Big In Japanby Kavish Chetty / 26.07.2013
In an existential digression from slitting foes into ribbons of cartilage, we open on a grizzled Logan encamped in the mountains on the border of the American wilderness. He has been archetype-d with all usual accouterments of the “wild man”, in exile from a humanity he can no longer bear, rushing away from the personal demons stuck like arrows in his flesh. An analogue clock-radio gives us a measure of the time he has spent away from the primary mythos of the X-men, as does his curved swathe of beard; a photograph, crumpled from affectionate fingering, tells us a story of the things he’s fled: Jean Grey, former lover, killed by his own hand, the uncontrollable violence which comes to him, like the set of adamantium claws arched from his knuckles. Much like Rambo: First Blood, Logan lurches through Midwestern cities agitating for fights – even an eco-terrorist moment in which he, with gentlemanly vengeance, honours a poisoned bear. But like all exiles from war, the irresistible lure of violence and justice, indeed violence-as-justice, draws him back to the blade.
There is a second, prior, intro to The Wolverine. Logan – an immortal mutant who has lived through countless ages and must surely have become depressed by the circles of carnage humanity endlessly enacts – rescues a young Japanese soldier moments before he commits ritual suicide, and moments before an atomic bomb obliterates the Nagasaki landscape in a cloud of terrifying imperial majesty. It is later this solider, Yashida, now emperor of a monolithic modern-day technology empire, who invites him to say good-bye, on his death-bed. It is this intrigue, this mysterious invitation to merely wish a grateful old friend “voyage pleasantly the river Styx”, that pulls Logan out of his semi-pacifist stupor and back into the world of superheroes. Both of these prologues are time-honoured, archetypal renditions for certain kinds of men – the bond of rescued life, the bond of the anarchic wild. But while this film seems to suggest a more mature Wolverine, haunted by failed relationships, spectre-d by the blood on his hands, it very quickly evolves into another set-piece oriented action film, with little intellectual heft, and garishly over-plotted fight sequences.
This film might have been instructively titled The Adventures of Wolverine in Japan, and follows the logic whereby, once heroes have exhausted their interests on American soil, they simply globe-trot in search of foreign architectures and cultures to fuck up, new backdrops for old aggressions. Set in the megalopolises of modern Japan, amidst that country’s glorious synthesis of East/West aesthetic principles, Logan becomes an impromptu bodyguard for Mariko Yashida – porcelain beauty, spiritless characterisation, a typical “woman” of male-oriented action cinema – when he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy regarding the Yashida Corporation after its founder’s death. Wolverine loses some of his regenerative capabilities in an encounter I shall leave unmarked, but one which signifies his main antagonist of the film, the Viper, whom I’ve ever heard of before. In fact, for an X-Men film, mutant politics and the general anxieties of otherness which have sophomorically inflected the other films and culture as a whole, is curiously absent: there are no other recognisable characters or enemies here, and no real signal that mutant xenophobia is still operative in the future.
The film, then, is all about Wolverine. This becomes a regrettably insufficient centre to the movie, as Wolverine has an, at best, immature sense of emotional development. While Hugh Jackman, muscular and lamb-chopped, certainly captures the look of Logan perfectly, there isn’t much else to really perform. A female friend who watched this with me proclaimed it a kind of “porn”, admitted she was moistened by Jackman who spends most of this film sans shirt, and in one oblique moment almost – almost – gives us a teasing glimpse of his fine buttocks. But there is no blood, even though the fighting goes on and on – quick cut to some forgettable lines of dialogue – and on and on – quick cut to Logan having an uninteresting recollection of Jean Grey – and on and on. Carnage happens everywhere: at funerals, aboard trains, and I swear to god, these moments are always so excessively choreographed in their banality as to become quickly comic. Wolverine, an aside observation, is not actually an adept fighter. He gets shot, cut-up, fucked-up about one hundred times in this movie. It is only his natural mutant regeneration which gives him any edge. Should we really be moved by the combat of a contender who cannot lose the battle through genetic advantage; isn’t this a little cheap?
Wolverine’s untameable valor to protect young girls, an irritating chivalry in cinema which feminism is – thank fuck – slowly superannuating, guides him across this two-hour odyssey for action. In most ways, this film is a tangent to the X-Men. Everything which happens here happens outside the familiar world of that laser-eyed, vanishing, storm-summoning menagerie of kooks. As an action film, it is boring; registered along the existential/political axis of the new superhero film (Nolan vibes), it accomplishes nothing; does not move this genre in any direction. I napped, not from pot-induced narcolepsy, but rather real, proper boredom. A film that moves within the rules of genre and signification so simple-mindedly cannot be recommended; but an action film in which the action itself is uninterestingly repetitive, offers very little in the way of redemption. I’m afraid The Wolverine takes a recognisable character and whores him out to a recognisable narrative. The consequences do not inspire.
* The Wolverine is on general release today.