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by Eric Kohn
July 24, 2013 9:00 AM
16 Comments
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How 'The Wolverine' Reflects the Problems With the Film Industry

"The Wolverine."

"As it relates to independent film, the sky really is falling," announced film executive Mark Gill in 2008, but it's starting to look like his aim was off. One month after Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted an "implosion" of the Hollywood industry, the moment may have arrived even sooner than they anticipated. Doom and gloom reports of studio box office duds in recent weeks suggest that the proliferation of overpriced, undercooked tentpole releases has reached another breaking point. Dispatches from Comic-Con report of a general fatigue among conventioneers faced with endless previews of the same half-baked formulas devoid of original concepts.

While frugal directors and producers working outside this playing field relish in the schadenfreude, disoriented moguls perplexed by their current situation might want to spend the weekend contemplating it in the context of Hollywood's latest -- and mercifully watchable -- product, "The Wolverine."

The latest edition to Fox's ever-expanding X-Men empire resurrects its most appealing character for another dreary solo entry in which the adamantium-riddled mutant with knives in his knuckles gets yanked away from sulking in the countryside to confront another demon from his past. Building on the brooding atmosphere capably established by Gavin Hood in 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," James Mangold delivers an efficiently brutal and straight-faced action-adventure once again showcasing Hugh Jackman's trademark scowl in the role he was born to play.

Paying respectable tribute to Western motifs and, most obviously, samurai movies, "The Wolverine" follows a thin story involving the aspirations of a rich Japanese investor whom the Wolverine, aka Logan, saved back in WWII. In awe of Logan's regenerative abilities, the dying man tracks down Logan decades later in the hopes of swiping his abilities, aided by a life-sucking evil mutant played with bland sultriness by Svetlana Khodchenkova. Logan goes on the lam with the investor's granddaughter (Tao Okamoto) and the future-seeing hired gun tasked with bringing him east (Rila Fukushima). In the midst of all this, Mangold stages a terrific high velocity showdown between Logan and an unnamed assailant on top of Japan's famed bullet train, but other than that scene and a comically abrupt burst of violence involving a high rise a little further down the line, "The Wolverine" has the sterile feel of a movie weighed down by its humorless character. We expect as much from him, but there's a sense of lethargy to the very plot of "The Wolverine" as it barrels toward an uninspired final act.

Logan is an unkillable action hero in denial about his fate.

Yet in the context of so much public grousing over the current state of the business, "The Wolverine" offers a provocative analogy for Hollywood's boundless commitment to pricey undertakings. Hiding in the forest as the movie begins, still burnt by the loss of his former love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, surfacing in dream sequences), Logan is an unkillable action hero in denial about his fate. Dragged back into the field against his will, his constant frustrations over being thrust into another showdown play as though he's actively trying to evade participating in another "Wolverine" movie. But the movie gods have other plans. "Your mistake was to believe a life without end can have no meaning," he's told. "It is the only life that can." That notion persists so heavily that eventually it washes over Logan until he has no choice but to play along. "I'm a soldier," he finally declares. "I've been hiding too long." A final coda teasing the next "X-Men" movie ensures that he won't have much time to reconsider.

In "The Wolverine," Logan persists as a great idea, the happy medium between Rambo and the man with no name  -- but the movie itself lacks the same complex inspiration. Looking at a large quantity of misconceived Hollywood movies, it seems as though the strength of a few promising variables early on trounce the bigger picture. Hulking monsters versus machines in "Pacific Rim," new age ghostbusters in "R.I.P.D.," speeding snails in "Turbo," a dystopian survival story in "After Earth": These are not cheap endeavors. Before executives take out their checkbooks, they need to consider whether a seemingly marketable concept actually has legs or merely the sketchy outlines of them. Otherwise, they'll face yet another summer of many Wolverines slashing their claws at interchangeable targets that will never truly fall.

16 Comments

  • Coty | July 26, 2013 6:02 PMReply

    Sorry about the repeats, submit button glitches.

  • Coty | July 26, 2013 6:00 PMReply

    Most executives don't read the scripts, they just read the log line and rely on comments from their interns' or assistants' coverage reports.

