Before I even begin the review of The Wolverine, I need to point out that the film you will see could not have been made possible without Len Wein, John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe (the creators of Wolverine) and specifically Chris Claremont and Frank Miller who wrote the 1982 four issue limited series this film is based on.
Overall it was not a bad film and there seems to be a level of quality control with this film that was not there with the first Wolverine film (see my review). X-Men: First Class has become my favorite of the X franchise and the pendulum seems to be swinging towards quality.
That said, I did have issues with this film.
When this film followed the story laid out in the limited series, it was great, and that’s even with some of the subtle character changes (like with Yukio) that I thought worked and made sense. I also liked the opening sequence which was extremely well done. I am not someone who says that films need to be slavish to the source material.
But it is important to keep the spirit of the piece intact.
Where this film runs aground is when the screenwriters decided to grow a brain and add in things that just really didn’t make much sense.
For instance, the villain is both a copyright curiosity (does Fox own the rights to her?) and just took the film in directions that stunk of generic super hero movie. There is also a huge part of the plot that deals with mutant powers that is a MacGuffin meant to create “manufactured danger” that is extremely transparent (hint: if the actor’s name is the first billed on the poster, they’re not going to die).
Fox is trying to build a franchise out of the X-Men properties that they have the license to and that’s a good thing. There’s even a great teaser in the credits for the next X film.
Typical of Hollywood however is that they learn the wrong lessons from their successes.
The lesson from X-Men: First Class was that if you build a great film first (in that case, a period spy piece) you win.
The lesson is not to build generic super hero films. That’s X3 and it nearly killed the franchise it was such a mess.
Speaking of which, there is a heavy reliance on knowing what happened in X3. So if you didn’t see that and aren’t familiar with the X-Men comic books, you might be scratching your head on a few scenes. But more power to them for trying to build their universe.
The source material is not a super hero comic book. It’s a samurai tale. It’s very simple. Very A-to-B. And it works. It’s stood the test of time. Which is why, for instance, it is mind boggling that in addition to all of the crap they piled on the film they also made the decision to make it where Logan does not speak Japanese and has never lived in Japan.
It takes away a huge part of his cool factor and puts him in that generic super hero cookie cutter.
It’s also bizarre that so many of the divergence from the source material pull out some great set pieces (like running through Tokyo with Yukio). That said, I found it interesting that they really tried to recreate some of the Frank Miller imagery in the film. In some places they get close, but it really shows how different the mediums are where what you can do on the page doesn’t always work on the screen.
To that point, voice over almost never works in films, but works amazingly well in comics and I’m thankful they knew that and opted to not go with a voice over.
Overall, it’s not a bad film. But it had so much potential. Read the source material and you’ll understand what I mean where if they had stuck with the vision and the tone of the comic book the could have made a film that was better than Iron Man.
But like I said, they decided to try to get “clever” and “creative” and we all know that when it comes to Hollywood that’s usually not a good thing.
[Update: Sean Howe interviews Chris Claremont about his thoughts on the film on Vulture, and Claremont does a great job of articulating some of my issues with the film]