Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 in Shit: The Wolverine

Holy hell do I not remember anything about The Wolverine. More or less a total blank. It was pretty enjoyable, I think? Also deeply, deeply fucked up? There's something about the way that the evil mutant is at best a miniboss maybe, and how it is pretty class warish, but other than that I don't know.

There's the scene with young Logan in the well, hiding from the nuclear bomb. I think his flesh gets all burned off or whatever? Was it this movie that he was an MMA fighter? Or has that been a thing for a while?

When war criminal-cum-billionaire definitively turns heel was a pretty good moment, I guess.

I feel like there were a few moments that really felt like they cemented themselves, but turns out they didn't. Wolverine's autocardioectomy as visualized through that X-Ray machine or whatever still hovers at the edges of my memory. Was he trying to lose his powers so he could die? Holy shit that movie totally did have a narrative.

And the villain is there too, the one who just sort of vanishes so that the men can get to the real business or whatever. I remember her being very campy, played with the sort of physical drawl that stands outside normal signifiers of seriousness or its lack. So of course she got replaced by a dying billionaire in a mech suit. Or was it a statue? I can only remember that there was some vaguely interesting architecture being smashed through, maybe.

The fight itself was one of those rare vertical film battles, from what I recall. Part Mortal Kombat circa N64 "Holy Shit You Can Break Through Parts Of The Stage And Fall Down Into Other Parts" and part "wow the vertical bits in the Star Wars prequel battles are way more interesting than the horizontal why aren't they using that at all." Obviously neither of these things is like actually all that great. Which is why I analogize them to The Wolverine, a movie that was also not all that great.

My favorite bit of the movie, though, was the "Wolverine in a Wetsuit" moment, where Wolverine is swimming in the gold-plated pool in the guy who ends up being the bad guy's mansion, in a wetsuit. It's kind of amazing that the movie is willing to let you figure out for yourself just how bizarre that is; the wetsuit is one of the most difficult sartorial problems for superheros, and this movie just plays it off.

There are the obvious reasons that wetsuits are weird; superpowers generally absolve the hero of the worry of being too cold, and their outfits are generally already suspiciously close to wetsuits to begin with. The Wolverine, I think, manages to insert this scene because of its aesthetic choice to veer away from the supersuit; the marked absence there becomes a sign of which the wetsuit itself can act as signified.

The shot itself is, I believe, medium-long, and so the eye is initially drawn to the architecture rather than the individual in frame; it's only after you notice the awkwardly-spaced pillars (which provide verisimilitude; it's obviously a set but the way the camera appears to be lodged into a corner makes the room "feel" more real) and the expanse of white marble tile that the focus resolves on the wetsuited body doing laps. It lingers just long enough for this focus to take, and then cuts away, leaving the viewer unable to question why exactly in such a portrait of wealth the swimming pool is apparently not heated.

And, of course, it never resolves itself visually; the rest of the film is primarily tightly drawn, and there's sure as hell no more wetsuits.

The fact that the organizing moment of the film takes place in a well in Japan suggests Murakami, of course, while the wetsuit scene (for me at least, as I grew up near it) is more Hearst Castle, which provide strange poles that the movie moves between; the yellow journalism (the term's racial origins being especially pertinent here) of the film's attempt to deal with the fact that superheros have become globalized along with the move towards an unrepresentable interiority conditioned by geography and history and accessible only peripherally through those things.

The wetsuit in this sense functions as a knitting point between the historical-specific and the geographic-universal; like the leotards that make up most classical superhero costumes, it functions to disguise by its own particular universality, to in its singular representation denote the absolute. At the same time, its actual use value ties it to the Pacific Rim, the film's clear structuring global, and to cultures of intense competition over the movements of landscape. Surfing itself is uniquely a proposition of anonymous conflict, with personalities submerged in both the vastness of the dominated object and the requirements (particularly of dress) that that object imposes. The ocean is a great leveler; but to parcel it temporo-spatially is to introduce to that leveling competition, and dominance.

Thus Hearst; similarly, the idea of journalism levels, while the practice of journalism requires the manufacturing of discrete sites of competition. Historically, of course, this site is "yellowness," of the yellow peril in particular and manufactured racial panics in general. This time, of course, the object of panic is an individual, as expressed through his mech, who happens to live in the castle of the individual who started it all.

Which, of course, makes the verticality of the final battle interesting; Hearst's castle itself is primarily a horizontal construction on a vertical landscape. It rests on top of a fucking mountain, basically, and the entrance is at the top of a particular slope of garden. The mech boss in The Wolverine, on the other hand, is fought in a vertically-constructed environment.

This is, I think, related to the sense of the flattening effects of globalization; as that phenomenon becomes an embodied representation in the billionaire/mech, the arena in which the battle takes place must be organized on contrary principles. In addition, the grounds speak clearly to the industrial nature of the space; this is partially a reference to the setting (the villain having become rich on industrial medicine, during the late Fordist period of capitalism, even as this takes place in a post-Fordist space which is also to say a Toyotist space, importantly) and partially an aesthetic choice reflecting both the needs of action and character, as Wolverine's metallic bone structure becomes externalized in both the villain (via the mech suit) and the space itself (via girders and shit) and the fact that girders and shit make for interesting fight choreography.

lol idk

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