Scenes of the Year 2014

Happy New Year all! Phew, thank Christ that’s over. Is it just me or was 2014 fucking rubbish in all sorts of ways? Anyway, time for the now yearly tradition of me picking my personal highlights of the cinematic year and forcing you to read them because you can be sure I’ll bring it up next time we go for coffee. As was the case last year, my scenes list isn’t the same as my “best of” list, despite there being a lot of overlap. I prefer talking about individual scenes as it can bring up some really interesting choices and allows me to include the most fascinating of beasts- the good scene in an otherwise average or bad film. As always, despite my best efforts, I didn’t see EVERY film to come out in 2014, so there may be some glaring omissions. Also, if you fancy checking out my full reviews of the films in the list, just click the title. Right- rambled long enough now. Here’s my goddamn list:

1) The Wolf of Wall Street – The ‘ludes kick in

 

The only good thing about the shitty January period of films in the UK is that we tend to get some of the great films that have been out in the U.S. for months. Case in point, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street which proved to be the one diamond in the deluge of shite released. I expect a Scorsese picture to be great, but what I wasn’t expecting was such a thick, satisfying slab of black humour. My favourite sequence happens when Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) finally feels the effects of necking out of date Quaaludes and collapses, having the Herculean task of driving back to his house and confronting Donnie (Jonah Hill) ahead of him. What follows is a drawn out and absurd sequence which is equal parts tragic as it is hilarious. DiCaprio also shows himself to be a great physical comedian, writhing and drooling his way home.

The absolute absurdity reaches a peak, however, when Jordan and Donnie fight, with Donnie picking an inopportune moment between phone beatings and cord stranglings to stuff his gullet with ham, causing him to choke. With his friend in peril, something rational finds its way through Belfort’s ball-tripping and he realises he’s got to save him. Struggling to his feet, Belfort takes a bump of energising coke, soundtracked by an old Popeye cartoon on TV and sets about saving Donnie. It’s bloody brilliant. When the film first came out, there were several pockets of hand-wringing muppets worried that the film glorified instead of condemned Jordan Belfort’s sleazy rise and fall. I don’t know how you can watch a scene like this one and not get at least a sense of what is being said. They’re selfish parodies of human beings at this point. Completely lost in a world of disgusting excess. It’s a total condemnation if ever I saw one.

 

2) The Lego Movie – “Spaceship!”

 

The Lego Movie is a joy. It’s a kids’ movie which is a giant advert for itself, but it manages to be a fast and witty experience with an infectious sense of fun. It has a great focus on characterisation and each of Emmett’s gang have their own motivations and personalities which is rare. Highlight of the film for me was the moment that astronaut Benny (Charlie Day) finally gets to build the spaceship he’s wanted to assemble all film. Our heroes have to make it back to stop President Business’ evil plan and only some kind of spacecraft will get them there in time. There’s something about the kinetic animation and manic Day screams of “Spaceship!” that really tickles me. Not much more to say, really. It’s a good scene and I dun giggled.

 

3) Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The SHIELD lift sequence

 

In what would surprisingly only turn out to be my second favourite Marvel film of the year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a fantastic rebuttal to people criticising all these “capeshit” films from being the same. I’ve often thought that the Captain America series is one of Marvel’s most experimental. The Thor films may be all fantastical in their settings but they’re pretty standard fantasy films. First Avenger gave us an earnest World War II superhero caper whereas Winter Soldier gives us a ’70s style paranoid spy thriller, complete with Robert Redford. They also seem to be using the Cap films to significantly push the shared universe forward and have big repercussions ripple through the rest of MCU. The underlying message of this one is “trust no-one”. No scene better encapsulates this more than the SHIELD lift sequence where Cap (Chris Evans) finds himself in a crowded lift full of enemy agents.

Whilst the punchy and kicky payoff is feckin’ sweet, it’s the slow build up to this one that makes it special. It’s Cap noticing a supposedly innocent guard nervously toying with the strap on his holster. It’s the building tension as more and more bruisers are picked up on each floor. The main thing that sells the scene for me is Cap calmly asking: “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?” which is a perfect Captain America type line. The ensuing claustrophobic fight reminded me of a souped-up version of the similarly constrained Bond/Red Grant train carriage scrap in From Russia With Love which is a compliment in itself.

