This summer, comic book fans and movie audiences have already been treated to two hit film adaptations featuring some of their favorite characters. In May, Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 3 overcame a lukewarm fan reception (read our Iron Man 3 review) to gross over $1 billion worldwide, proving that the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains one of the elite blockbuster franchises.
Then, Warner Bros. and DC released the Superman reboot Man of Steel and brought the Last Son of Krypton back triumphantly (read our Man of Steel review) as that film has grossed $282 million domestically and $620 million worldwide (at the time of this writing).
Both of these movies also had an “event” feeling to them and with all the coverage the two blockbusters have received, it’s easy to forget that there’s still a third superhero movie this summer – and it’s right around the corner: 20th Century Fox’s The Wolverine.
It’s a situation similar to last summer where The Amazing Spider-Man had to compete with massive event films The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Like that Spider-Man reboot, it seems as if The Wolverine isn’t as high on peoples’ most anticipated lists when compared to its competition. Even if the pre-release hype hasn’t reached a fever pitch, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited for the latest X-Men film.
It’s no secret that one of the most maligned superhero adaptations in recent memory is 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was ravaged by critics and moviegoers who were displeased with the butchering of fan-favorite characters (the less we say about Deadpool, the better), sloppy production values, and a poor script. The general consensus was it was just a mess of a movie and an overall disappointment.
Looking for a reprieve, Fox has made the smart decision to distance the second Wolverine film from the first and position it as a standalone film – not a direct sequel. Since it takes place after the original X-Men trilogy, The Wolverine will still have to acknowledge the events of the prior movies (Jean Grey makes a brief appearance), but director James Mangold has made a point to explain that his movie “stands alone” and is about Wolverine’s next journey.
Serving as a quasi-reboot of sorts, The Wolverine’s standalone approach will hopefully win the studio some audience goodwill – as Fox looks to rebuild the X-Men franchise.
James Mangold took over for Darren Aronofsky to direct The Wolverine and his involvement should be a positive sign for moviegoers. In the past, the filmmaker has helmed Oscar-nominated dramas such as the 2010 remake 3:10 to Yuma and the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. These two career highlights were praised for their acting and directing, which indicates that Mangold has a touch for cracking the human element in his films.
Mangold is also passionate about the subject matter. He has talked about enjoying comic books as a youngster (so the source material means something special to him) and seems to have a firm grasp on what The Wolverine needs to be in order to be successful. The director is hoping to craft a more personal, character-driven story that breaks from the mold of a typical summer action flick. Mangold is looking to respect the rich storytelling of comic books and graphic novels in and break away from what he calls the “standard formula” of a big-budget superhero adaptation. Obviously, there will still be action (the train sequence has been heavily featured in marketing), but it should be refreshing to see a movie like this go in a different direction.
The best superhero films – The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Spider-Man 2, even The Incredibles – rely more on character than set pieces, making the person behind the mask (or in this case sideburns) just as interesting to watch as the action elements. If this is what Mangold is going for, it’s a promising approach.
Like many tent-pole projects in the summer of 2009, the infamous Writers Strike negatively impacted X-Men Origins: Wolverine. With no screenwriters available to lend a helping hand, the first spinoff went into production with a hastily penned screenplay and the results were disastrous. With no strike in 2012 or 2013, there’s hope that The Wolverine actually has a solid script. Based on the talent Fox has hired, fans could be in luck.
Oscar-winner Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) wrote the first draft of The Wolverine script (back when Wolverine was slated to be the only mutant in the picture) using the legendary Japanese story arc as the basis for this film. The classic series from Chris Claremont and Frank Miller has long been a favorite for fans of the character (including star Hugh Jackman). Even though Mangold and screenwriter Mark Bomback made heavy revisions to the script, McQuarrie’s ideas are still firmly in place and those involved with the film have been quick to praise his work.
The Wolverine looks to deal with heavier issues than we’re typically used to seeing in a film like this, particularly the consequences of immortality. This film finds Logan in a dark place as he struggles to cope with the knowledge that everyone he loves will eventually die while he stays alive. As a result, the movie will hopefully push our favorite mutant in new directions (as all great sequels should) and present audiences with something we’ve never seen before: a more physically vulnerable Wolverine.
At the turn of the 21st century, not many people knew who Hugh Jackman was, but a star-making turn in Bryan Singer’s original X-Men in 2000 launched the Australian thespian’s career. Jackman has since become one of the most recognizable actors of his time, scoring roles in acclaimed films such as The Prestige and Les Misérables (for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar).
Still, his most iconic role is that of Wolverine in the X-Men franchise. Counting his brief cameo in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine will mark the sixth time Jackman has portrayed the mutant, making him synonymous with the character. It’s hard to see anyone else playing the part (at least for now).
What makes Jackman such a great Wolverine (aside from his natural acting talent) is his enthusiasm for the material. It’s obvious from his interview clips and quotes that he loves the character and the franchise. He understands how much the movies mean to the fans and he wants to give all of them a product they can enjoy. Franchise fatigue has yet to set in – and Jackman is set to play the character once more in next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Eager to right past wrongs, fans have reason to think this movie will be a return to form if the star is so excited about it.
Even though The Wolverine is a standalone film, it was recently confirmed that there is a post-credits scene that teases where the studio intends to take the X-Men franchise – as they look to build a larger universe of X-Men films (similar to Marvel Studios’ Avengers shared universe).
This movie in particular may not be a launching pad for such a plan (like Iron Man was to Marvel back in 2008), but the prospect of a tease for the future is more than enough to generate interest among moviegoers, as Fox will quickly shift gears to next summer’s ambitious X-Men Days of Future Past.
With an X-Force film currently in development, the studio obviously has big plans to do more with their Marvel properties. The Wolverine’s button will provide us with that first look and it will be interesting, if nothing else, to see what directions they take.
With comic writer Mark Millar serving as a consultant for Fox’s Marvel universe, Fox is hoping to wash out the bad taste X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine left in moviegoers’ mouths by producing a new series of films that will return the franchise back to the top of the genre it helped launch. X-Men: First Class was a solid first step and The Wolverine will (hopefully) continue that rehabilitation.
The Wolverine releases July 26th, 2013.