Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Watashi Wa Wolverine Wakarimasen

Step one in any self-respecting hero's journey to Japan:
head down a well; fuck up Sadako.
Given my stated interests, I should probably say something about The Wolverine.  I'm finding myself oddly unmotivated, though.  Not because it's a bad film - it's definitely better than the first and third X-Men films, and there's a case to be made that it's better than it's predecessor.  I don't know where this malaise has come from.  Maybe the Avengers juggernaut and the surprisingly funny Iron Man 3 have set the bar a bit high. Maybe I've just seen enough superhero films for now. Maybe it's just that after almost three hours of dental surgery yesterday the film would have to really stink for it to really register.

And it certainly doesn't stink.  There's a lot to be said in its favour.  The frequent action scenes are tight, and the script is perfectly serviceable, if a wee bit workmanlike.  The Japanese setting is utterly gorgeous, but without the kind of dismissive "this is just a pretty view spoiled by weird locals" [1] approach American cinema took a long time to shake off, if indeed it every really did.  There's obviously a limit to how much cultural exploration one can fit into a film fundamentally about slashing shit with claws, but there's some nice little touches here, like the home-cooked meal scene, or the beautifully bizarre (and bizarrely shaped) hotel featured halfway through.

In most ways, then, The Wolverine is probably a better film than its predecessor, which in itself was a perfectly decent film.  There's just two problems that stop me from being more enthusiastic with the movie than I am (spoilers below):

  1. The heroine. The first film centred around the horribly unhealthy but very interesting love-hate relationship between Wolverine and Sabertooth. That's just a much, much stronger hook than "Wolvie falls in love", especially when the two leads don't appear to have much chemistry.  That's no reflection on Tao Okamoto, who does pretty well acting in her second language - despite having pretty much no previous acting experience  (compare her with Rila Fukushima, another Japanese model with little acting experience, who I found utterly unconvincing as Yukio, except when she was beating people up, which in fairness takes up a lot of her screen time).  Nevertheless, it rather hobbles the film; there's nothing there that makes the love story seem relevant beyond the fact that every comic book fan knows Wolverine and Mariko are a thing.
  2. The villains. There's too much going on here. For all that it might have been worth doing just to piss Frank Miller off, I'm struggling to understand anyone wanting to adapt Wolverine's adventures in Japan deciding a big problem is that Shingen plays too great a role.  It's especially unfortunate when the effect is to relegate one of the most iconic moments in Wolverine's history in Japan to the sidelines so he can level up and face the Caucasian who's really causing all the trouble, even if she ultimately proves to be taking her orders from another native [2].  I can sort of see the problem here; after years of superhero pyrotechnics having Wolverine face off against a man without any special powers might be difficult to play, but the end product basically involves combining two classic story lines from the comics without even trying to stick the landings - Shingen is no great shakes, and Mariko doesn't end up dead. Add in how utterly batshit the villains' plan is - why not just capture Wolverine at the mansion straight away; they clearly have the requisite tech - and how strangely Yarada is treated in all of this, and the whole ends up something of an unconvincing mess.
So it has problems, both on its own terms and as an adaptation. Still, ask me which of the two films I'd rather see again, and I'd say this one (though Fliss disagrees).  Having seen Origins at least three times already, that should at least tell you something.

 (X-posted at Year X).

[1] A lot of people have levelled this complaint at Lost in Translation, for instance. It's not actually a position I particularly agree with - it's hard to do a culture shock film without presenting that culture as very strange, especially when the point of the film isn't to see culture shock overcome - but that gives you an idea of what I'm talking about here.

[2] Were one so inclined, one could even point out that the trope of shifty untrustworthy Oriental folk who'll repay you for saving their lives by trying to kill you has been mentioned as a problem in Western storytelling.  I'm neither sufficiently aware of the truth of that observation nor particularly interested in dissecting it with regard to this movie, I'm just flagging it up.

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