Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Wolverine: Existentialism the Marvel Way

The Wolverine - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
"Eternity can be a curse.  It hasn't been easy for you, living without time.  The losses you have had to suffer, a man can run out of things to live for.  Lose his purpose, become a Ronin, a samurai without a master." ~ Yashida (on his death bed) to Logan.

The year 2013 was the Summer of Superheroes.  First, there was "Ironman 3," then there was Superman in "The Man of Steel," now there is "The Wolverine.”  "The Wolverine" is an action-packed, existential look at life, death, and immortality in the world of Marvel Superheroes.  The film stars Hugh Jackman in his fourth go as the character of the Wolverine. Joining the cast are Hiroyuki Sanada ("Sunshine," "The Last Samurai"), Haruhiko Yamanouch ("Push," "The Way Back") and relative newcomer from Russia, Svetlana Khodchenkova ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), and two  total newcomers in their first motion pictures, fashion models Tao Okamoto, and Rila Fukushima.

In this latest edition of the “X-Men” franchise, and within the sub franchise that devotes its story entirely to the Wolverine, director James Mangold (Knight and Day," "3:10 to Yuma," "Walk the Line, and "Identity") and Hugh Jackman  ("Les MisĂ©rables," "Real Steel," "The Prestige," and  "The Fountain") work to imbue the Wolverine mythos with some philosophical depth.  The film starts with a prologue of sorts.  It is near the end of World War II, just outside of Nagasaki Japan in a P.O.W. camp.  The date is August 9, 1945; the time is 11:00 am to be exact.  Trapped in a well in the ground, apparently in solitary confinement, Logan looks out of a slit in the side of the top of his prison as an air raid sirens scream from above.  Two B-29 bombers fly over the city while the Japanese scramble for cover.  One soldier, a guard, decides to free prisoners, giving every man the same chance.  As the soldier and the other guards are about to commit ritual seppuku (ritual suicide) Logan stays his hand and urges him down the hole where they will be somewhat safe.  Right from the beginning, the special effects for this film are top notch, from the atomic blast opening the film, to the insane battle on top of the Bullet train, to the chaotic climatic battle that is obligatory in a film of this magnitude.  The audience demands it.

Mangold paces this film very fast, while Jackman plays the Wolverine as both morose and introspective; Logan (Jackman) is a man at one with nature but not at one with himself.  Today, haunted by the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) by his own hands, in "X-Men: The Last Stand," he lives alone in the hills of the Yukon woods.  Jean appears to him in his dreams (or nightmares – you decide), like a dark spirit to taunt him and remind him of the dangerous person that he is.  Of course, he doesn't stay a recluse for long; otherwise, there would be not much of a movie.

The Wolverine - Yukio | A Constantly Racing Mind
Logan has given up his killing ways.  His hair is long and he looks more like a vagrant than a hero.  Finding a campsite torn apart by a bear, he tracks the animal, only to find the wounded animal suffering with a poison arrow in its side.  In an act of kindness, Logan ends the creatures suffering.  He comes into town, finds the saloon, and confronts the hunter who is in the midst of telling his tall hunting tails.  This is an important aspect of Logan’s character not only as the Wolverine but as a mutant being.  His sympathy for the bear instills his character with empathy and honor. While confronting the hunter with is inhumanity, he is intercepted by Yukio (Fukushima), a Japanese, magenta haired woman with a bang cut.  As a mutant, Yukio is also prophetic like Casandra of Homeric tales, as she can see people's deaths before they happen.  She wields a katana, and stares at you with big Anime eyes.  You just know she is deadly in one way or another. Throughout the film, Rila Fukushima not only shows her mastery in the action sequences, but also her comedic timing.  She comes from Japan to collect Logan from his despair.  Yukio's boss is the owner of the largest Japanese technology firm, Yashida Industries.  Her boss is none other than Yashida himself, the same man Logan saved in 1945.

J ames Mangold moves the film along very quickly.  Within the first ten minutes, we move to Japan and have a meeting with the dying Yashida.  The journey that Logan begins is an attempt to show a depth to his character as he searches for a meaning to his immortal life.  Meaning is a shallow concept when there is no end to the madness that we call life.  Hugh Jackman, who also serves as a producer on this film, plays Logan as a tortured and haunted sole.  Not so much the loner he was before, but a man in need of some deep spiritual healing.  Mangold and writer Mark Bomback ("Live Free or Die Hard," "Total Recall," "Unstoppable") tell Logan's tale from Logan's point of view, interjecting flashbacks to 1945 Nagasaki and his time protecting the young guard who will eventually become rich and powerful.

