine film, that's speculative rubbish. He left long ago and Mangold did a great job. I liked the script, why would we want to see Wolverine wanting to know how he got an adamantium skeleton, we've already gone through that in the last film, it would've been boring. The existential immortality theme made the film so interesting, why would you want that taken away? Yukio was awesome, I'd love to see her in either the next Wolverine film or Days of Future Past but she did have plenty to do in this film. She was hardly sidelined for Mariko.

  • JD | July 30, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    Correction: it's an adamantium ENDO-skeleton. Tony Stark's Iron Man suit is an exo-skeleton.

  • Josh | July 30, 2013 12:31 AMReply

    The Viper/Madame HYDRA thing bothered me since day one, and as expected it was a total disaster. Just another way for FOX to mess the characters up, i.e. Weapon X program not being Canadian, Cyclops, Gambit, Rogue doing nothing but whine a lot, Mystique being Charles' half sister, etc...

  • T. | July 29, 2013 8:52 PMReply

    It's hara-kiri, not "hari kari." It is the spoken term. Seppuku is the written term.

  • Marcus Silvera | July 29, 2013 6:56 PMReply

    Just wanted to say, in regards to the train sequence and the city not looking real. I worked on a few of those shots. And the city was real, it wasn't CG. So who are you to judge if you don't know the difference?

  • Jamie | July 29, 2013 4:49 PMReply

    We took all three generations of the family to see the film and in reading your analysis, I kept agreeing totally and then saying, "BUT!!". The biggest but of all being that there was something for everyone. That they tried to shoehorn it all in to one film was probably a mistake, but that a whole family could watch and enjoy most if not all and even different sections of that film while talking about it afterwards is a very good thing. Certainly something not achieved by virtually every other movie available. My personal quibble was that the romances either with Jean or Mariko just felt lame and out of context. The best was Jackman's acting talents and the believability of Logan's turmoil and his new sidekick that I hope may turn up in all her red-headed spunkiness in some future X-Men film with or without the clawed one. Now on to Days of Future Past which with any luck will finally deliver Hugh from Wolverine and into more substantial Oscar worthy roles.

  • Mike R. | July 29, 2013 3:30 PMReply

    True, The Wolverine didn't touch X-Men Origins: Wolverine's opening, BUT take a look at the X-Men openings/total grosses:

    X-Men - Opening - $54.5 Mil. / Total Worldwide Gross: $157.3 Mil.
    X2: X-Men United - Opening: $85.6 Mil. / TWG: $215 Mil.
    X-Men: The Last Stand - Opening: $103 Mil. / TWG: $234.4 Mil.
    X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Opening: $85.1 Mil. / TWG: $179.9 Mil.
    X-Men: First Class - Opening: $55.1 Mil. / TWG: $146.4
    The Wolverine - Opening: $54.5 Mil.

    So the openings and grosses peaked with X:Men - The Last Stand, simply because X2 was one of the best regarded comic sequels at the time. It was the Spider-Man 2/Dark Knight of the X-Men series. Unfortunately, X-Men: The Last Stand was a turd in the punch bowl, thus beginning the damage to the franchise that would show with X-Men Origins: Wolverine's comparably lackluster opening. That only furthered the divide, and caused First Class to revert back to X-Men '00 opening status.

    So with a lackluster X-Men sequel and a failed Spin Off on its back, The Wolverine is maintaining the status quo that First Class has re-established. With buzz starting to warm up for Days of Future Past, as well as The Wolverine already close to outgrossing X-Men Origins in the first weekend alone (thanks to a KILLER International showing), I wouldn't go lamenting the film's fate just yet. (And besides, this is a hit for Fox, considering the only other film that hit for them this Summer is The Heat.)

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