The Wolverine would have been a better movie without studio meddling. I’ll say that again in a language that Fox can understand: The Wolverine would have made more money if the studio hadn’t messed with it. I have no idea if that last part’s true (considering that it made $141M worldwide this weekend), but a few things make the first one gospel.
For the most part the movie eschews the kind of planet-destroying high stakes that have become the staple of the genre (and the summer), but while that’s refreshing, it gets into some serious trouble in the third act. A finale that reeks of studio notes visible on the screen. When it comes to primer’s on how to blow a good story, X-Men Origins has this beat, but it’s still got a few solid lessons.
To describe those lessons, there are going to be some spoilers.
After sifting through his internal struggles with the guilt-tinged loss of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), learning to care for someone new in Mariko (Tao Okamoto), and becoming embroiled in a dance between a powerful company and the Yakuza, Logan intentionally falls on his samurai sword to figure out why Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) brought him to Japan in the first place.
Naturally, the Ronin-style 3:10 to Yuma patient prestige is replaced by a cartoonish, half-hearted battle with a giant adamantium robot and a poorly executed twist. It’s not clear when that monstrosity showed up in the production process, but 1) it wasn’t in at least two early drafts and 2) is exactly the kind of thing that a studio demands to sell more toys.
The funny thing is that they had an impressive mutant with threatening powers in Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who they relegated to sidekick status by having her face-off against Yukio (Rila Fukushima) — a talented martial artist but no realistic match for a super-powered snake woman. After menacing the first two acts, she’s given a lip service fight scene in order to make way for Yashida 2.0.
The narrative difficulty in pulling off a strong reveal for that twist is appreciated. It wasn’t an inconsiderable task, but while it was encouraging to see subtle hints (like Yukio “not foreseeing” Yashida’s “death”), they left the giant mystery suit waiting in the wings without explanation too long to give the twist any strength. Then they didn’t give the fight enough intensity (or choreography) to matter while ham-shoveling in that “two hands” nonsense. It was all cursory, as if Yashida emerging was going to knock us out of our seats so we wouldn’t noticed a phoned-in final action sequence.
There may have been a way to do Silver Samurai, but that wasn’t it. It turned a movie that otherwise about finding inner peace despite violence and discovering meaning in life when death is beyond your power into a CGI slap fight with a deflated sense of purpose.
“Ruin” may be a strong word, but if you’re wondering how to throw dirt all over your serious superhero movie, Wolverine has an excellent lesson to offer.