 

 

 4) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Koba performs

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes disappointed me. It wasn’t bad, it just felt it was missing some key components like a compelling human cast. Undoubtably one of the highlights of the film was Tony Kebbell’s villainous ape Koba. Basic gist of this scene is that Koba’s sneaking around and comes across two twitchy human guards with guns. Instead of risking an attack, Koba turns up the cuteness dial and starts acting all chimplike, imitating what the men do and charming them. It’s only when the men are nice and distracted does Koba grab one of the rifles and blow them away. Having a deeply misanthropic character like Koba performing what basically amounts to ape blackface shows a level of imagination and intelligence lacking in the rest of the film’s undercooked script.

 

5) The Raid 2 – The car chase

 

As with the first one, I loved The Raid 2. No film series offers the same level of bone-crunching goodness that The Raid films do. Whilst featuring some fantastic choreography for normal scrapping, the moment that my jaw actually hung open for was the car chase which manages to be one of the most exciting action sequences in recent memory. Hero cop Rama (Iko Uwais) has been captured by some bad ‘uns. He wakes up and proceeds to go apeshit.

It’s the level of ingenuity that impresses me most. Some of the shots are amazing as we swoop in and out of cars involved in the chase. Best of all- it feels dangerous. I mean, when was the last time you were actually thrilled by an action sequence? Well, The Raid 2 did it for me. Both Gareth Evans and the Raid stunt team are at the top of their game right now. The very notion that this could be topped has me eager to see where they go from here, which apparently seems to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Can’t wait to see the stuff they do with lightsabers.

6) X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Quicksilver sequence

 

If ever there was a shoo-in for this particular list, it was this one. I enjoyed Days of Future Past a lot, but despite fierce competition from the ending, the Quicksilver sequence won out comfortably. Basic set-up is that Wolverine, Professor X et al need to bust Magneto out of his special plastic cell in the Pentagon. They enlist Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, a mutant with the power to move at incredible speeds, to help them. Quicksilver comes into his own when the gang are outnumbered and outgunned when the enter the kitchen. We see Quicksilver casually put his Walkman on and proceed to incapacitate every guard in a flash. Best part of this being that we experience it all through Quicksilver’s perception of time, so everything happens in balletic super slo-mo.

There are so many elements that make this work. The song choice of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” is inspired. The little touches of humour with Quicksilver setting up guards to punch themselves in the face and such is great. The effects are astounding. We didn’t get to spend much time with Quicksilver in the film, but the most is made of him. I’ll be interested to see how Marvel Studios version of the character stacks up.

 

7) 22 Jump Street – The end credits

22 Jump Street is a sequel that mocks the very idea of sequels. Like the first one, it’s a genuinely funny film with some seriously clever stuff going on behind the scenes. Once 22 Jump Street wraps up, it answers the obligatory sequel question with a whole slew of movie posters and clips from fictional sequels. By Christ it’s funny. I won’t give away the various funny little bits because then I’d just be that guy who just retells jokes, but it’s great. Definitely make sure to take note of the various taglines though. Some serious punning power. What I love about it is that it’s kind of both a fuck you to the idea of franchises and kind of an acceptance of where this franchise is heading as well. 23 Jump Street has already been confirmed and if the Sony hacks (in both senses of the word) are anything to go by, a Jump Street//Men in Black crossover may happen. I wish I was fucking kidding.

8) Snowpiercer – Tunnel vision

 

I’m breaking the rules of my own list for this one.  Snowpiercer has endured a rocky road to get to audiences. It got a half-hearted theatrical release in the U.S. and there’s no goddamn sign of it in the UK, theatrical or home video, which is pathetic. It’s such a shitty situation as I really enjoyed Snowpiercer and feel like the more people see it, the more it will encourage a like of solid, but definitely oddball films. Basic premise is Bioshock on a train. The world has frozen over and the only life exists on a self-sustaining train that crosses the globe in an endless loop. The class divide is huge. The lower classes live in the scummy tail of the train whereas the uppers in the front carriages get to enjoy all manner of luxuries.

