In this week’s Numbers and Inspiration, we take a look at the recently released The Wolverine (the numbers) and compare and contrast some of the film’s beats with those of the original limited comic series written by Chris Claremont and penciled by Frank Miller (the inspiration). The 2013 film is off to a good start at the box office, but is it as good as the source material that it draws from?
WARNING: SPOILERS for both the original limited comic series and the movie follow! Read at your own risk!
The Numbers – The Wolverine
You’ve gotta hand it to Hugh Jackman; he gives everything he’s got to the character of Logan/Wolverine. You can tell he truly cares for the way he depicts the popular X-Man, and not just in the way he bulks and cuts for these flicks. (Seriously, the dude looks like a beast in this latest installment). And he is absolutely the best part of a Wolverine movie that has best intentions written all over it, but falls a little short due to an overly muddled recipe (the result, most likely, of too many
cooks writers in the proverbial kitchen). A lot of internet geeks such as myself have gone gaga over The Wolverine, but I have to admit, I only thought it was okay. 6/10, might watch again. There’s a lot of good within, and almost all of it comes from Jackman’s portrayal of the inner workings of the Wolverine as he attempts to keep his claws retracted. Unexpectedly deep character work peeks through the curtains from time to time, but all too often such efforts are derailed by the (excessively repeated) appearances of the specter of Jean Grey. Then, later — specifically in the third act — the whole structure of the film is pulled down by giving into the need to display spectacle rather than introspection. And also by a former friend who turned into a semi-nonsensical, cackling villain.
Make no mistake, though…it’s better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Like a lot of people, I marvel at what Darren Aronofsky might have been able to do with this material. A lot of the movie looks beautiful (except for the cheesy but still awesome bullet train sequence), and while there are one too many extraneous characters (seriously, Viper stunk), The Wolverine mostly makes sense, so credit where credit is due to James Mangold. But while the superhero flick reaches up for the brass ring, it misses and lands with a thud right on its ass atop the carousel horse.
Of course, I have this opinion because I paid to see The Wolverine in theaters over the past weekend. So did a lot of other folks; opening weekend saw the film rake in $53M domestically and another $86M internationally for a cool $139M total. That already covers the $120M production costs , so even though the the film fell a bit short of the studio’s expectations (roughly $10M less in the U.S. than expected), it’s all gravy from here on out in terms of cinema ticket and DVD/Blu sales. Keep in mind, though, that X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened in the U.S. with $85M on its way to a domestic take of almost $180M total; to be honest, I don’t think The Wolverine is going to have those kind of legs in the States (and it may not match overseas ticket sales of the first solo outing of our favorite adamantium claw wielding, sideburn sporting, cigar chomping Mustelidae). Origins also did have the advantage of kicking off the 2009 summer movie season, whereas The Wolverine is at the tail end of a season where many are suffering superhero/big budget blockbuster fatigue.
Would The Wolverine have opened bigger at the box office if it had conformed more closely to the original limited comic book series by Claremont and Miller? That’s debatable. Would it have been a better film? Well…
The Inspiration – Wolverine
A lot of readers are probably already familiar with Claremont and Miller’s 1982 limited series that finally gave some background to the fan favorite character of title. Turns out that Wolverine had a heck of a history, most of it taking place in Japan where the love of his life (!), Mariko, has been promised to another because of the aberrations of her father, the thought-to-be-dead head of the Yashida Clan, Lord Shingen. And from there, it gets twisty and turny with lots of double-crosses, somewhat similar to the film discussed above. But things work better in the comics for several reasons.
Yukio In the comics, Yukio was a sultry badass who used seduction and fighting prowess to accomplish her missions, of which there were several, most of those benefiting herself more than her supposed bosses (she’s a big piece of the overall double-crossing going on). In the film, she’s can also kick ass but is played for laughs a few times too many — consider the whole “I’m your bodyguard” thing. Her visions of the future in the movie and how they related to Logan were largely inconsequential because they never came to fruition. And given the way things turned out on celluloid with the Viper character — seriously, she had no purpose; if Yashida wanted to take Logan’s powers, why didn’t he use his own R&D division instead of employing a mutant geneticist? Because she’s get the job done quicker or better? — it would have been better to eliminate the green villainess, and just ultimately make Yukio a foil for Wolverine towards the end of the film’s proceedings. If kept under wraps and aligned more to the comic’s vision for the character, Yukio could have been a force to be reckoned with on film.
