MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Wolverine’ can’t slice it

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First Posted: 7/29/2013

It’s an open secret that Darren Aronofsky was originally set to direct “The Wolverine,” and before he left the project, he was planning to take Wolverine in an interesting new direction.

Basically, he was going to make Wolverine fat. Why he was going to do this is unimportant. All that matters is that if Aronofsky had stayed on the movie, we would have gotten a Wolverine whose mutant healing factor is powerless against type 2 diabetes, a Wolverine who is just days away from knee replacement surgery and can’t go through a single fight scene without looking and sounding like Elvis as he was going through his final death throes. Aronofsky’s Wolverine would have been far more human, interesting, and pleasingly plump. And even though it’s doubtful that many fans of the franchise would have embraced Aronofsky’s vision, I still would have rather watched Wolverine grapple with a new super-foe called sleep apnea than watch the strictly-by-the-numbers snoozefest “The Wolverine” would eventually become under James Mangold’s direction.

But, to be fair, “The Wolverine” does start out on a promisingly odd note as our now grizzled, titular hero (Hugh Jackman) is shown wandering around the Canadian wilderness brutally avenging the deaths of his forest friends. For a few brief moments, “The Wolverine” plays like the gritty “Death Wish”-inspired reboot of “Gentle Ben” I’ve always dreamed of seeing. But like all dreams, these moments are fleeting, and it isn’t long before the film’s actual, far more disappointing plot finally kicks in.

Apparently, a Japanese tech tycoon named Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) that Wolverine saved during the bombing of Nagasaki is now on his deathbed. As the man lays dying, he tries to convince our hirsute hero to help him achieve immortality. In exchange for his help, Yashida will remove Wolverine’s mutant DNA. But as Wolverine deliberates, Yashida dies, leaving his daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) vulnerable to the various sundry ninjas and Yakuza that aimlessly prowl around the Japanese countryside.

Somewhat reluctantly, Wolverine agrees to serve as her bodyguard even though he’s somehow lost his mutant healing factor and can’t walk three feet without having someone fire a gun at his chest at point blank range. Complicating matters is the fact that the passive aggressive ghost of his former X-Men teammate Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) relentlessly nags him from beyond the grave.

Full disclosure: I never liked Wolverine as a character. Apart from being a third-generation rip-off of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, he’s really not much more than a guy with an unflattering haircut who seems to be suffering from some kind of rare strain of Bell’s palsy that has permanently frozen his face into a constipated glower. Like Conan, he’s really just a nerd’s idea of how a badass would look and act.

But as much as I dislike the character, Wolverine has nothing to do with the problems that surround “The Wolverine.” The film is boring, which is shocking because it’s basically about a shirtless, screaming man who can’t stop stabbing people with his indestructible steel claws. How could that ever be considered boring? Well, it can when most of the storyline revolves around the petty boardroom politics of the Yashida corporation and practically every character on screen isn’t much more than a scowling, personality-barren pile of meat that the shirtless guy will eventually stab. Which wouldn’t be all that bad except these scowling piles of meat all have dull, very long backstories that we’re all supposed to sit down and pay attention to. Ugh.

Granted, “The Wolverine” is an improvement over “X-Men: Origins,” but that’s like saying it’s much cooler to die from SARS than it is from the Hantavirus.

Rating: W W