Welcome to Revisionist history, where we, unencumbered by the demands of studios and profit margins, try to imagine different and better versions of the movies that are out there. This is not a review; it is a full-spoiler discussion of what works and what doesn’t, particularly from a story/concept standpoint (i.e. unless there’s a particular tic that is distracting, it’s hard to account for a poor acting performance or other failure in execution alone other than to say, “Do better.” Which isn’t very interesting or helpful to anyone.)
This week, we’re revising The Wolverine.
It may not be the best one overall, but conceptually The Wolverine is the most refreshing superhero movie I’ve seen all summer. That’s because it has the guts to do what no similar movie has: stay small.
To be fair, The Wolverine is coming from a fairly unique position. He’s already had four movies (let’s not kid ourselves – the first three X-Men movies were mostly wolverine solo pics themselves) and so the film is burdened with zero “establishing the character and his powers” responsibility. In fact, though it takes into account the previous X-Men films, especially X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men 3: The Last stand, The Wolverine isa direct sequel to X-Men 3: the Last Stand. Not that you need to remember anything but the climax, but the point is we know this character, or at minimum, his film incarnation, and the flick has the good sense to go forward with that assumption.
And what that allows the movie to build, or at least what it seems like it wants to attempt, is the first truly small, character-driven superhero movie. That’s cool. If there weren’t a comic book necessity for set-piece action (which, don’t get me wrong, is still a lot of fun and I wouldn’t want a Wolverine movie without some action), this would almost have the tone of an indie drama. It doesn’t achieve this, of course, but that’s why we’re here.
The most glaring issue is the plot. No, that’s putting it nicely. Almost the entire plot is utter b.s. There are a few well meaning impulses, but they get smothered in mounds of convoluted plot b.s. Let’s explore:
We open in a double dream sequence. A little corny, but it works well to set up the two driving elements of the narrative: Logan’s relationship with Yashida and his psychological issues over having killed Jean Gray. We’re then dropped into the present reality of hermit Logan, which is also ok. Which brings us to the bar scene, most of which is strong, too, because it’s character development. Enter Yukio (Rila Fukushima), the red-haired Japanese woman. My guess is that the filmmakers didn’t want to repeat Logan/Rogue from X-Men, but it seems to me that Logan’s a little too willing to pick up and go with Yukio. It could make sense, but it seems to me that the connection between Logan’s guilt over having killed Jean and the catharsis over seeing someone he’s saved…on his deathbed…isn’t particularly strong. Besides, it’s not as though Logan had a lasting connection to Yashida.
At any rate, with little motivation outside the unpredictability of a grieving man, Logan sets off for Japan. And here’s where things really start to get hairy.
We’re introduced to Yashida, his white doctor, his son, and his daughter in short order. It’s a weird sequence in which no one really seems sure what the gringo is doing in their house, and we don’t know anyone. It’s more of a dramatis personae, almost like the filmmakers knew where they wanted Logan to be, but weren’t quite sure how to get him there. But then we’re suddenly hit with a major point of the premise – it may be possible to transfer Logan’s powers out of his body. Which makes almost no sense when you think about it – his powers of healing are based on a genetic mutation, so at most it seems like that would be something that could be synthesized, not transferred – but it’s a comic book movie, and it has the good graces not to try to explain that particular point of pseudoscience, so we move on without too much trouble.
We then get another dream sequence, one which concludes in the suggestion that Logan has been either poisoned or drugged. now, if you’re going to do this – Logan has no immediate symptoms, remember? – why wouldn’t you tell him something like you need a blood sample to test the process, make sure it’s viable? Logan’s shown the propensity for empathy. He tries to help others when possible, he’d go along with it soon enough. Then at night you could lock him up and take care of business without going through the mess of a funeral and an adamantium samurai body at a secret instillation. Did I say this movie was small? Well, I suppose in this case it’s all relative. Yashida would make a miraculous recovery, or maybe “die” and leave the entire business to his other “son.”
But ok, moving on. Yashida dies, or doesn’t, but there’s the funeral. Clearly, Logan should know that a glimpse of a tattoo on a monk means he’s not actually a monk. Right. But assuming he does, he has a very sudden, very personal, very unfounded drive to protect Mariko. This again could have been tied back to his emotional trauma over Jean, but it isn’t, or at least, not yet. Of course, there’s the not healing thing, too, which is interesting, but as mentioned, this is a point we could’ve gotten to much easier. And from there the plot really is a hot mess. Yakuza pursuing Mariko at the behest of her father, Yashida leaving everything to Mariko, but not actually, because he’s not dead. And here’s my personal favorite: Mariko falling for Logan despite the fact that she supposedly longs for Harada, the ninja guy, whom she was supposed to marry before her father arranged the union with her fiancee. This could have been such an incredible character parallel! Logan falls for Jean even though she’s with Cyclops and is wracked with guilt for having to kill her. As his “penance,” he should have to chivalrously protect another man’s betrothed so she’s not killed, too. You could even link her danger back to Yashida’s interest in his genetics. Full parallel. Of course, ninja guy is actually in league with the enemy, Viper, who has…what to gain, again? And why does ninja guy think it’s a good idea to work with her? And did we ever answer why Logan’s so invested in protecting Mariko? Hmmm.
I guess at this point it’s probably worthwhile to jump into the revision itself, and we’ll deal with some more of the specific plot issues as necessary. So here’s our goal: create a compelling character drama, one that’s intensely personal and grows Logan as a character by presenting him with actual choices. And preferably doesn’t include five plot twists. Damn, that plot was stupid.
