Adventure, 126 Minutes, 2013
I lost track of the “X-Men” movies some time ago. The overblown “X-Men: The Last Stand” [IMDB] and oddly paced “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” were decent, but seemed to represent a downward spiral from the first two films. The excellent semi-reboot “X-Men: First Class” [IMDB] seemed to distance itself from the earlier films.
For all these reasons, when this was released I had little interest in it. I let it pass at the theater, skipped the pay services, ignored the home video release and finally, on a whim, just watched it on Cinemax like some kind of animal. Turns out this was pretty much the perfect way to watch it. It wasn’t so great that I regretted not seeing it sooner and it wasn’t so bad that I felt my time wasted.
Hugh Jackman [IMDB] is The Wolverine (with a capital “t”). He’s defined the role on-screen and it fits him like a tailored suit. The movie takes places almost exclusively in Japan and heavily leverages the culture and locations. I’m a sucker for the Japanese, so I enjoyed that aspect immensely. There is a lot to like, but unfortunately there’s just a little bit more not to like.
There are clichés here, a lot of them: it’s a comic book movie, after all. The second somebody says that they’re done being a hero, you know they’re going to be all heroic. When somebody mentions that a bullet train goes over 300 miles per hour, you know that there will be a fight on the roof of it.
Any comic book fan expects some cliché, but there is a limit. The characters are obscenely one-dimensional as are their motivations. The villains are especially vacuous with no redeeming qualities at all. Women, overall, fair a little better. The femme fatale, the damsel in distress and the warrior princess are all represented, by the tired numbers.
None of the relationships, romantic or otherwise, have any chemistry and many of them simply make no sense. A lack of depth is masked with complexity. The female lead has no less than three love interests including, of course, Wolverine himself. None of them are compelling. A tangled web of family ties further confuses the proceedings.
Worse, the action sequences feel stale and uninspired; serviceable, to be sure, but not memorable. Most are uncoordinated brawls with little of the exotic elegance that the setting should evoke. Wolverine grunts, punches and claws his way through the waves of generic ninja and yakuza thrown at him. He loses exactly when the plot requires it, and wins whenever it doesn’t.
There is a twist ending, of course, but it commits the double sins of a) hamfistedly broadcasting itself throughout the entire film and b) causing much of the rest of the movie to make no sense once it’s revealed. You spend most of the movie fervently wishing that what you know is going to happen, won’t happen – that they’ll have abandoned the easy path and try harder – but it happens all the same.
I don’t mean to give the impression that I disliked the movie. I truly didn’t. It was fun, in parts, and kept my interest. It was also almost nauseatingly average. Just mediocre. It’s clear that Jackman can still play the hell out of the character. When is somebody going to give him a story worth his effort?