Sick of their treatment, the tail rises and a group of them, led by Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) leads the charge to push to the front. One of the best moments for me is after a few successes Curtis’ group come to a dead stop when they encounter a group of tooled-up soldiers brandishing vicious hatchets, easily trumping the crappy clubs our heroes carry. Informed by the raucous and unrecognisable Tilda Swinton that precisely 74% of them will die as punishment for their actions so far, the soldiers whip out their night vision goggles and ready their axes just in time for the train to go through a “fucking long” tunnel and plunge everyone into total darkness. It’s absolutely fantastic and hammers home the central theme of the haves vs the havenots. My favourite little bit is when the train passes by a crack of light in the tunnel and we see it shine on everything from the bloody carnage to the survivors’ faces. Brutal and beautiful. Brutaful.

 

9) Guardians of the Galaxy – “Come And Get Your Love”

 

Guardians of the Galaxy is my favourite film of the year, so chances were high that it’d appear in this list. Whist the Kyln prison escape scene is well orchestrated and executed, it’s the song and dance number we get with the title card that gets the mention. Why? Well, apart from being incredibly enjoyable and fun, it’s the film setting out its stall. The very opening scene is an emotional gutpunch as young Peter Quill attends his dying mother’s hospital bed. From there we have a bit of mystery as a masked man traverses some ruins until finally the mask is removed, headphones are placed on and Redbone’s funky-as-anything “Come and Get Your Love” is blasted. When the big gold titles come up above a tiny dancing Quill it’s a statement of purpose. The first few bits may have been tonally rocky, but that’s James Gunn’s name on screen- wild tonal shifts come with the territory. It’s unapologetically what it is and hooray for that. Best bit has to be Quill miming the words into the snapping jaws of a nasty looking alien held like a microphone.

 

 

10) Need for Speed – The Koenigsegg crash

 

I didn’t like Need for Speed very much. I think a lot of its throwback charms were lost on me amidst the clunky script and poor plotting. However, one thing that Need for Speed got completely right was its attitude towards stunts. Pretty much every car stunt is practical and it shows. One of the best sequences in the film is a race between three incredibly fast Koenigsegg Agera Rs. The film’s slimeball bastard Dino (Dominic Cooper) nudges the back of another and sends it skidding with it quickly gaining massive air and tumbling over a bridge in a huge ball of flames. It’s meant to be a devastating crash and thanks to the real stuntwork it looks and feels it too. In fact, all of the action scenes in Need for Speed could go on here, but this one wins because of its simplicity. I like the fact that there’s still spectacle in these kinds of things. Shame about the rest of the film, but the car stuff is brilliant.

EDIT: Balls. I found my notes and I forgot something which definitely deserves a place. Rather than removing an entry, I’ll add another because I’m a sexy writing maverick.

11) Begin Again – The imaginary orchestra

 

Begin Again is the sort of charming kind-of romcom that reminds me I don’t hate romantic comedies, I just hate the usual lazy shite that’s released posing as them. A true romcom can uplift and that’s exactly what Begin Again does. There are many great musical moments but the king of all is an early scene where drunk, down-on-his-luck music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) hears Keira Knightley’s Gretta sing for the first time at an open mic night. Dan immediately hears potential in the song and starts imagining what it would sound like if it was scored by an orchestra. We then see floating drumsticks and bows go to task and bring in the various instruments gradually until it all reaches a peak and slowly fades back to just Gretta’s performance complete with background chatter and bar noise. It’s Ruffalo that makes this one work so well. In hearing the song, Dan rediscovers an excitement about music and Ruffalo slowly getting to his feet and imagining the accompaniment before getting completely lost in it is joyful. Of course, it helps that the song “A Step You Can’t Take Back” is a lovely gentle track that works perfectly with Dan’s realisation.

So, that’s it for another year. 2015’s line-up is intimidatingly massive so I’ll see you on the other side.

