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Requiem for The Wolverine: Why Darren Aaronofsky was the Perfect Choice to Direct The Wolverine…

I was actually really anticipating what Darren Aronofsky could bring to The Wolverine, the sequel to the rather lackluster X-Men Origins: Wolverine. So I was actually genuinely disappointed when it was announced – rumoured to be for the inevitable creative reasons – that Aronofsky would not be directing the film after all. While it’s great that this affords Aronofsky complete creative freedom on the next film he works on, and while I certainly don’t want a film that has been subject to Fox’s executive meddling, I can’t help but regret what might have been.

Blades of glory?

Of course, Aronofsky is a good director, and good directors – as a rule – tend to make good films. So having a good director on a flm is a good thing of itself. And Christopher Nolan (and, before him, Bryan Singer) demonstrated that great comic book movies come from the strangest of places. Indeed, Aronofsky was once mooted to direct the Batman reboot, which ultimately ended up becoming Batman Begins. However, there are reasons I think Aronofsky would have made the perfect director for Wolverine.

The problem with Wolverine is that he’s a fairly shallow character, even as comic book superheroes go. It was Chris Claremont who gave the character his trademark catchphrase, “I’m the best at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice.”That’s about the extent of his personality. He’s very, very good at killing things. However, his main character hook was his enigmatic past – both in the movies and the comcis that inspired them. Once we know about his past (and, to be honest, it really wasn’t especially fascinating) a lot of the character’s mystique is lot, and we’re just left with a fairly banal lead character.

... and not just because his name is also Darren...

Because, when you boil it down, Wolverine is a character with blades that come out of his knuckles and can heal. That’s his hook. It’s not exactly the stuff of great drama. He’s just a handy person to have around if your kitchen knives are in the dishwasher, or if you need some last minute etching. It’s not especially fascinating, and Wolverine hasn’t really had too much characterisation. He isn’t as conflicted as Batman, or as flawed as Iron Man. In fact, he seems to exist just to kill things with the really sharp blades on his hands.

While this might have been enough of a hook to make the character interesting when he first appeared, as one of the earlier characters in the great superhero movie boom, after five films it has gotten a little stale. In fact, he’s positively mundane. It’s a similar problem that faces most of the rather expansive cast of the X-Men films. In fact, one of the major problems with X-Men IIIwas the fact that Brett Ratner seemed to be trying to force as many visually unique mutants into the film as possible, even if the movie was bloated enough to begin with.

Needs to be a cut above the rest...

There’s a nice little moment at the start of  the original X-Men where the young Rogue is travelling with Wolverine, having seen him pop his claws for the very first time. “When they come out,” she asks, “does it hurt?” Logan, played as a Clint Eastwood-style drifter by Hugh Jackman, hesitates before answering with an understated, “Every time.” It’s a low-key acknowledgement that he feels the blades cut through his skin every time he takes them out. It gives a little extra weight to the character, knowing that he feels the pain of shredding his knuckles every time he produces his trademark weapons.

However, this gets lost when it seems the character spends more time with his blades out rather than in (as he did during the sequels), and when his physical transformation is played for comedy as he shreds a nice middle American bathroom the first time he draws his adamantium claws in his own prequel film. He becomes a skill-set rather than an individual, because we focus on those blades and how cool they are – rather than actually caring about the person using them.

Was Aronofsky a black sheep choice?

And this is where Aronofsky would have made the perfect director to handle the material. Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream demonstrated that nobody can make the human body look disturbingly unpleasant quite like Aronofsky. In fact, one of the things I loved about the original film was how skilfully Aronofsky can generate a sense of dread and discomfort with remarkable restraint. I spent the entire film squirming uncomfortably, while Aronofsky managed to show relatively little.

Imagine his Wolverine. Imagine the sense of discomfort one would feel in seeing those blades break the skin. Or how he’d always pick just the right camera angle to illustrate that this isn’t something he does lightly. There is a moment in his own film where Logan has a nightmare, and wakes up to find he’s shredded the covers. In the movie in question, it comes across as a corny scene, a moment of comedy. However, imagine Aronofsky handling a similar moment, as Wolverine’s nightmares run the risk of killing the person sleeping next to him. Hell, even the nightmares wolverine would experience would have seemed all the more raw and visceral and faintly disturbing.

Claws for concern?

You might argue that it would be hard for Aronofsky to have done this while keeping the film to an acceptable (PG-13) rating for a summer blockbuster, and I do accept that – to an extent. However, I also believe that The Dark Knight demonstrated just how much tension you could demonstrate within that rating, without crossing a line (the main villain sticks his knife inside another man’s mouth, and Two-Face’s make-up isn’t the prettiest thing to look at).

It’s a shame that Fox couldn’t give the director the freedom he needed. A damn shame. It’s the same sort of meddling which effectively neutered Gavin Hood’s work on the first film, with numerous stories about the underhanded meddling from studio executives. Sucker Punch perhaps demonstrated that giving a director too much slack doesn’t always lead to a winner out of the gate, but there are an infinite number of other examples where that sort of risk has paid off with dividends. I mean, Aronofsky is highly regarded and close friends with Hugh Jackman – there was little to no risk of him intentionally screwing up the project or ruining his friend’s most steady source of income.

Ah well, perhaps we’ll find a replacement who can work within the confines Fox set for the film, but I honestly doubt it. The studio doesn’t exactly have the most solid of track records.

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6 Responses

  1. Great post. I completely agree with your point about “Wolverine is that he’s a fairly shallow character, even as comic book superheroes go….He’s very, very good at killing things. However, his main character hook was his enigmatic past.”

    As a comic book reader, I always found Wolverine to be rather overrated from a character stand point. I think Aronofsky would have brought some much needed weight to the story.

    • Thanks CS. I could never understand his popularity myself. Although I’m wading through Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX at the moment (another character I though had a fairly shallow premise and appeal), and can’t really get how seriously and self-importantly it seems to take itself at times.

  2. The thought of the film that will never be tears me up, and regularly. I was so excited about this project, though I figure anything will be better than the Ratner travesty.

  3. I kept hoping that maybe Fox would put it off until Aronofsky could do it. Oh well.

    Black Swan’s nightmarish qualities would have made perfect for Logan’s own personal hell.

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