Saturday 27 July 2013

The Wolverine 3D (X-Men 6)

Ronin Around

The Wolverine 3D (X-Men 6)
2013 USA
Directed by James Mangold
Playing at cinemas now.

Warning: There will be some big spoilers slicing 
away at you in this one. Approach with caution.

You know, I really quite like the X-Men movie franchise, even though it’s nothing like The Uncanny X-Men I used to read very occasionally as a kid. I used to read the odd British reprint in the very early 70s, harking back to the early 60s (in fact, I think I read the first few issues of the original series) which was many years before the creation of the super-group’s most popular member, Wolverine (or Weapon X as I believe he used to be known, back in the days when he was kind of a villain?). To me the characters were Professor X, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl (now better known by her civilian moniker of Jean Grey). They were the X-Men I wanted to see back when they brought the first movie out 13 years ago.

However, I really liked that movie and, of the five previous films in the franchise, the only one which let me down big time and made me curse the internal politics of the Hollywood suits who, by all accounts, deliberately waited for the original director of the first two to leave the production, was X-Men: The Last Stand (X-Men 3). That particular entry into the franchise was a) not their last stand, clearly and b) really quite rubbish. Especially since the original film's writing/directing team had beautifully set up the Dark Phoenix plot from the comics so brilliantly with the death of Jean Grey at the end of the second film... hinting at the continuation with a “held” camera shot panning across a lake. Everybody knew Marvel Girl would be resurrected as a dark villainess destroyer like she was in the comics and everyone was so psyched to see what would happen next. Unfortunately the change of director meant that the Dark Phoenix fulfillment story became relegated to a minor plot point in the third movie... which was a real mis-step for the franchise (but don’t worry, I’m reminding you of all this for a reason pertinent to this review).

When X-Men Origins: Wolverine burst onto our screen, my impression was that nobody was that interested in the X-Men anymore. The disappointment of that previous movie had kind of killed off the audience it seems to me. However, I went to see it and really quite liked it (my review of it is here). It wasn’t a perfect movie but it did feel like a modernish b-movie in terms of the fun of the way it was put together. Kind of like an early to mid 80s straight-to-home-video release but with a bigger budget thrown at it. It kinda worked on the level it was going for and, like I said, it had some fun in it.

The fifth X-Men movie, X-Men:First Class (reviewed here) was a bit of a strange prequel. It had stuff happening in it which totally contradicted the events which were flashed back to in the third X-Men film, as though the powers that be wanted to completely forget that third mis-step and reboot the series. Except it couldn’t be a reboot because there were a couple of interesting actor/character cameos in that film and... to be honest... this movie totally screws any continuity with the previous installments in the series. That it was so successful at the box office is because of one thing alone... it’s a completely brilliant, kick ass movie which succeeds on nearly every level and rivals the first two movies in every way. Such a brilliant, if continuity challenged movie.

Now, stick with me if you’re finding all this continuity stuff interesting because there’s a sequence at the end of The Wolverine which directly links it into the other parts of the franchise and sets up the new movie, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, currently filming, which combines the casts from the original X-Men movies and X-Men: First Class... I’ll come back to all this towards the end of this review.

And so, here we have Hugh Jackman’s sixth time playing Logan (Wolverine) on film. He’s a character who, as we know from previous movies, can heal himself very quickly and, because of this, has lived many hundreds of years (along with his brother who was cursed with the same talent/misfortune). We also know about his adamantium skeleton and we know that even before he had this technology thrust upon him, he had bone claws which would emerge at will from his knuckles. We also know that Hugh Jackman, a fan of the character, turned out to be completely perfect casting and plays him with the seriousness and gravitas that a fan-favourite character of this magnitude requires. So we know nothing is going to be wrong about his performance here and, what do you know, he’s still perfect in the role. And from hereon in, this review gets spoilery people!

This film is an adaptation of the 1982 comic-book 4 issue mini series The Wolverine, by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. I’ve not read that and can’t tell you whether it’s a completely faithful adaptation or not but this film certainly feels like it was adapted from something. It’s got a lot of substance to it and is not, contrary to what the trailers will have you believe, just a load of action sequences strung together. In fact, the action sequences in this were the ones which left me a little disappointed, to be honest. I found them a trifle long winded at times but, frankly, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of a beautifully put together movie. Logan’s relationship with the two lead Asian actresses in the film is really quite wonderful and, as always, Jackman makes you believe in the character through his sheer lack of sociability and resignedness and the way that vibe bounces off of friend and foe alike is a sheer delight to watch.

There are also some nice shot compositions, especially the first shot where the World War II Japanese concentration camp is established, which works particularly well in 3D when it pans to the right of the shot. And really nice set ups during the period when Logan is staying with a character called Mariko at her private hideaway, which play with size and perspective in a really nice way, pitching extremes of size directly against each other in the same shot for some nice angular and sometimes, triangular designs.

