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‘The Wolverine’: A Lot More Good Than Bad

I’ve been thinking about The Wolverine, which I caught at a morning screening — it’s what you have to do when you have a toddler! — on opening weekend.

There’s a lot to like in this movie, but it’s far from perfect. The movie’s been out a few weeks now, so I’m going to talk about stuff that qualifies as spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
Here’s the pro side:

  • This is the most faithful adaptation of a Marvel comic-book story to come to screen so far. There are deviations from the 1982 Wolverine miniseries it’s based on, but I was surprised by how much of that story was kept intact. 
  • I liked that the female characters were interesting. Yukio in particular is a favorite of mine from the original comic. And while she’s not quite the same character here, she played a major role in the story and held her own quite well. Mariko didn’t fare quite as well. I never fully bought the romantic connection between her and Logan. The comic version, despite its hokey elements, is a bit more convincing. 
  • The end tag previewing next summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was terrific. Patrick Stewart is back! So is Ian McKellan! I am now very much looking forward to that pic and find myself hoping Bryan Singer can really pull off an amazing movie that not only heals some of the wounds left by X-Men: The Last Stand, but also unifies the whole franchise and gives it an exciting way to go forward. My biggest concern is living up to the impact of the original comic book story, which has to be significantly fleshed out for a feature film.
  • I liked that there was a lot of Japanese spoken in the film, both with and without subtitles. 
  • While Viper was probably the least necessary addition to the movie, I really liked Svetlana Khodchenkova in the role. She had just the right amount of sexy sinister for a character like that.
  • The posters with the Japanese style artwork are great.
Here’s the con side:

  • After a very satisfying and interesting set up, the final act is so conventional as to be boring. The Silver Samurai, as done in this movie, was far less interesting than in the comics. The big reveal of Harada as being inside the big robot suit is just plain dull and has almost no emotional impact.
  • I wish more had been done to play up the love triangle of the original comic, with Yukio being an obvious and very willing match for Logan, who just can’t get over Mariko. That was a nice touch in the comic that this movie could have used a bit more of.
  • Viper is not well integrated into the story. She seems pretty unnecessary and her power is oddly portrayed and never explained. I don’t recall Viper having any powers in the comics. But I do remember she somehow convinced Wolverine to willingly marry her for some reason. (I remember it was in Chris Claremont’s return to the character in Wolverine #125-128 or so, but not the reasons behind that twist.) That might have been a more interesting element to play with here.
  • I hate the ripping out of Wolverine’s claws. The bone claws, in a word, suck. I always thought the bone claws were the lamest thing ever done to the character. My problem with it is it makes absolutely no sense. We were told for decades that the claws were housed in some kind of bionic mechanism, which must have been confirmed by all the medical exams done on Logan by everyone from the Sentinels (as far back as The Uncanny X-Men #98) through the Shi’ar and onward. Even in the original Days of Future Past storyline, when the Sentinels burn off Wolverine’s flesh, you can see the manmade mechanism that operates his claws in his bones. Of course, that’s a future timeline Wolverine, so it’s easy to explain away. But that doesn’t mean it’s still not a stupid idea.
  • No credit whatsoever for Chris Claremont, Frank Miller or Josef Rubinstein for coming up with the original comic-book story. Even more interesting, it appears Claremont doesn’t get even a token payment, while Len Wein, who officially created Wolverine but had little to do with the character as he exists today, did.   
The Wolverine looks like a solid but not spectacular hit. So far, it’s made about $113 million at the domestic box office and about $195 million overseas, for a decent total of $308 million on an estimated budget of $120 million. Anticipation for X-Men: Days of Future Past is running high, and it’s clear Fox is going to continue to develop and release X-Men movies on a regular basis, thus preventing the rights from reverting to Marvel. The series appears to be on the upswing, with the well-received X-Men: First Class and now The Wolverine getting fans past the disappointments of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I would love to see the franchise move past prequels and into new, fresh territory with new characters, new villains and new scenarios. After The Wolverine, it’s looking more likely than before, and I think fans of the comics and the movies can be glad of that. 

‘Watchmen’ dispute settled

Fans can relax: Watchmen will hit theaters March 6 as planned now that Fox and Warner Bros. have settled their rights dispute. Here’s Variety’s story, THR’s and Nikki Finke with some of the details of the deal.

Details include a cash payment from WB to Fox and the latter having gross participation in the film. But Fox won’t distribute the film, nor will its logo appear on it.

Frankly, this really was the only possible outcome, and all the drama can be forgotten.

The only thing that’s even a little worrisome is that Fox got as part of the deal a stake in any spinoffs or sequels — neither of which I think any fan of the book really wants to see.

