Hugh Jackman is a real Renaissance Man; I don’t know many other actors that could successfully star in a movie based on a comic book superhero and the lead in many a musical. Robert Downey Jr. might be able to pull it off, but for most actors you are either in one camp or the other. Jackman, however, has managed to straddle both the worlds of action movie star and sang and dance man. He can easily transition from affable and charming to dark and broody with seemingly little to no effort. He even proved adept at hosting; his emcee job at the Academy Awards in 2009 was one of my favorite in recent memory (and also was surprisingly proficient in seeing the future, as it paired Jackman with eventual Les Mis co-star Anne Hathaway).
The guy can do it all.
The Wolverine finds Jackman reprising his role from the X-Men franchise for the sixth time; as the prerequisite origin story was taken care of in the appropriately titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this film can focus on telling its own contained story of one of Logan’s adventures when he is away from the rest of his mutant pals. The Wolverine finds Jackman in Japan and ensnarled in a multi-generational family drama of a man that he had saved many years before. Logan is at his most broody, as this story takes place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand and the death of his true love by his hand (or claw). While I like Jackman a lot in this role and there were some pretty exciting action sequences (the scenes on the bullet train in particular stand out), I ultimately can’t say that I really loved this film. I found the pacing too erratic and I was somewhat bored by the story. The Wolverine was a lot better than the previous stand-alone Wolverine movie and when it works it is really exciting, but there were far too many moments where I was uninterested in the overly complicated storyline and lack of action for me to fully get on board with this film.
The most interesting facet of The Wolverine is that is teases out the idea of what it is like when Logan loses some of his power. He still has his crazy claws, but for a large portion of the movie he is without his regenerative gifts. When Logan is shot, his wounds do not automatically heal themselves; he carries the pain like any ordinary person. Previous X-Men films have dealt with the idea of Logan’s mortality and him losing his will to live; The Wolverine allows Logan to have a taste of what life would be like without his immortality. Will he still long to end his suffering when his death is now a real possibility? This philosophical character study was by far the most compelling part of the film; Jackman is able to portray the many different emotions that Logan goes through as he faces something of an existential crisis. This is a story that they have played with before, but it was always more in the abstract. In The Wolverine, the stakes are much more real.
While I enjoyed some parts of the rest of the story line in Japan, I felt like they really tried to cram too much plot into the film and it would up feeling too complicated and not fully formulated. In my opinion there was just too much going on – in just this one film there were ninjas, robots, other mutants, grizzly bears, the mob, complex relationships and a ghost. It’s just a lot to process and I think the story overall would have benefitted from editing. Removing one or two of these elements and spending that time developing the others would go a long way in improving the overall quality of the film. The story would have been tighter and far more exciting – even with so much going on I found my mind wandering for portions of the film. Now, I’ll fully admit that I probably wasn’t at my sharpest when I watched this film; a 10 pm start time in a week where I have really been drowning in work obligations are far from ideal circumstances, but even with a calmer mind I am confident I would have walked away from this movie with the same impression. There was more than one occasion when I thought that I might just close my eyes and take a little nap out of sheer disinterest in what I was watching.
The action sequences did greatly liven things up, though I was not a huge fan of the camerawork used for some of them. The herky jerky motion and quick cuts were a little discombobulating and made it difficult to follow all the action. Chaotic fight scenes are nothing new to action movies, but there were a lot of cool things happening in The Wolverine and I wished it would have been easier to enjoy the battles and keep track of where everyone was, especially since these were the scenes that I liked the most. This is perhaps another reason that the bullet train scenes were so enjoyable; the number of combatants was winnowed down and it was much easier to watch everything unfold. It also was an innovative twist on a sequence that we have seen many times before; most movies (from Skyfall to The Lone Ranger) feature some sort of combat on top of a train, but The Wolverine uses the speed of the bullet train to add to the complexity of this endeavor. It really was kind of cool to see.
Some other thoughts:
- This is the second movie in a row that I’ve reviewed where I thought that the potential love interests did not have very good chemistry with the star or that the pairing seemed kind of ludicrous. I don’t know that I buy that the same Logan that is mooning over Jean all the time is suddenly ready to start making out with some girl he barely knows. Seemed out of character.
- Speaking of Jean – I have never been a fan of Famke Janssen’s portrayal Jean Grey or Janssen’s acting in general, but I thought that she was particularly useless in The Wolverine. She’s just so wooden and robotic. Every time she shows up in ghostly form, I lost interest. She seems completely disinterested.
- That being said, she is far better than Svetlana Khodchenkova, who has all the personality of a paper bag. She’s pretty, but that is about all that she is bringing to the table. It doesn’t hurt that her character is barely developed – I have no idea what her motivation is or why she’s involved.
- However, not all the women are useless in the film – Rila Fukushima in particular kicks butt as Yukio. She’s a lot of fun to watch.
- I probably need a refresher as it has been a while since I revisited the X-Men universe, but I somehow remember Logan having more of a sense of humor. The Wolverine continues the recent trend of comic book movies that are pretty sparse on the laughs. Logan does say “bub” a few times, so there’s that.
- A character flips his allegiance in the climactic scene of the film for really no good reason; one minute he’s totally on board with what is going on, the next he’s inexplicably fighting on the other side. Stuff like that drives me crazy.
- I have no idea how they pulled this off, but the final big showdown is both totally predictable and ludicrous.
- Apparently the archery craze is still alive and well in 2013 – lots of arrows are shot in this one.
- This is a decidedly PG-13 action movie – they cut away a lot from some of the more violent stuff.
- I have to totally agree with a statement that Jimmy Fallon made – Hugh Jackman should change his name to Jacked Hughman. He is absolutely RIPPED in this film. His arms are crazy and the dude is in phenomenal shape. Hard to believe this is the same guy that played Jean Valjean in Les Miserable.
- Just for fun, here’s Jackman on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon playing a drinking game:
I think Hugh and I could be friends.
- There is absolutely a bonus scene after the credits that sets the stage for next year’s X-Men Days of Future Past. I won’t spoil what happens, but there was a collective “WHAT?!?!” uttered by the fan boys (and girls) in attendance.
The Wolverine is a fairly mediocre movie in my opinion; it certainly isn’t terrible, but I had enough problems with it that it prevented me from enjoying it as much as I hoped to. Jackman was solid as usual, but I found the plot boring and too convoluted to fully engage me. I am still looking forward to X-Men Days of Future Past, as I’m hoping that reuniting Wolverine with the other X-Men will be just what this character needs to recapture my interest; I may just like Wolverine more as part of an ensemble rather than in his own movies, as neither of his solo outings have impressed me. Despite my underwhelming reaction to The Wolverine, I still think Hugh Jackman is awesome; if he wants to try out a musical version of Wolverine, I’d definitely check that out.
The Wolverine opens nationwide today.