There's a really silly slip up, though, during that last mentioned set of sequences. There's a scene at a dinner table where much attention is drawn to the positioning of chopsticks and, well, all I can say is it's the mystery of the bizarrely moving chopsticks from horizontal position to vertical position again. Now this can have happened in two ways. One is that the dinner conversation was originally much longer and the chopsticks were "reset" during that conversation but then the sequence was shortened in the editing and that part cut out. Frankly though, because your attention is drawn towards the offending culinary objects, the slip up is quite blatant. I think what might have happened is the final shot which finishes the sequence off, a shot which has no conversation in it and which includes the problem, may have been spliced onto the end from an alternate take of an earlier shot to have something in medium shot to finish the sequence off... either way, the effect is quite comical and perhaps a little unwanted.

Plus some interesting choices in continuity with the rest of the franchise and this is where it gets interesting since The Wolverine is also, it turns out, a direct sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand. Haunted by the spirit of Jean Grey, who he had to kill in her Dark Phoenix incarnation in that film, Logan has a fair few dream-like conversations with her throughout this movie (Jean Grey again played remarkably charismatically by Famke Janssen) in a sort of The Ghost And Mrs. Muir kind of existence (or younger readers might take the analogy of Six and Baltar in the modern incarnation of the Battlestar Galactica TV series, if they prefer). This works pretty well to add a certain amount of depth to the character and explains the almost nomadic existence he has been living since the events in that third film. Also, it makes sense to link it with that movie in some ways because the events in X-Men Origins: Wolverine were clearly taking place at a point before the first X-Men movie and don’t require this film to tie up any loose “character” ends from that film.

This movie plays out really well though and, all in all, it’s quite extreme and raw for the rating... although nowhere near as extreme as I would have liked and had hoped for when director Darren Aronofsky was originally attached to the project in its early days. Well, okay, it’s raw for “modern” Hollywood anyway, and we can’t help but be trapped in the censorially worse-than-Victorian culture we are living in at the moment, I guess.

The score by Marco Beltrami, who is the 6th composer to work on an X-Men film (so much for musical continuity between films, you idiot producers) is actually quite mellow but not as pseudo-Japanese style as I was expecting. Perhaps that would, to be honest, have been a wrong move and this score supports the drama quite well. I’ve no idea as yet whether it works as well as a stand alone listen because I was only able to sneak enough time in to listen to the first third of the album over the week before I saw the movie, but I’m guessing it’s a nice enough listen and Beltrami’s a solid composer.

Now then... you will have hopefully seen this movie by now and if you did, I sincerely hope you stayed for the mid-credits epilogue sequence. If you didn’t, well, maybe you should try to see it. There’s been a lot of complaints, including from myself, that the last X-Men film brought about so many impossible continuity errors that it just made a mockery of the series. Now Bryan Singer, the original director of the first two movies in the franchise, who is making the next one, has said that he has recognised this and will try to do something about it. Now, they’re doing Days Of Future Past and all the actors who played the characters in both sets of movies, are reuniting to play the same characters at different points in time, presumably at the same time - Professor X meet young Professor X etc... but I don’t see how any of that can reunite the two timelines unless, one of the timelines is significantly altered. Now, the post end credits sequence on the third movie implied that the mind of Professor X had somehow survived in someone else’s body but, if I recall correctly, both Professor X and Magneto, played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, were destroyed. With me so far? Okay...

The mid end credits sequence in The Wolverine is set two years after the events that take place in the main body of the movie. There, at an airport, an uncredited Ian McKellan as Magneto and an uncredited Patrick Stewart as Professor X try to enlist Logan’s aid. Logan is suitably baffled by their presence, and so are the audience. Also, the implication could be that even Jean Grey somehow survived and that’s why she is always in Logan’s head throughout this movie (okay, so that last might just be wishful thinking on my part but, what the heck?). However, this does give me hope for the future of the franchise because, if Singer is able to come up with a good reason for Magneto and Professor X to still be walking the earth, then surely the continuity errors from the last movie should be small enough in comparison for him to take care of. Let’s hope so anyway. I guess we’ll find out during May 2014, which is when X-Men: Days Of Future Past is due to be released.

Until then, enjoy The Wolverine. It’s not as fun as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, to be sure, but it’s certainly got a more mature feel to it and a lot more narrative and character development to get your head around. And Jackman is always good to watch as Logan, bringing a lot to the role and embedding it with a continuity in character attitude that elevates the role to being one of the great on-screen characters of our time. He even gets away with doing a quite blatant homage to James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever... and if you've seen that film then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Don’t miss out, bub!

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