    Stories start as ideas but at studios they stay as ideas. Marketing, PR and advertising take up most of the studio positions while story analysts and professional readers barely exist. Studios focus on what worked in the past instead of creating new ideas because they have investors that need analytics and data. Something that hasn't been done before doesn't have the same assurances as something that has. It makes it harder to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a film with no guarantees. But usually if a movie tanks, they say they marketed it wrong and move on to the next one.

    An often overlooked element to why these films tank, is the availability of movies. Audiences now have unlimited access to content and have higher standards for what they are willing to see at theaters. It has to be worth putting on pants for. Throwing more and more money into the film won't help if the story isn't new. People want everything now, good story, good effects, good acting, etc. That's why when all the elements combine, they get huge box office returns. But of course they will just say they marketed it well and move on to the next one.

  • Coty | July 26, 2013 5:59 PMReply

    Most executives don't read the scripts, they just read the log line and rely on comments from their interns' or assistants' coverage reports.

    Stories start as ideas but at studios they stay as ideas. Marketing, PR and advertising take up most of the studio positions while story analysts and professional readers barely exist. Studios focus on what worked in the past instead of creating new ideas because they have investors that need analytics and data. Something that hasn't been done before doesn't have the same assurances as something that has. It makes it harder to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a film with no guarantees. But usually if a movie tanks, they say they marketed it wrong and move on to the next one.

    An often overlooked element to why these films tank, is the availability of movies. Audiences now have unlimited access to content and have higher standards for what they are willing to see at theaters. It has to be worth putting on pants for. Throwing more and more money into the film won't help if the story isn't new. People want everything now, good story, good effects, good acting, etc. That's why when all the elements combine, they get huge box office returns. But of course they will just say they marketed it well and move on to the next one.

  • Coty | July 26, 2013 5:59 PMReply

    Most executives don't read the scripts, they just read the log line and rely on comments from their interns' or assistants' coverage reports.

    Stories start as ideas but at studios they stay as ideas. Marketing, PR and advertising take up most of the studio positions while story analysts and professional readers barely exist. Studios focus on what worked in the past instead of creating new ideas because they have investors that need analytics and data. Something that hasn't been done before doesn't have the same assurances as something that has. It makes it harder to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a film with no guarantees. But usually if a movie tanks, they say they marketed it wrong and move on to the next one.

    An often overlooked element to why these films tank, is the availability of movies. Audiences now have unlimited access to content and have higher standards for what they are willing to see at theaters. It has to be worth putting on pants for. Throwing more and more money into the film won't help if the story isn't new. People want everything now, good story, good effects, good acting, etc. That's why when all the elements combine, they get huge box office returns. But of course they will just say they marketed it well and move on to the next one.

  • Jordan | July 26, 2013 10:46 AMReply

    Great writing as always but especially incisive here... keep this type of article coming.

  • fruma | July 25, 2013 3:26 PMReply

    great piece Eric.

  • Brandon Judell | July 25, 2013 1:13 PMReply

    Bravo, Eric. A well-written, astute analysis.

  • Brandon Judell | July 25, 2013 1:13 PMReply

    Bravo, Eric. A well-written, astute analysis.

  • Brandon Judell | July 25, 2013 1:12 PMReply

    Bravo, Eric. A well-written, astute analysis.

  • Brandon Judell | July 25, 2013 1:12 PMReply

    Bravo, Eric. A well-written, astute analysis.

  • Brandon Judell | July 25, 2013 1:12 PMReply

    Bravo, Eric. A well-written, astute analysis.

  • Brandon Judell | July 25, 2013 1:12 PMReply

    Bravo, Eric. A well-written, astute analysis.

  • Brandon Judell | July 25, 2013 1:11 PMReply

    Bravo, Eric. A well-written, astute analysis.

  • David | July 25, 2013 2:12 AMReply

    This summer is on track to break box office records, pacing far ahead of 2012 and looks to beat 2011. And as for Comic-Con, fans slept outside in the dirt in order to get the first look at any number of studio releases. The problem is an overcrowded release schedule and after 2015 the studios will routinely be releasing 'summer' movies from March through October.

  • tom | July 24, 2013 1:13 PMReply

    Great article. I was wondering why we get so many of this comic book characters on the screen. You are pointing to a couple of good reasons.

  • tom | July 24, 2013 1:12 PMReply

    Great article. I was wondering why we get so many of this comic book characters on the screen. You are pointing to a couple of good reasons.