Wolverine’s Past, In General Listen, the way they established how Logan and Yashida met in The Wolverine was not, in itself, a bad way to go. The imagery of the nuclear bomb drop near Nagasaki was certainly powerful, horrifying and haunting, as was Wolverine’s visage as he healed from protecting the Japanese soldier from the blast. The problem is that for the Logan of the comic series, there’s so much more to his Japanese past than that. He’s pretty much a samurai (or Ronin, if you prefer) based on his previous time spent there. There’s no way he’s not familiar with the culture, and shouldn’t need to be told to bow or how to hold a goddamned sword. His comic book past also leads me to…
Mariko Onscreen, this beauty didn’t have a chance. Why? Jean Grey. “Can you stay?” “You know I can’t.” “I’ll never hurt anyone again.” “Too late.” (Too late is right; this was the first exchange and it was already excruciating.) “Who’s Jean?” “Who’s Jean” “Who’s Jean?” (WHAT’S IN THE BOX???) “But this is what you wanted.” “Not anymore.”
Excuse me; I need to refill my glass.
Now then…I didn’t hate The Last Stand nearly as much as everyone else did. And, from an emotional standpoint, Wolverine having to kill Jean was a standout moment. But one flashback would have been enough. Okay, I’ll give you two to bookend Logan’s transformation in the film. But that’s it.
And poor Mariko. In the comics she was Wolvie’s true love, the whole reason he ended his self-imposed exile as Canadian game warden (they did stick — mostly — to issue #1 with the whole bear thing), because even though he was sorting himself out he was still communicating with her, and she was not returning her letters. (Reason why is above; see Lord Shingen.) At the end of the original four issue run, they were engaged!!! That would never happen to the film universe’s Mariko because you just know that Jean is going to show up again in Days of Future Past. And if Professor X can resurrect, and Magneto can get his powers back, then who’s to say that Phoenix isn’t going to rise from the proverbial ashes yet again?
Okay, one more and then I’m done.
The Silver Samurai It is this writer’s opinion that the “main” villain of the comic, Lord Shingen, a real samurai, was much, much better than Yashida in an adamantium samurai suit. (Speaking of adamantium, why didn’t Mariko just hire R&D to re-graft some of that onto Wolverine’s bone claws?) The powers that be should have kept the whole Mariko romance plot as a piece of Logan’s history rather than a new development, linked up to Shingen as a foe to be reckoned with without the need to inhabit an exoskeleton, kept the stakes and conflicts human. (Or human-mutant if you want to be PC about the whole thing.) Instead we get an admittedly awesome looking but ultimately clunky CG ending to a rapidly spiraling down the drain third act. (Seriously, the samurai that attacked Logan in his sleep would have been more effective for us traditionalists.)
There’s other things wrong with The Wolverine too. In a film where writers and the director felt the need to impose spectacle rather than substance, the huge opportunity of Wolverine versus ninjas was sadly misplayed. That could have been epic. Instead, let’s just put some arrows in his and take up there. And I know that the Yakuza typically have some ink, but they were tattooed beyond belief and quite stereotypical of Japanese bad guys to boot; they would have been better depicted as mobster cold and calculating with some martial arts know-how thrown in rather than screaming, often shirtless banshees. And the whole Yashida thing in general just bugs me. “I’m your friend, I want to repay you. Now let me try to take your powers and kill you, chuckling maniacally the whole time. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!” It just didn’t ring true. Yashida could have been made more believable as a sympathetic villain, someone who believes he is doing right for his old friend and himself with only a little bit of wrong. And the whole losing powers, then gaining powers thing again is overplayed. I’ll admit I got excited during and after the self-incision scene because I knew Wolvie was going to be kicking some ass at 100% (and he was off to fight ninjas. Why didn’t he actually FIGHT NINJAS???). But the loss or diminishing of his powers only really hurt a little bit; there’s no real sense, ever, of mortal danger. Because as an audience, we’ve seen this trick before. And we know Days of Future Past is coming.
And in spite of all this rambling, I am excited for that. The mid-credits stinger stung in a good way. It’s too bad that a few minutes were better as a whole than the film that came before it. I don’t doubt Jackman’s oft-stated desire to adapt Claremont and Miller’s four-issue story arc, and believe his heart was in the right place, but they didn’t stick the landing and missed half the routine on top of it. If Fox and Marvel wanted a trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, they could’ve saved a lot of money by just shooting Logan at the airport, teasing Trask Industries, and being dumbfounded when some of his old mutant buddies (sarcasm) show up.
On further review: 4/10, probably won’t watch again. C+ for the effort though. Here’s some advise: next time, hire less writers. And if the original vision was a more introspective, character-drive superhero film, stick to that vision.