Finally got out to see The Wolverine.
OK, pretty much everyone who said it sucked? They’re full of shit. Let’s chat.
Here’s my general thoughts about why the moviegoing public didn’t get it, then we’ll get to my own problems with it, and by the end, all will be explained…
Why people didn’t understand or like the film in easy to understand broad and simple strokes:
1. They’re Americans.
Let’s be honest here. Whatever other strong points we have as a nation and culture, the sad fact is that Americans don’t do other cultures or play well outside tightly defined local stereotypes.
This film is, while far from dead on and painting in pretty broad and fantastic strokes (as one might expect from a comic book film), very Japanese at heart and core…so of course the hoi polloi doesn’t get it. In fact,
2. They’re morons.
In short, bar one half hour sequence that was utterly detestable and nearly ruined the whole thing, there just weren’t enough explosions, brainless fight sequences and bright and shiny colors to captivate the mouth breathers and tilt-headed, wide eyed drooling types that seem to make up the typical American moviegoing audience these days.
3. They were expecting another “Xmen Origins” Wolverine.
Or in other words, a repeat or sequel to one of the worst comic book films ever made by Marvel. Much to my delight (and their apparent dismay), we got something much, much different.
4. This one plays into #2 and #3…this film actually had a PLOT, some ACTING, and (albeit on a superficial, comic book level) some FEELING and emotion mixed in. SHOCK! HORROR! This film sucks, give me mindless explosions and death!
So. What was right about the film.
1. Tao Okamoto.
Apparently a model before this, she’s not only elegant and gorgeous, but not too shabby as an actress. This was the FIRST time I actually understood the whole Logan/Mariko relationship.
In the comics, he was just a moody, self pitying savage who seemed attracted by some overdone stereotypical fantasyland geisha style ideal of “the delicate flower of Asia” that she represented. Yeah, whatever.
However, in The Wolverine, she’s a real person – sure, she’s a bit refined, a bit reserved (as befits someone from a rich and powerful family, sheltered and with one lone manufactured friend in her life, set up in an unwanted arranged marriage and with one youthful romance to her name). But she’s also competent, a bit of a fighter, and has a lot of heart – note the scenes at the village near Nagasaki.
2. Most importantly, and again related to #1, is that the relationship makes SENSE.
The tough guy haunted by his checkered past looking for a woman to actually understand and accept him, perhaps to bring him some peace, and teach him to forgive himself. The sheltered, lonely and (as it turns out) multiply betrayed girl looking for a strong man to serve as both lover and protector.
To be quite blunt and self revelatory about it, I can testify to this relationship dynamic personally, as this exactly describes my wife and I. Frighteningly so, in fact – I am unashamed to admit getting my share of goosebumps and nearly tearing up from their interactions (and his own internal conversations with the woman haunting him) from Nagasaki forward.
Plus, coming back to point #1, she’s stunning in whatever outfit she dons, from yukata to full kimono to street clothes to what passes for casual wear in Tokyo – long necked, elegant, sexy with hair down or in a ponytail; feisty, sensitive and willing to give as much as she gets in both physical struggle and in intimate relationship matters…yeah, I’d marry her too.
3. And so we come back to the original point #1, in that this film is likely incomprehensible to modern audiences – because it’s a direct homage to (and in fact, rather of an improvement on) the Robert Mitchum/Ken Takakura film The Yakuza (1974), which itself was an obvious influence on Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s entire Logan/Mariko storyline at the outset (which started in Uncanny Xmen #118, way back in 1979, only 5 years after the film’s release).
4. It’s very much a return to form for the Xmen series.
I loved Xmen First Class, but that was a reboot and detour – with Famke Janssen haunting and “conversing” with Logan as part of a running internal conversation and with two surprise cast members turning up at the end in addition to what I’m about to mention in #5, it’s very much Xmen 3.5 (and in fact quite superior to the overly cluttered Xmen 3).
5. It’s (mostly) true to the spirit of the comic stories it came from, which were among the most intelligent and adult comic runs ever published (before that designation became associated with the darkness, occultism and grue that the 80’s, the Brits and Vertigo brought us).
Forget all that Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman stuff – they were great, but that’s a whole different article, and an entirely different vibe. One wonders whether that stuff should even be classified as part and parcel of the comics medium, at least in terms of the established majors.
If we’re talking the majors, the mainstream if you will, it comes down to this. Hands down, the most adult oriented and mature series ever written were:
a. Master of Kung Fu (under Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, Mike Zeck and especially Gene Day),
b. Doctor Strange (under Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner, later Chris Claremont and Gene Colan) and
c. the Uncanny Xmen (under Claremont and Byrne).
There’s really no contest here; the difference is as vast as the gulf between child-oriented big strong guys in capes beating the crap out of each other for 17-24 pages and adults dealing with couple issues and heavily implied sexual relationships and working through the same sort of existential and life issues we all have to face and deal with, albeit in a more exciting, spy/magick/fantasy/action based milieu.
The challenges are often sublimated and dealt with through the metaphor of the situation of the month as much as dealt with directly, but they are both present and in fact the true focus of all events nonetheless. Strange and Clea, Shang Chi and Reston and Leiko, Logan and Jean and Scott, so on and so forth. Dormammu, Mordo, Shockwave and Magneto may have provided eye candy or distraction, but just as easily may have been a locus to discuss some deeper issue, or serve as a parallel or contrast to the relationship dynamics contained therein.
In terms of Logan and the Xmen, while much of the character’s Japanese history continued to be fleshed out under later and lesser runs like the Claremont/Miller Wolverine miniseries and under the pen of the faltering Claremont alongside Cockrum, Romita et al in the 80’s, it all started with the classic, intelligent and adult relationship focused Claremont/Byrne run that preceded it.
