It’s been more than a month since my last X-Men movies post, mostly because I spent the month of November not only participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), As an official ML, I also helped run the local events. As much as I enjoy writing novels more than anything else, it feels good to be writing about movies again, and we’re starting off with the point where the X-Men movies started to really improve … for the most part.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about negotiations between 20th Century Fox and Disney, and there’s supposedly going to be a major deal that could solidify by the end of next week. Whatever happens, I’m not too worried about the X-Men movies, but I can’t help but be concerned. They seem to be on the right track lately. If Disney’s deal with Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm is anything to go by, they mostly let their acquired studios to their own thing. At the very least they’d need to allow any currently ongoing projects continue for legally binding reasons.
But enough speculation. Let’s talk about 2013’s The Wolverine. More specifically, let’s talk about Fox’s habit of studio interference. One of the major stories in the last few years regarding superhero movies is how Fant4stic (still a dumb title) was clearly interfered with by the studio, turning a potentially good film into a disaster. Wolverine’s first solo movie was likely a victim of the same circumstances, and Fox has also interfered severely with a number of their other franchises over the years. The Wolverine, directed by James Mangold, is no exception. Thankfully it wasn’t nearly as bad as Fant4stic.
For the most part, The Wolverine is a huge improvement over the complete disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The dialogue is a lot better. The action is much more exciting. Wolverine actually feels like Wolverine and not some wimp taking on the name. Taking place in Japan, it also touches on a lot of what makes Wolverine such a special character. As much of an animal as he is, and as violent as he gets, he does have a code of honour. This movie explores that very well.
Taking place after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan starts the movie off as a loner, mostly living in the woods and trying to ignore his surroundings while mourning the loss of Jean Grey. But when hunters poison a bear that ends up killing multiple people, he still makes sure to track down the hunters. Hence his code of honour. It’s then when Yukio introduces herself. He’s brought to Japan to meet with an elderly former soldier who Wolverine saved from the Hiroshima bomb during the Second World War.
It’s around this point where Wolverine has his healing factor taken away for most of the movie. This is probably the best storytelling decision that Mangold made. Wolverine is venerable and in turn, the movie gets to explore what really drives him. There are times when he seems to move a bit fast and fight a bit too well for someone with multiple gunshot and stab wounds, but one could argue that he’s used to pushing himself with injuries and severe pain, and he doesn’t fully grasp how much he’s making his injuries worse. It also shows his sheer determination, a major part of why he’s such a great character.
Hugh Jackman puts in what is easily his best performance as Wolverine yet, showing a wide range of emotions. He’s confused the first time he’s injured without his healing factor. He gets frightened from time to time. You can tell that Jackman worked hard at increasing his muscle mass and improving his own combat skills, making the fight scenes more intense and exciting. And during the movie’s quieter moments, he shows a softer side and even smiles on occasion. And most importantly, he rediscovers a sense of purpose.
Yukio, played by Rila Fukushima, and Mariko, played by Tao Okamoto, do a great job as supporting characters. Yukio clearly enjoys fighting, is mostly fearless and gives the movie an extra touch of energy and fun. Mariko, as much as she’s being targeted by multiple sides, is a lot stronger than she first appears. She’s not entirely helpless in a fight, and the chemistry between her and Wolverine is convincing. They start off not trusting each other all that much, with Wolverine doubting Mariko’s strength and Mariko wanting little to do with this mysterious Canadian, but they grow very close by the movie’s end.
And that’s where Mangold’s themes of mortality and violence starts to get interfered with by studio mandate. This movie seemed to be aiming for an R rating at first, and that would have been much better for exploring the movie’s darker themes. But in the end, it was released as a PG-13 movie. There’s also the often complained about “boss battle” at the end of the movie involving a giant Silver Samurai robot suit, instead of the actual mutant from the comics. It’s a plot twist that seems to come out of nowhere in the theatrical cut, and it turns an otherwise dark and serious film into a silly comic book movie.
There are other problems in the theatrical cut as well, like Dr. Green/Viper showing up every now and then, seemingly having little to do with the actual plot. I’m not complaining that they turn Madam Hydra from the comics into a mutant with snakelike abilities – it works alright for the movie. It’s just that she seems fairly pointless in the theatrical cut. There’s also a ninja, Kenuichio who seems to keep switching sides for no apparent reason. The first time you see him, he’s firing arrows at the gangsters chasing Wovlerine and Mariko. Then he’s helping ninjas capture Wolverine. At the end of the movie, he’s helping Wolverine again. No explanation is given.
But the most glaring flaw in the theatrical cut is that there’s an entire action scene cut out of the movie. Towards the end, Wolverine is running through a town towards a tower. Some ninjas confront him. After fighting for about 10 seconds, he just runs. Wolverine is famous for fighting ninjas in the comics, something that’s even been shown in multiple animated TV shows. Yet this movie infamously cuts out the ninja action scene. What a travesty.
I’ve been referring to the theatrical cut this entire time, and for a good reason. Around the time of the movie’s home video release, they also released the Unleashed Extended Edition. As far as I know, you can only buy this version as part of the 3D Blu-ray, and that’s a shame. It should be the only version available. This version is 12 minutes longer, adds a lot of blood to the action scenes already in the movie and throws in some more language. It’s basically an R-rated edition. The Unleashed cut also adds in more character development during dialogue scenes, gives Viper more purpose in the movie’s story, which makes her a more interesting character too. It explains Kenuichio’s motivations and why he attacks Wolverine at one point. As a whole, the Unleashed cut is the more coherent story.
Most importantly, it adds in the ninja fight that the theatrical cut is sorely missing. It’s a 3 minute action scene with ninjas on motorcycles, Yukio grinding people into pieces with a snowplow and Wolverine tanking an explosion, lighting a cigar in the process. Here’s part of the fight scene.
The Unleashed cut doesn’t fix all of the movie’s problems mind you. The Silver Samurai is still a silly moment in an otherwise serious movie. The darker themes about violence and the consequences of violence don’t feel like they’re fully explored. The movie still has moments where it ties into the main X-Men movies when it really didn’t need to. But as a whole, the Unleashed cut is awesome. If you haven’t seen it, you should hunt it down. It’s so worth it.
Mangold would later get a chance to direct a Wolverine movie unhindered by 20th Century Fox, to make a proper R-rated movie. That movie, Logan, came out earlier this year, and I look forward to finally explore that movie in greater detail when I get to it. I hope that the massive success that was Deadpool, and the Oscar buzz surrounding Logan, has convinced Fox that they need to stop back a bit and let their directors do their job. I hope that if Disney buys Fox, that they not only allow the X-Men Cinematic Universe to continue as it is, but to allow more R-rated movies in the future. As much as I don’t mind the X-Men and the Avengers sharing a comic universe, I prefer the X-Men and the Avengers movies to remain separate.
As a whole, The Wolverine’s theatrical release is somewhere between alright and good. It’s certainly better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and I think I like it better than X-Men: First Class. The Unleashed cut is a good movie, just short of being great thanks to Fox’s studio interference. It is arguably better than X2: X-Men United. Wolverine fans who somehow missed the Unleashed cut will very likely enjoy it. After you watch that version, you’ll never go back to the theatrical cut.
Next up is X-Men: Days of Future Past, followed by Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse and Logan. Only four more movies to go in my fairly short movie blogathon. I’m planning on doing a Star Wars movie blogathon at some point, but I may save that for around the time The Last Jedi releases on Blu-Ray, so I have time to think about the movie. I’m a bit too excited about The Last Jedi to come up with a well formed opinion this close to release. But until then, enjoy yourselves.