This Wolverine's Claws are Sharp


I started this blog a few years ago because I was going cuckoo bananas having no outlet for my constant thoughts about particularly resonant movies and series. There are those rare gems that interrupt my sleep and days later are still playing scenes over in my head. Normally I can ignore them and live a normal life without having to share with the world, but there are times when they are impossible to escape and demand to be written about.

The Wolverine is one such movie, and it won't leave me alone until I say something. Let me start with my personal revelation that Hugh Jackman is a wonderful actor, and I apologize to his fans (of which I am now one) for not realizing sooner. I always liked him, but I was never *in* like with him. Hugh was (is) gorgeous, but that doesn't automatically mean soulful and talented. Though he's been in the public eye for more than a decade now, I have not seen much of him. To keep the family peace on movie days, a side-splitting comedy, or just about anything, will almost always win over a critics' darling drama. We tend to want family time to be fun not depressing, so we try to avoid the weep fests as much as possible. Unfortunately, this means that performances showcasing amazing actors may pass me by for many years. If I'm lucky then the people I have overlooked will be in unforgettable blockbusters that show me what I was missing, like Robert Downey, Jr. with Iron Man. Because of Jackman's performance here, I have another actor for my as yet unfinished Wall of Favorites. He delivers the rare performance that makes a superhero believable rather than laughable.

In his best portrayal of Wolverine, Hugh shows a man with fierce heart and humanity, traits which seem to apply to the actor himself (see Children's hospital donation, Laughing Man, Live Below the Line). Logan is hiding from the world, emotionally raw, nursing old wounds that he can never escape. He's haunted by dreams of lost love, Jean, and memories of his past as a POW in Nagasaki, where he selflessly saved an officer named Yashida from the atomic bomb. Logan could have let his captor die to spare himself the agony of the flames attempting to finish what time had failed to do, but then he wouldn't be much of a hero...and there would be no movie, so it's kind of important. That moment of sacrifice is the impetus for this adventure. After a run in with a group of merciless hunters that reminds us of the menace in his eyes and the fire in his chest, Logan is dragged to Japan by striking (in more ways than one) clairvoyant Yukio to pay respects to his old friend, a frail husk of what he was all those decades ago. Once there, he meets Yashida's troubled granddaughter, Mariko, her stern father, Shingen, and her one-time boyfriend and bodyguard, Harada. Of course there has to be more to it than a simple goodbye. Logan is unexpectedly offered a way to be free of his burden, and he begins a journey that will reveal whether he has true resolve to end his life or if there is a reason to fight for it. 

An insightful story, swift and brutal fights contrasted with the beauty of Japan, a well-paced script, characters with murky allegiances and motives, an exciting and amusing aerial bullet train sequence, a lot of emotion, and a well executed misdirection that fooled me into thinking I was wrong about a key moment all add up to a wonderful time that is now one of my treasured few. I also admired the decision to utilize subtitles instead of having everyone conveniently speak English even when the Japanese characters are talking amongst themselves. Insanely pumped abs and arms didn't hurt either. Jackman was seriously built in this movie. He had a routine that included lifting hundreds of pounds of weights and taking in 6,000 calories a day. That's dedication. Though the results are amazing, I wish he didn't feel he had to literally give his heart to his work. I'd much rather he be happy, not concerned about how his work was harming his health. I hope he starts avoiding roles that require such extremes.

Yet Hugh just did it all again for X-Men: Days of Future Past. I can't imagine. I hope there's a lot of Logan for all he put into it and that I can be legitimately excited for a multi-mutant spectacular again. The Wolverine made me realize what they were missing and why I haven't gone back to this series in so long: character depth, focus, facility with a scene, honest performances, and the joy of creation. Hopefully, Future Past will continue the trend of the last eight years; it would be silly to go back to the typical corny style of pre-Batman Begins, which went far in making up for the wrongs inflicted upon the world by those Movies Who Will Not Be Named. The Dark Knight and Iron Man then proved that it was no fluke, that great superhero movies were something that could be achieved regularly. They were beautifully-made, camp-free examples of how to translate from page to screen, filled with personality and realism, and these same qualities pump through The Wolverine's massive veins. As with The Avengers, I went in without reading reviews, having no expectations whatsoever, and was completely surprised that this entry felt so grounded. I need more of that.