Guess what, this film’s all about that, and pulls from those elements of Wolverine, Mariko and her family (I could go deeper, but then we get into..)
The problems with the film.
1. Hollywood interference (or utter juvenalia on the part of the scriptwriters).
Unfortunately, despite all that we’ve discussed thus far, the film suddenly veers into dumbo territory for nearly a half hour straight, with a ridiculous sequence in a laboratory that more or less serves as the denouement.
This was SO misinformed, so childish, so absurd that I nearly got up and walked out of the film. It was only stubbornness over realization of how good the film was prior to this portion of the script and hoping that it would all come back to that level of quality (which it almost did) that prevented me from doing so – but it was a very close call there.
2. And this plays into #1, the utter infidelity to the comics of this sequence in either history and continuity, or even to the spirit that informed the better part of the film. Let’s break this out.
First of all, Viper (aka Madame Hydra) in the comics was the direct inspiration for GI Joe’s Baroness (and in fact the latter character was ripped off wholesale from the former – this was much noted at the time of her debut by those in the know).
In other words, long raven hair, psychotic, human. A terrorist, with half her face scarred, who was primarily noted for being devious, crazed, and perhaps dealing in poisons (though I may be confusing her a bit with DC’s Cheshire in that respect).
What she was not: blonde, wavy haired, and weird looking.
Svetlana Khodchenkova is just strange to the eye, awkwardly built with some facial and body features that alternate between squashed together and overly separated from each other – a poor man’s Uma Thurman.
Beyond her gawkishness and oddity of feature, she also sports an ENORMOUS mole or wart next to her lips which was indescribably distracting whenever she spoke in closeup (check out the scene in the Shinjuku alleyway, when she threatens one of the Yashida bodyguards).
Further in relation to the facial blemish, the film’s Viper is not only suddenly
1. a scientist (nope),
2. a mutant (nope),
3. magically resistant to all poisons (maybe, but it was chemically based, not a “mutant power”),
4. able to claw or spit them at people (nope), and stupidest of all,
5. some freak with a forked tongue ala Toad who’s actually a snake that sheds her skin ala Mystique (you have to be kidding me). I involuntarily laughed with derision when she suddenly displayed this “power” during the aforementioned half hour detour into Catwoman (The Movie) territory.
Plus, consider the internal illogic here: if she’s somehow resistant to any poison known to man (as she triumphantly blurts out during this 30 minutes of juvenalia), THEN WHY THE HELL DOES SHE HAVE SKIN CANCER (or the variant of the herpes simplex virus that causes warts and the like)? That prominent mole should not exist in that case…
2b. The whole family scenario.
2b1. Wasn’t Mariko’s family not only rich, but connected to the yakuza, a leadership role which she later took on herself?
You could make a shaky argument for Mariko’s father’s use of the yakuza to kidnap her, but it doesn’t hold up in the end – watch the film, then think about it.
2b2. The Silver Samurai.
Uh, he’s her cousin, and a normal sized human being. I thought that Harada (the character running the “black ninja” or whatever they were supposed to be who were the family’s unofficial “protectors”) was going to take the armor on, but no.
I also assumed when they played Harada up as having a prior romance with Mariko in their youth that the writers were just switching the particulars of the relationship dynamic, but again, all signifiers point to the fact that he was clearly supposed to be the Samurai (and in fact, shares a name with the actual Marvel character of the Silver Samurai).
But noooo, suddenly, he’s a 15 foot tall ROBOT, populated by (spoiler alert!) HER GRANDFATHER, who allows her own father and his son to try to kill her in a financial flim flam (and against his own written will, mind you), because he’s too busy trying to steal Logan’s mutant healing power and live forever. uhhhh…
Oh, and then she has to kill him too. Riiiigghhht.
3. The stupidity, internal illogic and lack of fidelity to established history and continuity that results from the Samurai managing to cut off both pairs of Logan’s adamantium claws (huh? I thought even adamantium couldn’t dent itself…), which magically results in…wait for it…the bone claws!
Uh…when Magneto sucked all the metal from Logan in the comics, that sort of made sense (albeit being a stupid idea and storyline in the first place). In The Wolverine, Logan is still all metal bones and half-usable claw stumps at the end of this sequence…but dammit, he’s going to bypass all the existing hardware to come up with bone claws.
Stifle a collective groan at the amazing absurdity and childishness on display here…
At least Yukiko was done right. While Rila Fukushima is an even stranger looker than Svetlana was, her handling of the character was pretty much dead on to who it was in the comics, and you sort of got used to it when you didn’t have to gawk at the awful pink hair and bangs (check her out in a kimono – utterly freakish!). She got me to ignore and forget about that pretty quickly, which says a LOT. Good job.
So in sum, don’t believe the (negative) hype – or at least realize that if the naysayers have any merit to their arguments, recognize that it lies in that one abominable half hour of denouement in the lab, with Viper the magical mutant, the giant robot peopled by Mariko’s prolicidal grandfather, and the chopped off adamantium claw ends that randomly cause the bone claw changeover (and where the hell do those metal stubs go, anyway? Is this some Catholic transubstantiation thing, following on from the ridiculous Christ/St. Sebastian allegory of the ninja archer “sacrifice” scene immediately preceding the aforementioned lab scenario?)
If they’ve got problems with the film that don’t revolve around that half hour (or better yet, if they say that was the only good part of the film!), give them a huge middle finger on behalf of comics fans everywhere, and especially from your friends at Third Eye Cinema.