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past

 

Singer of praises

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I loved First Class and whilst The Wolverine had its charms, it’s been many long years since we’ve had a “proper” X-Men film. I was cautiously optimistic, but the whole “team-up” aspect of it, meshing the old cast with the younger versions of themselves had me worried that the only reason it was being made was a knee-jerk reaction to The Avengers and Marvel Studios’ universe building, with Fox desperate to put out their own branded version of a Marvel universe to grab several slices of the ridiculous money pie that’s rapidly cooling.

“The future: a bleak desolate, place. Mutants and the humans who helped them, united in defeat by an enemy we could not stop. Is this the fate we have set for ourselves? Could we have done nothing to stop it?”

The Future. Giant, nigh-on unstoppable robots called Sentinels, specifically designed to eradicate mutants, roam the Earth and have brought on an apocalypse, full of ash, rubble and rapidly declining pockets of survivors. Tracing the devastation back to a single moment in the 1970’s involving the assassination of Sentinel inventor, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by blue shape-shifter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the current remnants of the X-Men, including Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) engineer a way to send a mutant’s consciousness back in time and the ageless Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the perfect candidate. Logan’s troubles don’t just extend to preventing a murder, however, as whilst their present selves (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) have put aside their differences, ’70s Prof. X and Magento (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) are at loggerheads, meaning Logan will have to convince them to sing from the same hymn book as well.

So, the cast. They’re all brilliant. It’s a genuine thrill to see old and new faces thrown into the mix together.Both versions of Prof. X and Magneto are a joy to watch. DoFP can have its cake and eat it, cutting from the future versions talking to each other with mutual respect and Shakespearian gravitas to the young, angry versions, played fantastically by McAvoy and Fassbender. McAvoy gets a special shoutout as he gives a great performance as a jaded junkie Xavier, complete with a thousand yard stare and addiction to painkillers. Hugh Jackman is always fun to watch as Wolverine and nailed it fucking yonks ago, but still manages to be just as entertaining as he always was. Jennifer Lawrence also gives a nicely nuanced turn as Mystique. Of the new blood, Peter Dinklage is great as Trask and the new mutants are a blast, especially Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. Fans of the series like myself will be delighted with the various character cameos and references.

I’m so glad this didn’t turn out to be the clusterfuck it could have so easily been. When I sat down and the classic X-Men theme started playing, I smiled. I realised that I’d genuinely missed the franchise and was struck by a sudden need for the film to be awesome. Luckily, it is. It’s a well balanced film with just the right amounts of humour, action, suspense and all that good shit. It’s basically a First Class sequel with the “classic” cast serving as a framing device. It just works. Part of the reason for this is Bryan Singer’s direction. The guy gets characters and narrative arcs. All of his films have shown a great understanding of the basics and an insane amount of talent and skill when it comes to throwing it up on a big screen. Thankfully, he’s on form here and keeps the pace quick, but not at the expense of quieter moments. The script is also solid as hell, with the normally shitty Simon Kinberg doing his best work since ever. The story actually has weight and stakes to it. The finale, cutting between the future and past is one of the most exciting things I’ve seen this year. Funnily enough, the film is fairly light on action, but when it hits, it hits solidly. The best sequence in the film by far is a bit at the Pentagon where the super-fast and funny Quicksilver really comes into his own.

My only real problems with the film are more niggles than anything else. My major qualm is with the decision to basically make the film another Wolverine-centric story. Singer does his best to juggle focus, but at its heart it’s still episode #7353 of The Wolverine Show. All of the X-Men films so far have been Wolverine stories, with the exception of First Class, which still includes a small cameo by the Clawed One. I like the character and Jackman, but one of my favourite things about the X-Men is how diverse they are. There are any number of characters that could carry the main narrative successfully. The original comic is told from Kitty Pryde’s point of view and I could see that working. My other problem is with a minor plot point. I’m not a big “movie logic” guy and inevitably problematic time travel stuff didn’t bother me. So, the Sentinels are basically unstoppable thanks to adaptive technology, being able to use a mutant’s weakness against them. So, for instance, one ends up using fire powers against Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). They’re like the ultimate Pokemon. However, the film tells us they got these powers thanks to Mystique. Thing is, she only shapeshifts. She doesn’t gain any powers by turning into someone. Series regular Rogue has that power- surely she would be more fitting? Fuck- there was even that Darwin guy in First Class who could do exactly that. Why not him? My guess is is that they needed to give Lawrence a meatier part,with her having become a megastar inbetween First Class and this one. Funny, as the same thing happened with Halle Berry between the first and second films of the X trilogy.