We’ll open pretty much the same way. Logan lives as a hermit, haunted by the past, trying to escape the world of mutants. And people, for that matter. We see him go into town and avoid a couple familiar X-Men who seem to be looking for him. Doesn’t much matter who, it’s just a fun cameo, but we see that he doesn’t want to be found. The thing with the hunters still happens, leading to the bar scene. Yep, Logan’s still the Wolverine. When someone pisses him off, he just can’t help himself. He gets into a fight with everyone in the bar. We see him exit and get intercepted by Yukio. She convinces him to come to Japan to meet Yashida by suggesting that Japan might be a good place to avoid recognition (referring to the others looking for him), and that he also might help Yashida Industries develop a new superdrug, “a new penicillin,” but one that could cure anything. Even, say, claws through a belly. Logan’s understandably irritated at the reference, but it also needles him in the right way. He can amend his wrongs, if only by a small amount.
On the plane ride to Japan they talk more about Yashida and what Logan might be able to contribute. We get some pseudoscience explanation for how proteins in his body might be adapted for normal humans to grant them rapid recovery. Heck, if we wanted to, we say it’s tied to Logan’s stem cells, bring that debate into the movie.
Once he gets there and gets his hair cut, he’s introduced to Yashida himself. Wait, Yashida’s on his deathbed – is this drug for personal gain or posterity? No, says Yashida, this is the culmination of his life’s work. It will probably be too late for him, but it doesn’t matter. Eventually, Logan submits to testing. Viper administers the testing and secretly poisons Logan so he’ll be controllable. They need him alive so they can study his tissue, but they need him manipulable.
Everything’s going ok until Logan starts to black out. This is, of course a red flag, and he starts to try to get at people foggily we see Viper and Yashida and Yukio, who is maybe a little distressed in her own right – hard to tell as Logan blacks out. He wakes up strapped down. Viper is injecting him with something else. They talk some about the drug. Yes, Yashida really is trying to synthesize a drug from Logan’s DNA. It’ll make them all rich. They need him there for tissue samples. She mops up a little blood from the injection and, off Logan’s look, confirms that yes, he’s healing more slowly. Those claws? Going to be exceedingly painful to use. Logan is carted off back to his cell under heavy guard.
A short montage shows a few days pass. We see Logan make a couple very bad attempts at breaking free and just end up in pain as a result. Then once when he’s being transferred from his cell, a ninja jumps his guards. We get a big piece of sneaky action as they break out of whatever compound it is they’re in. Outside they continue their escape, and Logan’s savior is revealed to be Yukio. They have a stand off, maybe even the beginnings of a fight. Logan abandons her, but soon finds himself pursued by guards. Yukio reappears and guides him on a train. It’s still very standoffish. Logan knows her only as the person who tricked him into captivity. She swears she didn’t know what Viper was going to do with him – she believes it’s only Viper behind it all. Logan’s been hurt in the escape and goes to the bathroom to clean up. He’s jumped by more men and roughly the same bullet train action set piece ensues, except this time both Logan and Yukio are in it, and Logan ends up gravely injured. We’re keeping it because even though there are a couple of really stupid shots in there, that’s a unique scene.
Logan wakes up again not in a vet’s office, but in someone’s house. His wounds have been stitched up, and his lucky to be alive. Yukio chastises him for taking hits he didn’t have to. She says they’re safe for now, but Logan’s still suspicious. As they lie low, Logan gradually gets better. He also deals with visions of Jean. Yukio assures Logan that the poison inhibiting his healing will wear off eventually, but in the meantime she begins teaching him swordplay. She teaches him how to defend himself, and it also works as an allegory for dealing with his guilt over Jean. At the same time Yukio is dealing with guilt over having abandoned her adoptive father, Yashida. We probably learned about this earlier, but her mutant power isn’t seeing the future. It’s being able to track people. She can’t see them Professor X-on-Cerebro style, but she knows which direction to head and when someone’s close if she thinks about them. She decides she’s going to go back for him, but Logan won’t let her go alone.
They break back into the compound (a big action bit in its own right) but when they do they discover that far from being a captive, Yashida is working with Viper on all this. He wants the Wolverine serum for himself as much as he wants to get rich off it. Yukio was a step towards getting that which he’s long coveted. In fact, it’s jut been finished. He injects himself and a youthful Yashida draws his sword to challenge Logan. They fight. Yukio fights Viper. It quickly becomes clear that Logan is an inferior swordsman (though he uses his claws) to Yashida. Oh, and Wolverine’s claws definitely do not get cut off. Why? Because come Days of Future Past, there are two things we do not want to see: 1) a Wolverine without his adamantium claws, and 2) time wasted re-clawing Wolverine on what’s sure to be a full movie already.
So Logan fights and manages to snag a vial of the serum. He injects himself just as he takes what should be a fatal cut from Yashida, but his healing powers are restored as the serum eliminates the last traces of poison from his body. Eventually Yukio and Logan end up back to back and kill the other’s adversary. This is terrible for Yukio, both because she lost her father and because she’s recently discovered she didn’t mean much to him. But Logan is there to help her deal with it. Platonically, by the way. No corny kissing after the big fight a-la-Man of Steel or Pacific Rim.
So there we have it. Pretty drastically different. The tie ins to Jean need to be worked on a little, but we’ve got a skeleton. You may notice we’ve also eliminated several prominent characters. Hey, as the old adage goes, Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Have your own ideas about how The Wolverine should have gone? Share them in the comments!