‘O Logan, Where Art Thou?’, a.k.a. another Fox-Marvel movie misses the point

A few days of thinking about the new trailer to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” that officially hit the web Monday have me downgrading the clip from my first impressions. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer:

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE HD

There’s a lot going on in this clip, but this appears to be a great example of how movies sometimes try really hard to be faithful to the comics and yet somehow still get it completely wrong. These clips show interesting bits and pieces of the character’s comic book history, starting with “Origin” and progressing to the pivotal Silver Fox-Sabretooth story that first appeared about 20 years ago in Wolverine #10. So far, so good.

What’s most problematic is the introduction of William Stryker and the implication that Logan turned to the Weapon X program intentionally to get back at Sabretooth. Stryker was made part of Logan’s past in the franchise-best “X2,” but this particular change is a major one for the character that significantly alters his entire motivation and points out just how much the character has changed (and not necessarily for the better) in his nearly 35-year history.

The first real definition of the character came at the hands of Chris Claremont, who wrote Logan almost esclusively from 1975 to the early 1990s, and evolved Logan from a wild man whose instinct for mayhem won out over brain power to the famed “failed samurai” of the Frank Miller-drawn 1982 miniseries. Much of the character’s appeal to fans came from Claremont’s resistance to nail down an origin or a past for Logan — in retrospect, a great idea for the way it teased fans used to having every aspect of a character’s life and motivation fully laid out before them. Logan himself stated on many occasions that he cared not a whit for who was responsible for what happened to him or for digging up his lost memories. He lived in the present, and eventually a little bit for the future.

But Wolverine’s popularity couldn’t keep writers from trying to fill in Logan’s past. Barry Windsor Smith’s “Weapon X” was the first, but while it portrayed the event of how Logan got his claws it was wisely light on the details of who was responsible. What was definitely clear was that this was done to him against his will — and the trauma it caused largely responsible for his lack of control over himself and his lost memories. This still worked within the overall X-Men universe, as the forces that experimented on Logan against his will was another example of the mutant-human conflict.

So having Logan turn to Stryker and willingly undergo the Weapon X procedure and join Stryker’s special team is a radical change. Instead of a wild loner, or victim of experimentation, Logan’s now motivated by his desire for revenge on Sabretooth. This is a more conventional character, but that’s not surprising given the direction the comics (and the movies) have been taking for years now. Fox could have made a much more distinctive movie if they’d gone the Japan route — but it appears that’s the last thing the studio expects from its superhero franchises.

Looking at the rest of the trailer, the sheer number of mutants appearing in this film is impressive, though in danger of treading on the comics’ unfortunate tendancy to connect everyone to everyone else at every opportunity by throwing in Emma Frost and what looks like a young Storm. (Young Scott Summers is apparently in the movie, too.) Gambit looks good, though I’m still not sold on Liev Shrieber as Sabretooth. And the final line Jackman delivers just lacks the kind of aggression you’d expect from the character.

In the meantime, we’ve got “The Spirit,” which is increasingly looking like niche fare (I haven’t seen it yet), and “Watchmen,” which is becoming so big a movie that it likely will affect how Hollywood treats superhero movies for years to come — for good or ill.

‘Wolverine’ pic: Overstuffed or lean and mean?

New pics from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” show up seemingly every week, presumably because a trailer is imminent with the release of Fox’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” on Dec. 12. The film, which isn’t out until May 1, will be the first big test of how well Fox can handle the X-Men franchise in the wake of “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

The first major concern is that this film is trying to bite off too much. The photos and cast list on IMDB indicate that we’ll be seeing Logan fighting as far back as World War II, his relationship with Sabretooth (unhinted at in “X-Men”), a whole bunch of mutants making their first film appearances and possibly elements of the still-controversial “Origin” series from 2001. All of which just makes this thing look way too crowded, what with Deadpool, Beak, Silver Fox, William Stryker, Agent Zero, Gambit, The Blob, John Wraith and, apparently, Scott “Cyclops” Summers all set to show up. You have to wonder if there’s room left in such a film for Wolverine, especially with Fox actively talking about a spinoff for Deadpool. Alternately, charges of not giving each character their due are sure to come up, as is a question of coherence and clarity for folks who don’t know all these folks’ backstories. That kind of storytelling is the sort of thing that could turn the general audiences away from superhero pics, much the way they frustrate the casual comics fan.

On the plus side, the pictures look interesting. Jackman’s really bulked up his physique and looks as good as ever in the role. The much-leaked Comic-Con footage shows a lot of action, which could go a long way toward overcoming story weaknesses. And Fox and Jackman have a lot on the line with this, so you can be sure they will do everything they can to avoid disaster. I also like the idea of having an actor like Liev Shreiber play Sabretooth — he’s the sort who can give it the kind of depth it needs. Not being too much of a Deadpool fan, I still think Ryan Reynolds is good at that sort of wise-cracking hero thing and another good choice. Gavin Hood remains an unknown quantity — “Tsotsi” was acclaimed, but rumors of troubles on the set last year and the dispatching of Richard Donner to smooth things out is less than encouraging.

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