Disclaimer: I took every precaution to only disclose things about this movie that are visible in trailers. I do not believe that there are any true spoilers in this review.
Keanu Reeves is on the screen during the preview for 47 Ronin, and because there is nothing logical or interesting about Keanu Reeves playing a samurai I attempt to recall all of the things I knew about the movie I was about to see. The Wolverine is directed by James Mangold, who as a director has brought us such gems as Girl Interrupted, Walk the Line, Identity and 3:10 to Yuma. These were all character-driven movies with a level of polish on the plot and script that I really enjoy. This bodes well for the ol’ canucklehead’s fifth appearance on the silver screen. Mangold also directed Knight and Day starring Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise, but I figure I could give him a mulligan on that one. The Wolverine also sports the undeniably awesome Hugh Jackman as the titular character again; between Jackman and Gerard Butler, I don’t know who I have a bigger “broner” for. There aren’t a whole lot of really notable actors that most Americans have heard of other than those mentioned above, though from what I’ve read the Japanese actors are famous in their home country. The wildcard here is Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova, who plays the mutant Viper. Not really knowing what role Viper would play in the movie, I remained optimistically skeptical. There were rumors abound of an appearance by the lovely Famke Janssen as the now-deceased Jean Grey, so I’m not sure how it can stand truly aside from the X-Men movies but I hoped they would explain it somehow. No complaints so far going into this.
Another preview plays, this time it’s for the upcoming Thor sequel. It looks fantastic, and they take care in the previews not to show everything in the preview. I definitely want to see it, but I bring my focus back to the feature at hand. In interviews, James Mangold has said that this will be a completely stand-alone movie, not having much to do with the original three X-Men movies and ignoring X-Men Origins: Wolverine entirely while not retreading any origin story. I knew from the previews I had seen that the Silver Samurai would be in this movie, but I don’t know to what extent. I also gleaned from the previews that there would be a scene involving Wolverine slicing up a metric fuckton of ninjas, which upon thinking about made me decide that my broner definitely goes to Hugh Jackman. Wolverine went to Japan in the comics more than a few times, but most notably in an outstanding story created by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. It involved a lot of ninjas, and Wolverine using those ninjas to show us that he’s the best at what he does.
As the opening scene plays, I can’t wipe the smile from my face. I have the perfect seat, nobody is sitting next to me and the rest of the audience seems like they will remain quiet during the movie instead of being the douchebags that some people choose to be. This movie is going to rock! I think to myself, and sit back to enjoy the awesomeness that is about to be bestowed upon me.
Turns out…this movie did not rock.
I’m not going to post any spoilers, but as the credits were rolling I was severely disappointed. Not only was the Silver Samurai not a samurai at all, but his purpose was just plain silly. The plot made very little sense, and the love story seemed forced. The other villain, Viper, was not explained very well and it was never really clear why she was necessary. One of the good-aligned characters can see the future, but it is never useful and usually wrong. The character literally could have not had those powers or not been in the film at all and nothing would be different. Speaking of useless characters, Famke Janssen appears several times throughout the movie to make Wolvie feel bad. This does serve a purpose in the beginning to let the viewers know that our hero is in some mental anguish, but the movie never recalls the happenings of X-Men 3 so I’m willing to bet that anyone who didn’t see it was scratching their heads as to why Jean Grey appears at all and what Logan has to feel bad about. Jean Grey is actually talked about more in the movie than the Silver Samurai, but other than a little exposition there is nothing solved or incited by her presence. It’s almost as if the writers wanted the audience to go back and re-watch the X-Men movies, which I found annoying due to Mangold’s promise that this would be a standalone adventure for Wolverine. Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of subtitles. All of the characters seemed to know English anyways, so to have so much of the dialogue in Japanese was a little distracting.
But the fight scenes were cool…right? Well, there is the much-highlighted fight scene atop a bullet train that proves to be very entertaining, and a pretty decent duel between Wolverine and a samurai (this one not particularly silver) does prove to be another high point for the movie. Other than that…no. You are all probably wondering about the ninjas I mentioned earlier, and rightfully so because it would be very difficult to screw up a concept like “Wolverine vs. Ninjas”. Well, they found a way. I’ll leave it at that, to avoid spoiling anything.
There is a moment in the final battle involving the Silver Samurai that is probably meant to make you go all “wtf”, and it does…just probably not in the way the writers wanted. Let’s just say that Wolverine endures a seemingly permanent change to his appearance, and it made me think about how this movie has done almost everything within its power to not show us the things we wanted to see in a Wolverine movie. There was very little evidence of beserker rage; this was instead replaced with Wolverine playing a crude anti-hero while an ally stands around and sets up the comedy relief. Most of the characters not sporting retractable adamantium claws could have been discarded, allowing for a more “lone wolf” scenario where Wolverine does what he does best all across Japan. Otherwise you are trading the X-Men for some lesser-known and less interesting characters, which is more of a step backwards than anything.
As disappointment became the victor of my evening, the credits stop rolling. I stay seated for a mid-credits scene that managed to be better than the entire movie despite only being two or three minutes long. This teaser for the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past was worth the price of admission and the two hours I spent in mental anguish over the inconsistent and sloppy movie. It wasn’t just great, folks, it got me really excited for the upcoming X-Men movies and whatever else will happen in the Fox-based Marvel universe.
Thinking about it now, though, I remember how much Jean Grey’s presence in The Wolverine reminded me of the first three X-Men movies. It would be safe to deduce, I believe, that this movie was meant to be a message to fans that the Fox-owned Marvel mutant universe would be as exciting and spectacular as the Disney-owned Marvel universe. There are rumors of sentinels in the next X-Men movie, and that could be a really awesome thing. Fox wants us to know what’s coming, and they if their intent was to get me amped up for it then they have definitely succeeded. I guess I just wish they hadn’t sacrificed the opportunity to tell a great Wolverine story to do it.