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Bad Movie Tuesday: Good Heroes Need Good Villains

July 30, 2013

The Wolverine movie poster 3

The Wolverine is not a bad movie. It tries really hard to be likable but loses it’s way when it indulges in bloodless CGI battles, wonky villains and too much drama.  It tells an insular story that never finds a rhythm but is light years ahead of X-Men The Last Stand and Origins.  You can tell Hugh Jackman is passionate about the role because of all the chicken breasts he’s had to eat over the years. He cares for the character and wants to give The Wolverine purists something to love.  It is never in doubt that his bearded immortal has seen too much, lost everyone and enjoys bottles labeled “straight whiskey.”

The biggest problem with the film is the reliance on CGI and underwritten villains/characters. Why establish characters then lose them in quickly edited battle or dream sequences. The human moments are what make The Wolverine better than Origins and Last Stand. Those films betrayed character and lost everything that made them likable (shut Deadpool’s mouth, made Mystique human). Remember when Jean Grey died in X2? The scene was amazing because you felt  loss and urgency in one deadly moment. It went beyond a comic book film and became cinema. You cared for the characters and it wasn’t an empty shell of self-importance and kiddie pool deep themes (Man of Steel). The same character building tactics were used in successful films like Spider Man 2, The Dark Knight, Chronicle and Iron Man. 

Wolverine works best when humans are fighting. There are two moments  that I wanted to highlight.  One scene involves two tough Yakuza thugs, a speeding train and an ailing wolverine. They jump, stab and claw their way to the best moment of the film. There is something at stake and it is a battle of wits, knives and sideburns. You admire the doomed Yakuza and you love how Wolverine dispatches them.

Another cool scene involves Wolverine’s impromptu bodyguard (Rila Fukushima) protecting him while he is vulnerable. The scene works because the immortal/indestructible mutant can’t move and needs to be protected. She battles a much stronger man in a barrage of flips, dodges, ducks, dips, dives and dodges. The scene has a human element  that has made Batman and Iron Man so popular. You care if she gets stabbed because she can’t heal. Her opponent is bigger, stronger and more experienced yet she fights desperately to give Logan the time he needs to heal himself. The fight is frantic, fun and well choreographed.

The quiet moments and character building are all lost in arrow fights, massive robots and the worst character in X-Men history. The Viper played by Svetlana Khodchenkova is reminiscent of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy. However, Svetlana is no Uma and her character comes across as smug and totally unnecessary. Also, you get a subplot about a jealous son and large metal robot. They are so underwritten it makes all their scenes useless. Sure, things are going boom and dudes are getting slashed but it feels like an excuse for a shirtless Jackman to wreck some fools. Popular superhero films (Dark Knight, Spider Man 2, X2) all had menacing bad guys who you liked and feared (Joker, Loki, Doc. Ock, Stryker, Magneto). Their actions carried believable malice that kept you on the edge of your seat. Within The Wolverine world you don’t care because you know the bad guys are just claw fodder for the side burned angry fella. I’m pretty sure that bottle of straight whiskey gave Logan a bigger headache than the legions of ninjas.

The Wolverine is not a bad film. It attempted to tell a classic story but forgot about making interesting bad guys. The same thing happened to Pacific Rim. In all the hoopla of telling an action packed story they forgot to create three-dimensional characters. What followed were underwhelming box office and no hard feelings. Critics and audiences like the two films but they didn’t love them. Thus, they will be great on TNT/FX  but forgotten in the canon of Superhero lore.

Watch the Wolverine. Appreciate the train fight. Root for Rila. Watch X2.

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