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The Best & Worst Of ‘The Wolverine’

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 29, 2013 at 2:19PM

Are American audiences starting to get bored with superhero movies? While 20th Century Fox’s “The Wolverine” did solid business overseas this weekend, the James Mangold-directed picture failed to outperform the routinely loathed “X-Men Origins: The Wolverine” stateside, making for the 2nd lowest grossing opening weekend of any X-Men movie so far (though on par with “X-Men: First Class,” and just slightly higher than the original “X-Men”). Was a lack of “X-Men” in Wolverine’s personal story to blame? The movie itself seemed to do favorably, considering its "A-" Cinemascore for those that actually paid to see it, but clearly American audiences didn’t come out in droves.
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Wolverine

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.

Wolverine, Hugh Jackman

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

This article is related to: The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman, James Mangold, Features, Feature


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