“All those years wasted fighting each other, Charles.”

Days of Future Past is one of the most satisfying films I’ve seen in a while. It just does everything it needs to with wit, intelligence and style. It’s a fantastic blockbuster that doesn’t forget to tell a good story in amongst the big action setpieces and CGI- something which I’m still incredulous is a real issue in this day and age. It’s also a bold step into the future of the franchise, with various happenings in the film rendering events and entire previous films uncanonical. If the quality is maintained, I’m unbelievably excited about the both the sequel, Age of Apocalypse, and their wider plans for a franchise spanning universe.. It’s going to be a long two years.

Earth’s Mightiest Xeroxes: The Unfortunate Legacy of The Avengers

“We’re surrounded by shitty knock-offs!”

I’ve spoken before about studios learning the wrong lessons from box office megahits and trying to apply said lessons to whatever franchises they have, whether it suits or not. In the past few days, it’s been announced that Wonder Woman will appear in the still untitled Batman vs Superman film. The first trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also hit, giving us not one villain as previously thought, but multiple bastards to deal with as well as massive hints at an expanded universe to come. Plus, we have X-Men: Days of Future Past and as of yesterday, X-Men: Apocalypse in the pipeline, the former promising an all-star mash-up of the established cast of the original trilogy with the swingin’ ’60s versions of the characters from First Class. I should be dancing about my room, yelling about how we live in the golden age of comic book films, but I can’t shake the feeling we’re in danger of having some monumental clusterfucks on our hands.

I’ll take them on in order. Firstly, that whole Wonder Woman thing. I’m happy that she finally gets to make an overdue appearance, but I’m pissed off that she’ll be playing third fiddle to Bats and Supes. Obviously, I have no idea how much she’ll appear in the film, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t going to be taking too much attention away from the two beefy boys. I’ve said it before, but D.C.’s attempts at creating a cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s are a fucking mess. Wonder Woman deserves her own film, not just a glorified cameo. Yeah, they may do a solo outing later on, but my guess is that they’ll be steamrolling ahead with all this Justice League stuff for the foreseeable future and are only cramming Ms. Prince in because people expect some form of introduction to the character before the big team up film, thanks to the groundwork laid by The Avengers. Warner Bros. are grasping at straws and forming a film completely out of knee-jerk reactions. All it is is a shaky response to Marvel’s throwing down of the (Infinity) gauntlet.There’s nothing to go on so far apart from internet tittle-tattle and scant announcements, but I can already feel my caution starting to overtake my anticipation. As with all these entries, I want them to be good and would be delighted if they turned out that way, it’s just I feel that Man of Steel 2: Bruce and Diana Too is not being given the care and attention it needs. We’ll see.

Onto my pet subject: Spider-Man. I’m being honest here, I haven’t had high hopes for this one at all. The first one left me angry and it seems they have no interest in righting their wrongs. Some terrible CGI, rubbish dialogue and the baffling return of bullet time aside, there are more troubling things contained in the trailer below:

