Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Wolverine

Hollywood is an unfair place.

And you are at fault.

The fickle, flawed movie-going audience is at fault. And if you don't see ten movies per year in the theater, you are less than at-fault. You merely aspire to be at-fault for Hollywood's unfairness.

As a prime example of this phenomenon, I present The Wolverine, an utterly terrific motion picture that does almost everything right. And yet it's the lowest grossing X-Men movie of them all.

And X-Men Origins: Wolverine was one of those movies. But we'll get to that.

First, here's why The Wolverine is so good.

It limits its focus to about eight characters, the ideal number for a movie. There's Wolvie, our hero, played by Hugh Jackman. He gets contacted by a pink-haired Japanese girl named Yukio in delightful fashion -- during a bar fight -- and summoned to Japan, where an old acquaintance named Yashida (we're up to 3!) is dying of old age. Yashida wishes to bid farewell to the man who saved his life during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

While staying at the compound of the wealthy Yashida, Wolvie meets his granddaughter Mariko, our love interest (4!), who is apparently the beneficiary of the old man's entire estate.

The old man's funeral is attacked by samurai and ninja -- I hope my funeral is as exciting -- during which Wolvie rescues Mariko and discovers a terrifying fact: his mutant regenerative abilities are greatly dimished, meaning that for the first time he can be wounded and, potentially, killed.

Wolvie goes on the run with Mariko, whom he falls in love with despite the repeated dream-sequence appearances of Famke Jansen's Jean Grey (5!), whom Wolvie was forced to kill at the climax of X-3.

But the loving pair is pursued by Mariko's former archer-boyfriend Shingen and his new boss, the sinister Madame Viper (6 and 7!), played by Russian temptress Svetlana Khodchenkova.

Viper is responsible for Wolvie's impaired regeneration, as well as Yashida's death and the funeral melee.

Ultimately Wolvie is brought to Viper's mountainside stronghold, where he is faced with the robotic Silver Samurai (8!) in a battle to the death.


I mean, c'mon. That's a really good dramatic structure. It's a perfectly understandable story. It's packed with characters who impact the plot. And it's a lot of good, old-fashioned fun.

For you film snobs, there's even a meaningful theme running through the story. Ever since he was forced to kill Jean Grey for the greater good, Wolvie's harbored a desperately wounded psyche, ironic for a man who can heal from any physical wound.

In order to heal from the loss of Jean Grey, Wolvie must lose his regenerative ability and face death on its own terms. Only then can he resume being the Wolverine, the man who is the very best at what he does.

It's helpful when coming up with a theme to have a coherent plot with a limited number of characters and sub-plots, and this is where Hollywood gets into so much trouble. Whenever a story problem -- or a marketing problem! -- arises, Hollywood's typical answer is to add another character, add another subplot. Eventually movies collapse under the weight of all these well-meaning additions, as well as their bulked-up running times.

But The Wolverine somehow made it to theaters in sleek, purposeful form, and because of that it's a highly enjoyable movie experience.

Which is more than I can say for the previous installment of the Wolvie saga, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which has the most preposterous plot and muddled storyline of any movie in recent memory.

And that explains the underwhelming box office performance of The Wolverine. Moviegoers are heavily influenced by the previous movie in a given cycle. This explains why Iron Man 3 killed it at the box office. The previous Iron Man movie was the outstanding The Avengers.

And it explains why The Wolverine, excellent as it is, is dying at the box office. People are expecting another X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and are staying away.

So it's too bad you're not a smarter audience.

If you were, The Wolverine would be doing a lot better.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 88/100

How Much I Enjoyed 92/100