Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Trailers@24 Panels: THE WOLVERINE

Here at 24 Panels, we like to give each new comic book movie trailer the roundtable treatment. Click through for the 24 Panels take on the long awaited domestic and international trailers for James Mangold's The Wolverine...

DRU: Well, I guess you can colour me underwhelmed on this one. After a pair of utterly ludicrous one-sheets for The Wolverine, these trailers had a lot to make up for, and I'm not sure they accomplished that. There was so much goodwill going into this project starting with Darren Aronofsky's attachment and solid word-of-mouth on the screenplay, but once Aronofsky left, leaving James Mangold to fill his shoes, I think most of us adopted a "wait and see" attitude towards the film. I'm going to maintain that attitude until I see the final product, but I'm not sure I can blame anybody for assuming the worst at this point. I mean, come on, those posters! Have you ever seen anything so ugly? (Especially after the beautiful Criterion-worthy teaser art.) I only watched each of these trailers once, but my initial response is that it looks like X-Men Origins: Wolverine all over again. It's all very serious and dour, with the narrative motivated again by Logan's inability to move on from the Weapon X experiment. Wasn't he more or less at peace at the end of X3? I know that he had gone through some serious tragedy there (killing the woman he loved -- who reappears here in an atrociously aestheticized flash that I can only assume is a dream or flashback -- and witnessing the death of his mentor) but I figured that he knew it was time to step up and be a team leader with Cyclops and Xavier both gone. Instead he see him wandering (again), taking out his aggression on random barflies (again), and getting involved in a painful biological experiment (again). Will this film have anything new to offer us (besides swords)?

That said, there are some elements that hold out promise for me. First, the neon streets of Japan have the potential to provide some striking cinematography. (I just hope that the film's DP, Ross Emery, took plenty of notes during Skyfall's Shanghai sequence.) Secondly, Silver Samurai -- who is seen only briefly in the international trailer, and not at all in the domestic version -- looks like a pretty badass antagonist. I haven't read the source material for this film, so I don't know what the character's all about, but I always like to see a bold costume choice (especially in a series defined by the very absence of bold costume choices). 

Finally, I'm curious about Mark Millar's involvement here. This will be out first peek of the Millar-run Fox-Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I wouldn't be one bit surprise to find a post-credits sting that teases the next X film, or possibly even the Fantastic Four reboot or something else from Fox's upcoming slate of Marvel films. (With Bryan Singer's Days of Future Past in production now, that's the most likely candidate, obviously.) But on the subject of Millar, I'm wondering if the "quest for mortality" plot is simply a way to set up Hugh Jackman's continued involvement in the franchise as an aging man. Just as Origins was basically a long (and unnecessary) prelude to Logan losing his memory, I fear that The Wolverine will ultimately be reduced to a single function in the franchise: to keep Wolverine around but to justify the actor's inevitable aging. Millar might ultimately be gunning to get one of his own most well-loved limited series, Old Man Logan, up on the screen. (Perhaps as a tie-in to the future envisioned in Days of Future Past?) Lots to think about there regarding the future of the franchise. 

So, Dave, what are your thoughts on these trailers? Do they make you more or less excited about the movie and the future of the X-Men franchise? Do you think it's in good hands?

DAVE:  While I wouldn’t say that either trailer is great, my response overall is far more positive than yours, Dru. Mangold has been promising that the big theme of the film is the cost of immortality, and both trailers effectively make that point. Moreover, the biggest compliment I can give this trailer is that it looks like this film has focus, which cannot be said of the last film.

And while the mood of these trailers is somber, given what the film is dealing with, it feels natural, rather than the ham-fisted self-seriousness of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I mean, that film wanted the audience to take its so-called drama seriously while at the same time featuring the Blob, Will I. Am., and a villain who faces our hero with an avatar controlled like a video game character. Here, the stakes seem far more personal and interesting: Logan is just plain sick of living, and has to confront those feelings when an opportunity to act on them comes up.

That isn’t to say I am entirely sold on this film as of yet. While the theme and mood of the trailer appeal to me, the plot which is suggested by the trailer -- Logan is duped into giving up his abilities as part of an evil scheme -- could be a bit cliché depending on how it is handled. Moreover, for a tale that is supposedly more personal, the action appears to be fairly grandiose, which leaves me thinking that the story/theme of the film will be at odds with the (supposed) needs of a studio blockbuster.

The main thing I came away with from these trailers though is that the biggest stumbling block for the film will be fans, regardless of the quality of the finished product. The Wolverine comic by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, which this film is ostensibly based upon, is held in high regard amongst fans, and while elements of the film certainly appear to be taken from said comic, the narrative of the film appears to be radically different. For me, that degree of change is fine: I don’t think the Japan arc from the comics is nearly as great as it is made out to be. It has some great ideas and moments, for sure, but overall the comic comes across as the work of two men who marathon-watched a bunch of samurai, ninja and yakuza films before heading into work Monday morning. But fans being fans, I think they will go ballistic when they see that the film is going to radically rework the source material.
James, you recently reviewed all of Fox's X-Men films to date for the 24 Panels blog. What do you make of these trailers?

JAMES: Dru and Dave, thanks for inviting me to weigh in. Let me address a couple of your comments first. The “quest for mortality” motif is a staple of the genre. The hero has had enough and wants to live a normal life (Superman II and Spider-Man 2, for example). The somber mood, I agree, feels natural here. Many of Logan’s loner adventures in the comics have that inherent melancholy, and it seems well represented.

Well, my expectations for this film are quite low, given that I did not have many nice things to say about The Last Stand or Origins. And though my expectations are low, The Wolverine seems to have -- like you say, Dave -- a narrower focus, which makes me somewhat hopeful it’s on a better path. Origins is essentially no different than any of the other X-films, considering they’re jam-packed with unnecessary characters as fan service. The trailers at least don’t have any recognizable faces other than Jackman.

Seeing Logan strapped to another machine that will ultimately make him yell in pain, I thought the same as you, Dru -- the details of the plot feel altogether too familiar. (While we’re at it, can we put a moratorium on characters being pulled out of exile with long hair and bushy beards? There are other ways to show isolation and loneliness, people!) However, in capable hands, it may be handled with finesse and offer nice parallels to the Weapon X experiments. That said, director James Mangold is a journeyman who specializes in putting out movies that are entertaining, while mostly forgettable (I know I saw Copland, 3:10 to Yuma, and Knight and Day, but I couldn’t tell ya what happened), so that’s keeping my expectations low.

Ultimately, I was left with a shrug after these trailers. Since we recently learned that this was not another prequel, but rather takes place after The Last Stand, I am curious to see how much of that film is referenced -- either directly or indirectly (or at all) -- and how much groundwork will be laid to bridge the other films with First Class leading into Days of Future Past. It’s a pretty sad day when an X-film sparks my interest only in how it will fit in with the series overall like it’s a puzzle, which I think either speaks to my dwindling interest in the franchise or an emerging trend in Hollywood cinema (as wells as film studies and criticism) more concerned with a franchise at large than producing engaging, focused narratives.

But the fight on the train looks cool. I’m a sucker for action scenes on trains.

The Wolverine hits theatres on July 26, 2013.

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