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Monday, 26 May 2014

The Wolverine (2013).


No Game of Thrones this week.

Yeeeaaah, I actually only found that out yesterday. Cue rummaging through the pile of films I've been meaning to review to find something to replace it.

So, what could possibly replace the blood, intrigue, and sharp dialogue of a good episode of Game of Thrones? 

...

Well. It has blood, I suppose.

The Wolverine (2013).


I have just watched The Wolverine, and I'm staring at an OpenOffice document entitled 'Untitled 4' and the only thing I can think to say is 'by the end of this film, I wished only for death' about twelve times.

This film is bad. This is a worse film than Spiderman 3. It's a shame, because actually there are the seeds of something good here, that you can spot here and there, but they're drowned in a sea of incoherent writing, half-cocked fanservice, and abject racism.

Let's cycle through those backwards and start with 'abject racism'. I kept a count of how many times the film made reference to the rather strange idea of 'Japanese men are small and weak, Western men are large and strong' and came out with eight times. That's more than once every twenty minutes. You wouldn't even be able to fit an episode of X-Men The Animated Series between all the lip service paid to that one particular and strange idea.

I also kept count of how many times the film attempted to draw a contrast between the virility and sexual prowess of the Japanese male characters compared to Wolverine. It was nearly constant: Doctor Green purring that if only Attractive Ninja Dude could satisfy her, she'd be so glad; about three different references to 'Japanese men are sexual deviants'; constant snide cracks about Japanese men being 'pretty' or feminine.

It's relevant, because an element of sexual anxiety has always been a part of racist narratives: Both historically and presently, the narrative woven by white men about ethnic minorities includes as an almost omnipresent element the idea that men of ethnic minorities are sexually inadequate, less virile, et cetera, ad nauseum. 

Stop posing in the rain, lad, you'll catch your death of cold.

In case it seems like Japanese men are the only targets of this film's spleen-ventery, I should clarify that they're not: The women don't get treated much better either. There are three female characters: Mariko, Yukio, and Doctor Green, and by the end of the story their own motivations have fizzled away into nothingness, leaving them as satellites in Wolverine's orbit. Wolverine actually has a romance with Mariko – a rather strange romance that comes barrelling out of the left field, to the point where I literally looked away for a minute and when I got back, they had gone from 'reluctant allies' to 'lovers', and I had to rewind to find out how that happened. But Mariko is repeatedly contrasted with Wolverine's hallucinatory Jean Grey, with the obvious subtext being that she is an inadequate substitute. That doesn't have to be a problematic subplot, but Mariko never calls Wolverine out on it, and Wolverine never has any kind of self-reflection about it. They're still romantically involved when the story ends.

It's also more than a little skeevy to take an East-Asian woman, often fetishised by white men, and frame her as both an object to be fought over – and by the end, that's exactly what she is, with Attractive Ninja Dude and Wolverine literally fighting over her – and as a lacking substitute for a white woman.

As for the rest of it – the film is indulgent in throwing things that are archetypally Japanese at you. 'SAMURAI' it yells as you put your toast on in the morning, lobbing an action figure of Oda Nobunaga at your head. 'NINJA. LOVE HOTELS. BULLET TRAIN.' But it's all very shallow. Cartoonishly so. It is Japan as seen through the eyes of an anime fanboy or a tourist. Pacific Rim, a film not set in Japan and with a single Japanese character, did a better job of convincing me that the writers had any idea of how to write Japanese culture than this entire film set in Japan did. 

KIMONOS! ARCADES!

But let's put that aside. Let's strip away the problematic issues of gender and race that this film has. Let's look at it as if it was cast entirely by faceless, formless dummies wandering an empty room. Frankly, given the quality of acting at some points, that's not the gigantic stretch it could be. Does it work? If you peel off everything I've just talked about, are you left with a solid action film?

No, to be honest.

The film isn't well-written. It's not well-paced, it's not competently structured, plot points are very poorly established and followed through in a frankly lacklustre fashion. The best example of this is the story element that loomed large in trailers, that of Wolverine losing his healing factor. He does indeed lose it, and – you honestly wouldn't know it if he didn't sometimes look ominously down at his wounds. 

That slightly unhappy look is the only problem resulting from
being shot.

It never affects him for the worse. He can still get shot and stabbed about a dozen times and the worst that'll happen is he'll feel woozy. He can cling to the top of a bullet train without any problems, even when wounded in multiple places. His ability to fight is never hampered by his growing amount of injuries. The fact that he has sharp claws now protruding through his hands which aren't healing is never even touched upon. When he eventually regains his healing factor, it's meant to be a triumphant moment, the start of the fight back against the villains, but it falls utterly flat because his not having a healing factor was never presented as a particular issue in the first place.

Even things like the appearance of the Silver Samurai, arguably the film's main villain, is done about as well as the arrival of Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That is to say, it doesn't come completely out of the blue, but it's not far off, and it lacks any dramatic impetus. The writers may as well have dropped a random giant space flea into the scene – it would have packed approximately the same amount of punch. 

What a well designed villain for me to not care about.

Which describes this film down to a T, really. Take away everything that makes it offensive, and what you're left with is just dull. Extract that which makes it terrible, and you've got something that is just tired, bland, and uninspired. It is bad both in the sense of being 'offensively awful' and in the sense of 'lacking anything good'.

There are seeds of something that could have been good, here, a dumb action flick with ninjas and mad scientists and robots. But to see that realised, you'd need a much more adept writer and you would have to remove Wolverine entirely. It wouldn't be a massive loss: In spite of the film's best attempts to have the universe revolve around Wolverine, he feels completely unnecessary already. But if you excise him from the story, making Yukio the main character, you might have the beginnings of something not great, but good.

As it is, this film was torturous. It was a trainwreck from start to finish, and the only part of it that didn't make me want to set myself on fire was the mid-credits scene. Because nobody can be sad when Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart are on screen. 

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