If you haven’t spent whole stretches of your life dedicated to the adventures of a smartass, spandex-wearing teen like I have, let me fill you in on what’s going on. Around the 1:14 mark, there are some recognisable villain hallmarks to be seen in the background, namely Vulture’s wings and Doc Ock’s tentacles. It seems like the trailer’s setting up the appearance of The Sinister Six, a supervillain group, pretty much the anti-Avengers, who team up to take down their common arachnid enemy. The roster has changed over the decades so it’s tough to say which line-up they’ll go with, but they could have given us the answer in this trailer and have Doc Ock, Electro, Lizard, Vulture, Rhino and the Green Goblin for their sickening sextet. If you’d have told the 10 year old me that not only would there be loads of Spider-Man films one day, but one featuring The Sinister Six, I think he would have flipped his lid. Thing is, adult me has been hurt before by Spider-Man 3 and more pertinently, The Amazing Spider-Man. Marc Webb et al have already showed they don’t “get” Spider-Man and it’s only going to get worse. I would have liked to have seen at least one more film where Spidey takes on a singular villain without the constraints of being shackled to a spider origin story before we barrel in to a big “event” picture. Having multiple villains can work, but only if a deft touch is used. They couldn’t even handle The Lizard on his own without ballsing it up, so I doubt that they’ll be able to handle three in this sequel and six in future films. They’re trying to run before the can walk. Christ, they can’t even wallcrawl properly yet. I will say this though- Dane DeHaan looks like he’s nailed Harry Osborn and I’m looking forward to see where he takes it.

The X-Men franchise is the one I’m least worried about. I believe in Bryan Singer. Whilst I would have liked another film focused on the First Class lot, I think Days of Future Past is going to be good. Singer cares about character and will hopefully be able to balance all the spinning plates. Besides the time-twisty adventures planned, there’s still a Wolverine sequel to come and spin-offs in the form of an X-Force feature, which could possibly set up a spin-off of its own in the form of a long-awaited standalone Deadpool film. There’s even talk of merging the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes, creating a Fox branded take on the Marvel universe. It’s pretty damn likely to happen too. As you may have noticed- everyone has to have their own version of The Avengers paradigm by law, apparently. If you’re still with me at this point and your brain hasn’t dribbled out of your nose, good on you.

I think the thing that annoys me is the reactionary nature of it all. Studios see the opportunity to sell 5 times as much merchandise and have jumped all over it, not taking time to figure out what made The Avengers good. It’s a fucking miracle that The Avengers worked at all and they need to respect that. In my opinion, they hired the right guy for the task. Joss Whedon had a history of making ensemble things work, from his stint as a writer on the X-Men comics to his TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. He has a great knowledge of team dynamics and has a wonderful inclusionary way where you as the reader/viewer/whatever feel like part of the team and share in their triumphs and losses. The lesson to be learned isn’t “Team-ups are in right now. Let’s copy The Avengers and cram as many fucking characters in as the screen can hold and set up our next 70 films”. It says a lot that The Avengers doesn’t work nearly as well as a standalone film as it does as a sequel to all of Marvel’s “Phase One” films up to that point. I realise they’re all rushing these things into production and trying to strike whilst the iron’s hot. Here’s the thing- that particular iron cooled a while ago, it was struck at peak heat to the tune of a billion dollars, and if I may stretch this metaphor to near-breaking point, it might be a better idea to focus on creating their own iron doodads fit for heating purposes. Marvel Studios doesn’t and shouldn’t have the monopoly on superhero team-ups, but it went about it the best way, took its time building the foundations and has already started manufacturing a second iron thingamajig (sorry, I’m swear I’m completely done with that analogy now). I think that’s the lesson that studios should be taking away from the success of The Avengers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to team up with several other crappy little movie blogs and together, we’ll write the biggest and bestest review you ever did see. Be sure to buy the tie-in video game where you get to play as me and struggle to get over a handful of daily views!

The Wolverine

 
*Insert shit Japanese pun here*
 

The Wolverine (2013)

The X-Men franchise is one of the time-hoppyist series around. We’ve had prequels, even earlier prequels and a buttload of sequels. It’s all going to get more confusing with the forthcoming Days of Future Past which will mash the First Class lot together with the established cast of the first three films in a time-spanning Avengers style ensemble pic. I have to say though, they’ve done a good job keeping the timeline pretty coherent all things considered.

“I’ve been trying to find you for over a year. My employer’s dying, he wants to thank you for saving his life. It’s an honour to meet the Wolverine.”

