I feel like I've been quite negative with movies of late, so I'll try to be a bit more positive for the next few films (but doesn't mean I won't nitpick!). A few people also tell me I really should loosen up and turn off my brain to just enjoy a film. Now while I generally don't like films that are bad, that doesn't mean I don't have guilty pleasures.

For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a really bland actor and his movies tend to be full of cliches, with super straightforward plots and terribly uninteresting villains, but I absolutely adore them. I love silly action, one-liners and over-the-top stuff, but in moderation, and only if it doesn't ruin other things along the way (like Twilight did for vampires).

But just because I watch silly this doesn't mean I turn off my brain, I think enjoying a film while examining what makes it good (or bad) is part of the movie-going experience. Films are a form of art, a means of self-expression, while movies are a form of entertainment. I examine the film aspect while enjoying the movie aspect, and sometimes I have to blur the line because I want to see past what is presented to recognise what the directors, producers and actors intended.

Now that I've gotten this off my chest, onto the film.

The Wolverine is the second spin-off of the X-Men franchise focusing on Logan/Wolverine (portrayed by Hugh Jackman again). Premise? After the events of X-Men 3, where Logan was forced to kill Jean, his lover, he is haunted by the guilt as well as by the deeper prospect of seeing every person he ever cared about die as he continues wandering an eternity with no purpose or identity other than a killing machine. He is then invited by a man who he once saved to Japan, who is now a powerful figure in the technological, corporate and political scene, and offers Logan the greatest gift an immortal man could ever get; mortality.

I'm going to be very brave here, and claim that this is my favorite X-Men film so far (beating out X-Men: First Class). Perhaps my sentiments will change over time, but as I am leaving the cinema fresh in my mind, I can safely say this film was a great experience.

Now having said that, this film isn't perfect. Is the plot predictable? Yes. Are there plot holes or things that just don't make sense? Yes. Are the themes and ideas explored by this film deeper or stronger than in the other X-Men movies? No. But it got one thing really right, and that is the characters (well, most of them).

If you are a seasoned reader you would know that I really care about character development in films, especially if they are a sequel. I feel that being able to relate to or immerse yourself into the character's perspectives on their constructed worlds is why we often want to watch movies. We want to be taken away to an alternate universe where we can do fantastical things or be part of something epic, tragic, dramatic, exciting, or even erotic.

Characters in the story are the vessels that transports us into these worlds and scenarios. And so if the studios have the audacity to make a sequel to a spin-off film focusing on just one character from the story continuum (imagine Minions 2, Puss in Boots 2, Supergirl 2, The Scorpion King 2 etc), they darn better get it right. And in my opinion, they did so admirably for Wolverine (the character, not the overall movie).

I personally love Hugh Jackman's take on Wolverine throughout all the films. His character has a tragic backstory, and so his character is also tragic. He seeks purpose, redemption, justice, escape, humanity, anything to compensate for the brokenness and animalistic side he carries, especially after being alive for so long. In this film he is pushed further down that path of tragedy to a point where I would say this is as depressing as the character can get. The drama is theatrical, almost Shakespearean, his development as he tries to sort out his existential dread in the midst of solving a conspiracy plot tied to his past and his mutant ability is so intriguing, half the time I forget that this was a superhero movie. He is moral on his own terms, is stronger in weakness, and strongest when protecting the innocent.

The other characters were intriguing too. There are many scenes where the film slows down, detours from the plot to focus more on growing the relationships between the main characters as well as respecting the Japanese cultural backdrop, like the way of the samurai, honor and tradition. There is a lot of atmosphere and serenity in the middle section of the film that I enjoyed. Honestly I really didn't expect so much of this for a film about Wolverine.

As for the action scenes, some are good, some are in fact quite fun, some are okay, and some are hard to watch because of the shaky camera effect modern filmmakers occasionally have a fetish with. But the best fight scenes are the ones where they pause between the punches and katana swinging to show the emotions and thoughts going through Wolverine's mind. They are unspoken words as well as unspoken thoughts. His revelations are expressed as raw emotion, an intense stare at his opponent saying "I know exactly what I am going to do with you. Try me."

The only real thing that I found disappointing is the plot itself, and while for the first half the mystery and complexity of everything happening and unraveling keeps you engaged, the ending, what it all builds up to from the story perspective, is a bit weak. It's the type of ending that you probably could've seen coming based on the events in the first 15 minutes, but deep inside you really hoped they would do something differently, that they would have a smarter reveal. So even though what actually unravels does make sense, I thought there's many ways they could've ended the film that could've made this an even more satisfying film. Some of the villains are also so blunt, not fully fleshed out and just end up feeling like a one-dimensional cardboard cut out of the word "Evil", but not all of them. As it is, the film probes very interesting ideas but doesn't follow through all the way. They return to the status quo so that more X-Men films can be made!

I think I won't have a spoiler-discussion section, because I highly recommend this film and would rather have conversations with people about it face to face. If you love X-Men, or superhero movies in general, or a good film, or even just something that is set in Japan, this is very worth checking out. There is so much about Japan in this film I feel like teachers should show this to their Japanese classes; your students will love you for it!

8.0 / 10.0

Just the nitpicks (spoilers)