Y ukio tells Logan that Yashida (Yamanouchi) is dying and wants Logan to go to Japan so he can say goodbye to him.  Reluctantly, Logan acquiesces and returns with her to see Yashida.  After the obligatory bath before visiting with Yashida in his own private intensive care unit, Yashida it turns out is not quite ready to say good-bye.  Instead, he offers Logan the ability to end his suffering, his pain, his immortality.  With the help of his "oncologist” Dr. Green (Khodchenkova), Yashida can transfer Logan's regenerative powers to him.  Yashida reasons that if Logan doesn't seem to want to live, Yashida will gladly take the curse of immortality.  We also meet Mariko (Okamoto), Yashida's granddaughter.  She is a fragile and elegant, educated woman, a princess.  We also meet Yashida's loyal and faithful son, Shingen (Sanada). 

The Wolverine - Mariko | A Constantly Racing Mind

A t this point, several tropes begin to form.  First, the rich, powerful, and old refuse to die and grasp at the fountain of youth, with little regard to their children.  The story is as old as the story of Ponce de Leon and his search for the fountain of Youth.  In Wolverine, Yashida's lust for life and Logan's desire for release. As Yukio explains to Logan, that as a warrior, "all he wants is an honorable death."  Characters are not what they seem, or perhaps they are.  Dr. Green turns out to be the serpentine Viper and like a demonic succubus comes to Logan as if in a dream. What steals is Logan's ability to self-heal.  How's that for evening the score. The other trope is the faithful but overlooked servant, or in this case Yashida’s son Shingen.  What level of treachery will he go to get what he desires?

While dealing with Logan's existential problems as displayed in his nightmares involving Jean, writers Mark Bomback and  Scott Frank ("Flight of the Phoenix," "Minority Report") infuse the story with almost non-stop action. While attending Yashida's funeral, the organized crime Yakuza syndicate kidnap Mariko.  Logan and Yukio snap into action in an effort to save the princess.  The Yakuza shoot Logan with a gun and it turns out that he isn't healing as fast as he usually does. One the rooftops, one of  Yashida's kinsmen from the Black Clan, by the name of Harada, is seemingly helping Logan as he chases down Mariko and her captors. His name is Hanada and he we find that he works for Yashida and has vowed to protect the house of Yashida with his life.  Entering  Japan's Bullet Mariko attempts to leave on her own. A battle on the top of train ensues, Yakuza die, and Logan and Mariko make it to temporary safety. Taking refuge in a hotel for lovers, Mariko enlists the help of a veterinary student to dig out the bullets inside Logan and bandage him up. Upon reaching her home in Nagasaki, Logan and Mariko settle down and now we get some real answers.

The Wolverine - Ichiro Yashida | A Constantly Racing Mind

The tension between Yashida,  his son Shingen, and his daughter Mariko becomes more understandable. It seems Yashida gave the company over to Mariko, bypassing his son.  As we can see, Logan is falling for Mariko, and she for him. Logan begins to wonder what the meaning of his life is.  If all is death and destruction.  Remember we are still in the battle between mutants and humans.  Logan is a man of both the past and the present. Stuck in the middle of trying to protect Mariko and the hauntings of Jean Gray, Logan must decide why he must live. As it turns out Mariko, is just as good reason as any – for at least the present.  The Yakuza once again kidnap Mariko is, and Logan and Yukio team up again to save her.  Mariko is once again the princess trapped in a tower with the evil villains using her as bait.

As much as "The Wolverine" intends to be deep and somewhat philosophical, it doesn't pretend to answer any deep questions, nor are any of the scenes pondering on the question.  Mangold's direction is tight; the costumes are beautiful and spot on.  Production designs all around are top notch including the special effects.  One might want to call this a mindless action film; however, I think they would be wrong.  The story is tight, serious, and funny at times, and with a bit of romance.  Marco Beltrami's musical score is poignant at times and gives the film and the characters a certain sense of depth and sadness to the film.  The Yashida family politics are complicated and strained.  It turns out that Yashida willed all of his wealth and power to his granddaughter Mariko – but to what end.  Hugh Jackman plays Logan straight and tight-lipped, a stoic with a passion for doing the right thing as he navigates the complexity between Shingen and his daughter Mariko, Mariko and her fiancĂ©e the corrupt Minister of Justice, Noburo (Brian Tee), and Mariko and her grandfather.  As each one of search for meaning in our lives, it seems that the Wolverine has found his – doing the right thing for the right people, and for the right reasons.

A fun film to watch, not only for the action but for the story as well  “The Wolverine" is rated PG-13 and runs just over two hours.

Movie Data

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Year:  2013
Staring: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi
Director: James Mangold
Producer(s): Hutch Parker. Lauren Shuler Donner
Writer: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes
Release Date:  7/26/2013

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