The Wolverine may take a dark tone, as some have complained, but that's not to its detriment. Though I usually prefer my superhero movies riddled with the number of jokes rivaling the punches and pathos, I also like when the darkness is pretty much all a character can see at the start, only gradually letting the light seep in. For me it depends on the character, their personal demons, and the story being told. I want my Wolverine brooding, a lost soul in search of meaning, at least for a little while. Not being versed in the comics (some day), I now know at least his film version far better. I very much appreciated another solo chapter with my favorite mutant, without the over-the-top powers of others fighting alongside him. The lone hero Marvel-produced movies have been great, particularly the hilarious, fun, and affecting Iron Man and Iron Man 3. Teaming them up in The Avengers was incredibly entertaining, the heroes bickering like a dysfunctional family.

Sadly, the opposite is true for Fox-controlled X-Men, at least for me. The original was very well done and, from what I remember, had a more urgent, gritty feel (read: not rewritten into stark oblivion) than the sequels. It captured my imagination better than the cartoon that aired in my early teens, where I learned of the dangerous hero with the adamantium claws, my first "iron" man and the most interesting of the X-Men. X2 was good, but I didn't care for it like the first and so have hardly thought of it in years. By the time The Last Stand came around, I had fallen out of love with the series. Reviews dissolved my enthusiasm and I skipped it, seeing it in pieces over the years. Except for the jaw-dropping powers Jean had as Phoenix and the wrenching moment Logan fights through disintegration to reach her, it was largely forgettable. X-Men Origins: Wolverine gave me a taste of what I really wanted: a smaller, more personal story. To be fair, I've heard Fassbender and McAvoy were superb in First Class, and it's been on my wish list for a while, but none of the previous entries impressed me the way The Wolverine just did.

I read some complaints (and always wonder why I do), as there always are, about the movie not matching the original comics to the letter, but I just don't care. I am not that into comics as a result of a childhood devoid of money and comic book stores. Even if I had been, I know I'd have little to worry about. My measure of a fantastic movie is the huge smile I leave the theater with, the desire to see it again immediately, and a magnification of that aching wish I've always had to want to be in the business, putting imagination out there to entertain the world. Movies should be respectful of their origins but not shackled to them, stifling creativity. To expect unwavering adherence to the comic ideal is less realistic than a world full of telepaths or pyrokinetics. Go ahead and change the history. Go ahead and add events that were never written about. As long as the adaptation captures the spirit and voice of its source material, holds onto the heart of the character, and turns out well then it doesn't need to be exactly the same. And by chance that I have read every book, poured over every wiki, I appreciate not knowing what's coming next. I appreciate getting to know another side or a reinvention that may be better. I love the familiar, but I also like to try something new.

Not eveything is praise, though. I adored the movie, but it wasn't technically perfect. The final confrontation seemed a bit of a let down after all the action previously. I'm not exactly sure what it was. Maybe because the waves of enemies throughout posed more of a threat when Logan was not quite up to the task. Don't get me wrong here. The revelation worked really well, but the action wasn't up to the standard that had already been set. The glaring flaw, though, was Viper, one of numerous baddies. While she was threatening and creepy, her acting kept distracting me. The best villains have to be somewhat likeable even in their madness, with a glimmer of lost humanity or a reason for being, but Viper was just a standard one-dimensional sociopath. She could have been interesting. Instead she was just another obstacle without a back story.

Still, those two details were not enough to be disappointing, and I love this movie completely. I will definitely be buying it and would highly recommend seeing it in the theater. I would love to go again before it tips into The Void - the excruciating wait between a movie's exit from theaters and release to the public in stores - but I know I won't have time. I missed so many movies this summer. Everyone's always too busy now, and when we're not busy we're exhausted. No Monsters University, no Despicable Me 2, no Pacific Rim, no This is the End. I think I'm also probably going to miss Elysium, from the director of the bleak and powerful District 9. At least I went to Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Wolverine. And The World's End will cap the summer. Wild zombies or killer cults or blue-blooded robots will not keep me away.

If you are now thinking about giving The Wolverine a shot, check Fandango or to see if a theater near you is still playing it. Sorry I didn't finish this post earlier. I kept getting sidetracked and editing is the Bane of my existence.

Alright, now I should get back to drawing knives. Maybe inspiration will come from Wolvie's claws.

If you didn't see the Wolverine/X-Men Comic-Con panel, here is a little video treat. "From this man's head, heart, and hand came my career."


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