(Sorry about the headline. Low-hanging fruit.)
A few months ago I sort of picked apart the trailer for The Wolverine and voiced my disappointment in the direction that they’d seemingly taken the movie in. I mean, we Wolvie fans have been burnt so many times before (two times, I think) by Fox and their attempts to adapt the character to film that it was hard to imagine this movie being any good, especially after Darren Aronofsky bowed out of the project to do his own thing. Once I saw the trailer, which was decidedly not the gritty, neon-noir samurai story that Frank Miller and Chris Claremont delivered to us all those years ago (not me actually, I hadn’t even been conceived at that point), I let my righteous fanboy anger loose like wildfire before the trillions of people who read this column every day.
Well, I’m happy to report that the previews were in fact a very poor representation of the movie, and that the film itself was actually pretty good. Now the obvious explanation for this is that my personal expectations were set pretty low. I had heard beforehand from my buddies who saw it that it wasn’t actually that bad, so I kinda just went in expecting a “middling Japanese action movie starring Hugh Jackman.” Little did I appreciate how freaking awesome that concept in and of itself really is. But the truth is, the movie didn’t just meet or exceed the set of criteria that I went in with for what I think makes a good flick, it totally turned off the part of my brain that cared about that shit. I was actually choked up with geek love for Jackman’s Wolvie more than once. With that kind of response I think it’s worth pointing out exactly what this movie did right and give it props. (Possible spoilers ahead.)
First of all, Hugh Jackman. This is the only guy I ever want to play Wolverine. They need to modify his genetics to give him super-healing powers so that he can still don the claws long after my grandkids are dead and buried and most of the world is underwater. Here’s the thing, age only makes Jackman better at this role. When he first started playing Wolverine he was a little older than me, fresh-faced and relatively slim (like me!). Now he’s in his mid-forties and he’s got more muscles than the actual Wolverine in the comics. His voice is gruff and his face is tougher-looking and he’s been playing this character for so long that he just completely becomes the ol’ canucklehead.
And he nails the full range of Wolvie, from berserker rage to tortured loner. Plus he’s got the action hero chops, brilliantly tossing out kick ass one-liners and even hooking up with an awesome love interest (who isn’t a psycho redheaded tease.) My favorite Jackman moment of the whole film is when they’re in the car and Yukio starts crying and telling him that she’s foreseen his death and he’s like “ok, sorry, I don’t got time for this shit” and totally tries to bail on her! Like, he immediately lost interest in knowing where the plot was going and just wanted to get back to stabbing bad guys. Just like me! I laughed out loud with glee at the sheer badassery of that one line and how he delivered it.
Secondly, Rila Fukushima as Yukio. Holy crap! Who is this lady? She’s on fire in every scene she’s in. She totally kills it. Just the way that she moves inside the character, adding little twists to her lines or a certain cat-like grace to her fighting that really brings the character to life. Like, you get the sense from the get-go that she’s kinda cute and kinda crazy at the same time. And of course, she’s probably the coolest-looking character in the entire X-Men film series. Just seeing this red-headed, punk rock Japanese assassin chick partnered up with this like super-muscular, pissed off Clint Eastwood-guy with blades coming out his hands… it’s just perfect. That’s such a cool team. These two should’ve been on the poster together. It’s not just Wolverine’s movie, it’s Wolvie and Yukio together kicking ass.
Thirdly, Japan. It’s a beautiful country, and director James Mangold takes full advantage of it as a setting for the film. I’ve never been to Japan (boo!) but it seems like Mangold and Co. really put some thought into picking locations that weren’t just the Times Square-y parts of Tokyo. The result was I kinda felt like I had taken a tour of Japan through the film, seeing everything from the countryside to the city, in addition to those cliche, quaint, snow-covered mountain-top villages that make for epic night-time ninja fights. Beyond that, it’s just great to see Wolverine taken out of his element. In fact, it’s good to see a superhero movie in general taken out of its element. This isn’t just another superhero movie where the final battle is to save the tourists in Times Square (honestly, no one’s going to be showing up for that fight) or whatever. This is a new, relatively exotic (I mean, I’ve never been there, so for me it is), beautiful land with a beautiful culture that brings a whole new vibe to, you know, the story of a hairy white-guy running around stabbing people and calling himself a skunk bear and crying about his former team leader’s dead wife.
And I think that’s probably overall what I loved about the movie, was that it really wasn’t much of a superhero movie. I mean, yeah, Hugh Jackman can heal super fast and he has claws in his hands, but that just really makes him a better action hero more than anything. There’s no costumes, no codenames, no real talk of the mutant plight (although some characters have a definite prejudice toward mutants, but it’s kept in the background for the most part). And it’s not an origin story, which has really become the hallmark of what it means to be a movie about superheroes. If I had to describe it, I’d just say it was a great summer action flick set in Japan starring Hugh Jackman’s biceps and a bad ass chick with a katana. Perfect. That’s really all I need.
To be sure, it’s not a perfect movie. The Viper crap I could’ve mostly done without, same with the dude with the bow and arrow. Really none of the bad guys in this flick were all that great, but it didn’t matter since they provided Wolvie and Yukio with a steady stream of bodies to maul through. Although, you know, in a PG-13 context, which did got on my nerves, but whatever. But none of that kept me from getting into the movie and really feeling all those “fuck yeah” moments that they wanted me to feel, and even a few more than that. I was even brimming with joy at the mid-credits stinger that teased the return of Magneto and Professor X, and I knew about that stuff months ago! This movie completely turned around my perception of Fox’s X-franchise, and I cannot wait for next summer’s Days of Future Past.
And when Hugh Jackman is 83 and still cranking out Wolverine movies (and probably still looking better than me with his shirt off), I will be first in line to see them.