The Wolverine unsurprisingly tells the story of Logan (Hugh Jackman). We catch up with him years after the events of The Last Stand. He’s exiled himself and is living rough in the mountains. He’s tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who has been asked to bring him to Japan on behalf of the ailing magnate Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) who had his life saved by Logan decades before. Wolvie travels with her and soon discovers a plot to kidnap Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) to get in on some sweet ransom cash action. The Wolverine is loosely based on a popular and critically acclaimed ’80s miniseries dealing with Logan’s first solo adventure. For the most part, the story is solid, giving us a fish-out-of-water take on the now very familiar Wolverine. Hugh Jackman is always a pleasure to watch as Logan. He nailed the part long ago, but it never feels like he’s treading the same old ground or phoning it in. I get the feeling he likes playing the character as much as I enjoy seeing him in the role. The Wolverine is a more successful personal story than the widely hated X-Men Origins: Wolverine. As much as I liked Tao Okamoto, her only job seems to be standing around looking beautiful, so of course Logan falls for her instead of the kick-ass Rila Fukushima who manages to be both interesting and handy in fights. The only weak point was Famke Janssen reprising her role as Jean Grey. I don’t have a problem with Janssen at all, it’s just that the various dream sequences with her in are definitely movie low points. She just lies around in lingerie spouting all of Logan’s internal dialogue that they couldn’t be arsed to weave into the narrative. I never really bought the whole Jean/Logan relationship in the films anyway, but I soon learned to stop paying attention whenever Logan was sleeping as it meant another clunkily written chunk of fuck-all was going to happen.

Straight from the off, I felt the film was in good hands. It opens with a unnervingly quiet harbour view before showing some bombers coming in to fuck up Nagasaki nuclear style. It’s a well done sequence and the sheer spectacle of watching a nuclear blast totalling the lovely Japanese shoreside is both devastating and awesome at the same time. I like seeing Wolverine in wartime settings. More please. Whilst Wolvie’s Japanese trip seems to consist purely of things American audiences would expect from a film set in Asia, it’s not really a problem. There’s a genuinely funny and awkward moment where Logan and Mariko hide out at a love hotel which plays well. I feel the film could have done with more of these little moments as the only reason these characters fall in love is because he protects her all the time and they’re both attractive people. Mariko needed to be something pretty special for Logan to get over Jean and I just didn’t feel it. Yukio had more going on. Anyone have her number?

When I saw Hoborine living rough in the mountains, I had a thought hit me that sent an icy chill down to my stomach:  “Oh shit, I hope they haven’t gone all ‘gritty’ with this”. Thankfully, this turned out to not be the case. There’s dark stuff in it, but its not afraid to keep the tone out of the bleak doldrums other superhero films are finding themselves in. Plus, there’s a scene in a bar when Logan confronts some hunters that is classic Wolverine and made me smile broadly. In fact, all the action is well done. There’s a stunning sequence on top of a bullet train that’s the best train sequence I’ve seen since Spider-Man 2. Wolverine’s healing ability has been suppressed in this film, so most of the fight scenes have raised stakes as people can actually hurt and stop him. It’s the first time we’ve since Wolverine physically vulnerable to anyone other than Magneto and it works really well. My one qualm is that some of the fights felt pretty toothless, with people getting slashed and stabbed by Wolverine’s famous claws but there being very little resulting blood. I didn’t want it to turn into a gorefest or anything, but X2 managed to get away with quite a bit. A lot of it looked like blood and injury had been digitally removed. My guess is that when it comes down to releasing it on DVD/Blu-ray, they’ll pull a Hunger Games and include the slightly meatier cut.

My only other real problem was Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who ends up as a pretty weak villainess. She’s just not given that much to do and she reminded me quite a lot of Batman & Robin‘s Poison Ivy, with the penchant for sucking face with her victims and generally hamming it up. Anything that reminds me of that dungheap of a film is going to have points taken off. The impressive-looking Silver Samurai is also of little consequence, but you can’t win ’em all.

“I can do this all day, you twisted mutant bitch!”

The Wolverine is pretty decent. It’s not good enough to get excited about, but it’s an entertaining enough flick. Think of it like 2008’s Incredible Hulk, solid on its own, but mostly made to bring the story in line with forthcoming “event” pictures. Speaking of which, stay after the credits ya droolmonkeys.