Evaluating the Summer Blockbuster: The Wolverine

jean grey

The Wolverine (2013)

Summary

1) Nagasaki
2) Funeral Attack & Yashida’s Estate
3) Silver Samurai
4) Is there anything worth fighting for once you’ve lost the people that matter most?

1) A Killer Opening

The film opens with a flashback to Logan imprisoned in WW2 Japan. Alarms go off and it turns out that this is Nagasaki seconds before the bomb goes off. Wolverine survives and saves the life of Yashida. While it doesn’t really qualify as a massive set piece, the scene provides a sense that something important is happening and makes for a decent set up for the rest of the film.

2) Two Major Set Pieces in the Middle

The big extended action sequence is the funeral attack and the high speed train battle right afterward. It’s big, exciting, and full of great Wolverine moments.  There is a lot of confusion during the funeral section but it is more intriguing than off-putting. Instantly you want to know who is attacking, who is defending Mariko, and why. Also here we find out that Logan is not healing normally, he is vulnerable.

There are two other action segments in between here and the climax – the fight with Shingen at Yashida Estate and the ninja snow attack in the village – but neither of them are quite as large in scale. Shingen is a little too crazy for poorly explained reasons and the ninja battle culminates into a standard animal capture.

3) A Killer Climax

This is the sequence that disappointed fans the most. After the unique Japanese setting and unconventionally weak Logan, expectations were raised. However when Wolverine finally meets the Silver Samurai in his tower, the ensuing battle is middling. Yukio also confront Viper who just amps up the weirdness of an already weird situation.

Although the Silver Samurai’s identity is supposed to be this amazing surprise twist, the reveal doesn’t quite land on its feet. Yashida is simply not very interesting as a giant death machine. The ending abandons the quieter introspection of the rest of the film and gives us the chaotic fighting it thinks we deserve.

4) A Concise Statement of Theme

Is there anything worth fighting for once you’ve lost the people that matter most?

Conclusion

The Wolverine abandons the formula in exchange for some quieter moments of reflection supplemented by one really good fight sequence in the middle. However it really falls short in the end by over-relying on an unnecessary and uninteresting battle against a CGI cyborg with unbelievable abilities. A smaller scale, more heartfelt, more thematic, and tonally congruent ending would have benefited this story immensely.

Instead of basing Logan’s decisive moment to rejoin the X-Men in the story, the film instead inserts it into a dreamlike vision. It’s a nice sentiment, but that is not the place where people learn to overcome their greatest fears, sorry.

The Story Punch

Logan begins the film as a grizzled vagrant in exile. Since Jean’s death he has abandoned his life as a hero and confined himself to the wilderness where he won’t be able to hurt people anymore. He is an immortal unkillable soul who has experienced more trauma and death than any soldier in the history of war. He has lost everyone and everything he cares about along the way. As Yashida points out, he has lost the will to live but cannot find death.

By the end of the film that has changed. He is willing to fight again for those he cares about, beginning with Mariko. Confronting the Silver Samurai, Logan loses his adamantium claws but ultimately defeats and kills him. Passing out, he reaches his moment of true change: in a vision he tells Jean that he has to let her go, he has to move on, that he is sorry for killing her. Logan has been haunted by this tragedy for so long that he has lost his way, but now he is finally ready to begin again.

Series Wrap Up

Are blockbusters formulaic? I hope that through this series I have highlighted the many different approaches that recent big budget films have taken. Though not always successful and certainly still bound by the need to deliver huge spectacle, these films represent a continuing tradition to innovate and push boundaries in film. Although often quite lucrative, these films still represent real stories and a class of under appreciated art.

Some of these films are completely immersive experiences, not just for the audience, but for the many hands who toiled away for months and years to produce something that people across the world would want to watch. It’s not enough the say that a movie is bad or that it merely follows the conventional pattern. We should dig deeper.

Blockbusters may not be high art, but they are appreciable and valuable art nonetheless. The score, cinematography, acting, direction, writing, editing, and art direction are the result of human effort and ingenuity. The stories contained inside them continue to resonate with people year after year. And while sitting down and watching a blockbuster may not exactly change your life it does takes thought and care to appreciate a summer blockbuster, perhaps the same thought and care that life-changing things often require. Whether it’s unique pacing, characterization, structure, or bending of expectations, we should notice these things when they happen and give them their due credit.

Stories are valuable. We have use for them yet. And so I think it reasonable that grand stories that involve so much human labor, so many resources, and so much technical skill to bring to life should rightfully merit our attention from time to time. Blockbusters may not be necessary, but we can work to grasp something meaningful in them while we still have them.

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One thought on “Evaluating the Summer Blockbuster: The Wolverine

  1. Brilliant series. Think your approach to these movies has been very interesting. I really enjoyed a lot about The Wolverine but I agree with the climax, too “average” and felt out of touch with the rest of the movie. Hope you do another series similar to this again.

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