Wolverine is depressed. All of our heroes are now, so why not Wolverine too? He spends his days sulking in the woods, listening to radios in the rain and occasionally killing bears. In the midst of a bar fight, Wolverine is whisked away to Japan to contemplate immortality – and sadly meet no more bears.
Suddenly, The Wolverine is less about its emphatic title than it is about an in-fighting clash of Japanese family members. Hugh Jackman wanders streets being fed expository culture elements while Yakuza and ninjas sling swords or guns across the frame. Tattooed criminals and stealthy masked men are easy fodder for claws.
This is meant to be Wolverine’s story, a second burst for the X-Men’s solo outing after the cruddy X-Men Origins. Unfortunately, as Marvel dazzles and fawns over their Avengers, Wolverine seems dejected much like the Hulk. Sans a supporting cast, Marvel cannot decide what to do with the character. Here, Wolverine turns second tier, displaced as he inadvertently becomes tied up in a criminally vintage “damsel in distress” narrative.
Weaving elements of life and death do little to bolster this tortured character. He barely begins mumbling and moping about the torture of his abilities before being asked to exchange them for potential mortality. The film creates this sub-section of consideration, potential for normalcy against a will to live while violently hacking away at mobsters (while convincing the MPAA it’s all in good fun for a PG-13). By the finale, Wolverine roars and stomps his foes as if none of this matters; there is special effects-laden action to produce after all.
The Wolverine should embrace and internalize this hero’s struggle. Instead, the film grafts itself with cleavage-laden dream sequences in attempt to deliver its material routinely. Wolverine wants an afterlife so he can snuggle with a deceased Jean Gray (Famke Jassen) in lightly covering lingerie. Said messaging is clearly better directed to audiences instead of monologues and looks better in trailers too.
Beyond its cinematography adjusted for 2.35:1 framed breasts, Fox has a film with passive energy if ultimately diluted by its jumble of characters. Aboard the rooftop of a bullet train, Wolverine clashes with thugs, dodging overhead structures in a wildly entertaining piece of choreography. Never mind the sequence goes nowhere short of adding another tier to this rough Yakuza brawl.
In the undercurrent lies the idea of this Marvel icon being adjusted to immortality. He is not a peerless hero, but a clumsy one, driven by anger. That character trait is derived from more than snarls or peering eyes. Wolverine is shot and punctured with thematic effect. Vulnerability introduces a repetitive string of rescues and revivals (which turn into cliché inside this narrative) if ultimately serving Wolverine as recklessly driven by fury.
Pieces of the story close in on a finale with the late introduction of a villain whose identity is ludicrously obvious. Storytelling hokum is brushed aside for the sake of CG sword clashing. Flushed of his critical Adamantium, it takes a trio of side characters to solve this strife, with Wolverine the least central. This is less of an exploration of a comic icon’s cinematic potential and more of a glossy peering into Japan’s cultural heritage – as seen through the eyes of a decidedly Westernized audience.
The Wolverine hits Blu-ray with a decidedly sharp digital presentation, pulled from the lens of the Arri Alexa. There are two distinctive versions of the film in 2D and 3D. While both carry definition weight, the 3D edition has been notably brightened, and not in a subtle manner. Much of the piece takes place in the dark or at night, with those swarming blacks dominating in 2D, whimpering in 3D to messy grays. Comparisons are interesting.
Other elements of the 2D transfer are amicable. Despite a blistering exterior contrast, developed areas of Japan hold to glossy color palettes, far from the bumbling orange and teals used in traditional sectors. Primaries are lit with layers of appealing yellows, turning the bullet train brawl into a showcase despite the heightened action pace.
Consistency is easy to appreciate considering how uncommon dependable cinematography can be. Despite the purposeful abundance of filters and haze added to dream sequences, Wolverine is otherwise swimming in sharpness and delectable fidelity. Close-ups pour on facial detail and establishing shots are stunning in their ability to render architectural flourishes. Even with the persistence of low light, those minutiae never stop flowing.
Cleanliness is a final quality of merit with an outpouring of codec support to craft images sans compression. Source noise is unfounded while any aliasing errors are mere blips. To shamelessly give one for the marketing team, The Wolverine on Blu-ray is sharpened like retractable claws. You’re welcome, Fox.
To brings things down a touch there is a post-conversion 3D job with little or any attention paid to composition. While some immediate merit is generated from a shot of Wolverine dangling inside a well, all of that good will disappears. This is work merely meant to establish a touch of additional depth, but black level loss is so severe as to render images as mud.
This is a careful conversion, fitted without errors and adding layers to certain sequences. Some that would seem to be stand out turn sour, such as the oft referenced bullet train scuffle. Images pass with such speed as to render appreciable depth null. Some snow effects late will brush up exteriors and a claw shot or two will poke toward the screen with minimal aggressiveness. Some harrowing moments at height (with characters dangling precariously) are fun too. But, this was never built for 3D and end results are as boring as regrown bone claws. That’s probably not one for marketing.
Dropping an atom bomb is a surefire way to open a summer film’s sonic experience, Wolverine dealing with the events at Nagasaki for its first salvo. Rising fires and tremendous LFE create a full 7.1 audio space.
Everything is big, from the weight of exterior storms to the girth of Silver Samurai as he stomps about. Carefully placed arrows fill the soundstage as they whip past viewers and air is slung around to accentuate movement aboard the train. Positional compositions are carefully applied without being overdone and subtle dialog stretching between stereos as Logan dreams is excellent.
The low-end does not grind out certain victory and some may find it passe. Subwoofer support can be massive while those looking for something even lower may be disappointed. In the end, levels feel suitable and appropriately weighted considering scale.
Cue slender bonuses as we peer into the extras, hinged on the success of Path of a Ronin, nearing an hour in length while dissecting story origins, character progression, sets, location, etc. An alternate ending and promo for Days of Future Past whimper in comparison. Ronin has it all but it seems primed for a future double dip despite the expanse of detail. Note some editions also come with an extended version of the film (10 minutes longer).
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