Friday, January 03, 2014

Some Brief Thoughts on The Wolverine

Somehow I failed to list The Wolverine in my list of movies I watched in 2013, bringing the total to 103 (five of them superhero films, not four). I think perhaps I missed including the film on the list because I went out to see the movie with friends and chatted for a while after, resulting in a late return home on a work night.

In any event, I'm sorry I missed including the film on my list because it turned out to be a refreshing change of pace for the superhero genre. I was rather burned out on apocalypse after the (often literally) world-shattering events of Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel, and The Wolverine's more personal scope gave me hope that creators will remember genre often works best at the small scale.

In brief, Wolverine saves the life of a Japanese soldier during the closing days of World War II. Decades later, that ageing soldier seeks out Wolverine for one last act of gratitude - or so it seems. In a nutshell, Wolverine has to overcome a scheme to steal his powers, going into battle with only his wits and his adamantium skeleton.

Any super-hero plot sounds pretty silly on the surface, but James Mangold's film works as an action vehicle, a character piece and a surprisingly ambitious attempt to begin fixing the mistakes of the third X-Men movie. Wolverine spends much of the film mourning the loss of a woman he was forced to kill in that story, and those scenes are moving and effective. There's also a very well executed post credits scene that sets up Day of Future Past, the next X-Men film. In an age of reboots, I'm impressed that the X-producers are trying to fix the mistakes of previous movies rather than sweeping them under the canonical rug.

Even without these touches, though, The Wolverine stands on its own as a smart, atmospheric action film with compelling relationships, convincing character arcs and an admirable absence of the idiot plot. Every character behaves in believable ways given their individual perspectives, something that doesn't always happen in big-budget films. Here the focus is more on character and less on special effects mayhem.

In the comics, Wolverine is consistently portrayed as a shorter-than-average character who makes a point (usually with his claws) that bigger isn't always better. The same is true of this film. 

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