Film #92: The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverinedirector: James Mangold
language: English and some Japanese
length: 126 minutes
watched on: 25 September 2013
aka: “Wolverine Samurai” in Japan

A perfectly passable action movie about Wolverine (although I thought we already had one of those). I went there with a friend last month, but we didn’t realise that the film would be set in Japan until we got in there. Unfortunately for the film, this in effect meant that we laughed at the inconsistencies, and various things that didn’t match with our version of reality. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t good enough for these things to be minor.

Basically the film played like a tourist’s guidebook to Japan, and not necessarily a particularly favorable one. Like tourist versions of Paris that include the Eiffel Tower in every shot, Tokyo Tower was included in every shot as the only internationally recognized Tokyo landmark (which makes me wonder why they haven’t heard of the Skytree or the Rainbow Bridge). A lot of the scenes were actually shot in Sydney – not so obvious at first, but some scenes looked inexplicably off in the details. One major early scene was shot in a mixture of the Zojoji temple near Tokyo Tower and a similar landmark in Sydney.

Geography was thus rather a mess: I counted the characters running from there to a briefly-glimpsed on-location shot in Takadanobaba (at least 7 kilometres) to Ueno station (another 6-7 km) in barely 2 minutes. It’s like, movies are allowed to cut out extraneous time, but it was too quick. Later in the movie they drive back into Tokyo over a mountain and get a very clear view of the city with Tokyo Tower taking prominence over any other landmarks – anyone who’s seen the city can tell you it’s much more spread out than that, and if you drive over the mountains to enter the city, the skyline, mostly of Shinjuku, is barely a blip on the horizon, if you can even see it through the haze, and Tokyo Tower is surrounded by other skyscrapers, which is what necessitated building the Skytree in the first place.

Many of the unrealistic parts came in the form of the way the Japanese characters talk in the movie: many of them are obsessed with the idea of honour and their fluency in English is slightly too perfect to be realistic. The family structure, albeit one of a high ranking criminal family, didn’t seem familiar, and their house was a huge antiquated building of the kind that precious few live in in Tokyo. Yeah they’re meant to be rich, and Wolverine needs space to have a fight scene, but it’s still jarring.

The Shinkansen scene was also a point of contention for me: Wolverine manages to get on the train without a ticket, or without knowing where it’s going, and calls it the Bullet Train to reinforce the tourist guide book impression. Then he manages to get onto the roof of the train to fight some yakuza (somehow the girl doesn’t believe him when he says they’re yakuza – like “how did you know they were yakuza?” Well duh.), somehow not falling off in the process, but the weirdest thing here is that the entire train ride is through a claustrophobic cityscape, with buildings at close quarters on either side, and the train doesn’t go through any tunnels or anything. Moments later they’re getting off at Osaka without any sense that they had gone between two cities.

So I should probably leave aside the Japan parts because I could rant all day about that without getting anywhere. In terms of the film’s X-Men roots, it refers back to the death of Wolverine’s girlfriend a lot – she appears in his dreams to chastise him a lot. It took me a while to figure out where in the saga it fits, because his earlier film was a prequel, but this follows on from the 3rd movie. He’s one of only about three mutants in the movie, though. One Japanese girl can apparently tell when or how people will die, and there’s an evil girl called Viper or something who acts like a snake and spits poison in people’s eyes. I kinda felt it didn’t take enough opportunities to make use of the mutant gimmick. It’d be nice to see how mutants are treated in Japan, for instance. Instead, Wolverine is treated fairly normally, except by his enemies who try and sap his power.

One of the problems that I think a film about Wolverine will always face is that Wolverine is essentially immortal and very difficult to harm due to an unbreakable skeleton and superhuman healing power. The power-sapping in this film was an attempt to remedy that, so that he’s temporarily mortal – but somehow you knew all along that he would bounce back and regain his strength. Predictable.

I enjoyed it overall, as an action movie whose premise of “Wolverine beats people up” was fulfilled, but the inconsistencies distracted me, the plot was meaningless and confusing, and the characters didn’t develop at all during the course of the movie, at least as I can see. Wolverine remains a stoic and disinterested hunk of muscle. Of course, that was the other saving grace of the film: Hugh Jackman spends most of it with his top off.

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