Marvel Comics wrested the top spot from DC in the mid 1960’s with much better artwork and a stable of super-heroes with very human attributes, unlike the two dimensional good-guys and good-guys with a single flaw of their rivals. Two of these new silver age of comics super-heroes, in particular, still maintain their huge allure fifty years later. The first is Spiderman, the quintessential symbol of male teen-angst, and the second, a latecomer (introduced a decade after Spiderman,) the Wolverine, is an anti-hero who is pure brooding testosterone.
Introduced as something of a villain in 1974, he was eventually assigned to The Uncanny X-Men when the team was revamped (after plummeting sales,) where he usually made as much trouble for his teammates as he did for the foes they faced together. What teenager/twenty-something nerd wouldn’t like to be invulnerable, a chick-magnet, and have those gitchy retractable cat-claws? The Wolverine was also one of the first super-heroes to actually kill his enemies, as the strangle hold of the Comics Code Authority (who somehow deemed it healthy for youngsters to see folks pounding the crap out of one another as long as nobody died, or at least stayed dead for long except for Batman’s parents and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben) began to ebb in the 1970’s.
While the X-men movie franchise is far from the worst of the Marvel efforts (that distinction belongs to The Ghost Rider, with The Fantastic Four a close second,) its film plots have always been plagued by highly dubious logic and the need to showcase the mutant abilities of its large and ponderous casts. 2013’s THE WOLVERINE is the 6th installment of this meandering allegory, and the 6th time is definitely not the charm.
While the cinematography is often breathtaking, the many fight scenes are choreographed to perfection and most of the special effects—from the fight atop the speeding bullet train to the seamless animation of the Silver Samurai are visually believable—apart from Wolverine’s endless dreams and nightmares, the rest is pure agony. The script was written by one writer then rewritten by two others—a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. (One of them even found it necessary to crib a scene from the old James Bond flick, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.)
For no particular reason the audience is told that five of the characters are mutants. For anyone not familiar with Marvel’s concept of human mutation, it implies at least one super-human ability, and often several in concert. Fine, rules of the game. The Wolverine is immortal, heals himself almost instantly, has three indestructible retractable ten inch long claws on each hand, and an equally indestructible metal infused skeleton. The villainess, The Viper, has an immunity to toxins, a tongue that is occasionally forked, sheds her skin, creates mini-insectoid-robots which reek havoc within the human body and likes to poison people for fun, often by kissing them or blowing poison into their face. Another character seems to see everyone else’s death—which makes her more of a precognitive than a mutant--and for some reason misses the death of her boss's son. Another can apparently heal himself much like Logan, the Wolverine, but for some inexplicable reason, this ability eventually fails him. And the fifth, never reveals any special talent, unless being a jujitsu expert in one scene and then forgetting that fact for the rest of the film counts.
It was once said that Pepe le Pew set back French/American relations for two decades. The Wolverine is likely to have the same effect on Japanese/American relations. All three of the main male Japanese characters prove deceitful, underhanded and psychotic. The rest are mostly clay pigeons. And since the majority of the film takes place in Japan, there’s the obligatory Yakuzas and Ninjas, nifty high tech stuff, and lots of Bushido bullshit when the characters are not double crossing one another. Strictly stereotypical.
Logan looses his immortality, which is meant to add drama to the silly proceedings, but only makes one wonder why he limps in one scene and not in the next, why sometimes it is necessary to remove the bullets and other times they are forgotten, and why, if he is no longer immortal, the bullets don’t kill him. Hugh Jackman is a good enough actor to breathe life into the character of Logan, and the rest of the cast is capable as well, but few are given much with which to work and so their efforts are largely wasted. The motivations of the many villains range from ludicrous to absurd, and are often plain illogical as well, as the need for all the deception and endless public violence makes less and less sense as the story concludes.
Perhaps the best part is one of those Marvel film teasers during the final credits. After three mildly entertaining X-Men films and three duds, the seventh film will feature the Sentinels at long last. Maybe the seventh time will be the charm. Don't hold your breath.
© Paul Bates, 2013