Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wolverine Travels the Globe

A while back, I wrote about X-Mens Origins: Wolverine, and how I was generally disenchanted with the number of elements it tried to stuff into one movie. The follow-up film, The Wolverine, only marginally dis-disenchanted me.

The film sees Logan guilt-ridden in the aftermath of the third X-Men film (having killed Jean Grey). He's persuaded to travel to Japan at the request of a dying old man whose life he saved in World War II. There he's drawn into a power struggle, as Yakuza try to assassinate the old man's daughter and heir before she can take control of the massive company he's leaving behind. But Logan doesn't have the healing abilities he's always been able to rely on; somehow they've been stripped from him, leaving him vulnerable and mortal.

This movie starts off in a much better place than its predecessor. It has a meaningful throughline driven by emotion and character in the form of Jean Grey, who appears throughout the movie in Logan's dreams. The death means something to Logan, and informs all the choices he makes in this story.

And while I could see that some people feel a Wolverine movie in which he has no superpowers isn't really a Wolverine movie, I myself appreciated that angle. By this point, there had already been four movies of Wolverine, and a change to the formula was much needed. It didn't necessarily have to be this, but that totally works to refresh the storytelling -- as does setting everything in Japan.

But after a very encouraging first act that maintains focus on this simple and compelling plot, things begin to branch out in too many directions. It's hard to pinpoint just where the "one thing too many" happens -- is it the horde of Yakuza assassins, the poisonous mutant Viper, the half-hearted attempt to imply a love triangle between Logan and the characters of Yukio and Mariko? I'm not sure, but by the time the climax of the film arrives and we're in a giant silo somewhere fighting an enormous adamantium robot because wouldn't that be cool, this sequel has squarely stepped in exactly the problem of the first film: there's too much going on, and how it's all connected doesn't entirely make sense.

For certain, even the patchwork story remains fun most of the time, thanks to another great performance by Hugh Jackman. Wolverine has always come across in the X-Men movies as something of an anti-hero, and saddled here as he is with boundless guilt, it could have gone all broody like, say, Batman. (Or worse, mopey, like the ill-conceived Venom subplot of Spider-man 3.) But Jackman makes sure that a remorseful, conflicted Logan is still a character worth watching and rooting for, and keeps everything generally light and fun. And doing it as he is among a cast likely unknown to an American audience (save for Famke Janssen as "dream Jean") makes it an all the more impressive accomplishment.

Still, this movie was really only slightly better to me than the first Wolverine film. And accordingly, I give it only a slightly better mark: a C-. To me, the standout of the X-Men franchise remains Days of Future Past.

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