The Wolverine

The X-Men franchise has certainly had its ups and downs. After the original X-Men relaunched the superhero movie genre and X2 made its mark as one of the greatest the genre has seen, things took a nosedive. After so many squandered possibilities, First Class sent a clear message that better times were ahead. 


However, its been a while since we could really appreciate Wolverine, the marquee character in this film franchise. Hugh always does his best and seems to genuinely love playing the character; however, the the rest of the creators have not been providing work at the same level. The Wolverine promised to provide the take on the character fans had been asking for. 


The Wolverine is primarily an adaptation of the classic Claremont/Miller story. Well, it starts that way, but over time veers away from it. Yep, I’m biassed, which is why I think the plot starts strong but left me wanted in the end. That said, the director clearly had more he wanted to explore than a classic story. I respect that. I understand that what works on the page doesn’t always translate to the screen, and thats ok. My primary issues come from added villains, but we’ll get there in a bit.

Warning: This is a spoiler-filled post. If you haven't seen The Wolverine yet, stop now. Find the extended Blu-Ray and enjoy. 

After missing The Wolverine in theaters, I was able to view the extended (and unrated) version on Blu-Ray. From the little that I read, I picked up on a strong recommendation to see this version. The movie felt a bit long, but thats what I signed up for (and I rarely consider a big issue). It was clear that I watched the violent version, and our hero had saltier language than what I had seen in the past. That said, the added blood and swearing made the movie feel a bit more real to me. 


The Positive

Adapting this classic story is an unenviable task. Fitting it into the complicated X-Men movie continuity is even less appealing. I remember a lot of headlines popping up after the first Wolverine spin-off as Darren Aronofsky was planning to make this movie, then eventually dropped it. I think the James Mangold did a good job in adapting the tale. 


I enjoyed the begging of our story in the Yukon. I can’t say that I enjoyed watching Logan put a bear out of his misery, but watching him defend the beast’s honor was excellent. Starting the story here seems like a great place for the audience to pick back up on the character. We first met him in The Great White North; but even that cagefigher had a clean shave and shelter. At this point, Logan has fallen back into living as a wild animal. We clearly recognize whats going on, and we’re set up for his journey of rediscovering himself. 


Finding a way to weaken Wolverine was a smart move. During most of the movie, we have real conflict over whether or not Logan will be able to defend Mariko. May he’ll die. Maybe he’ll get captured. Maybe he’ll just pass out and allow harm to come to her. We’re allowed to see that he can still heal to some degree, but his limits are not clear. Of course, this allows the filmmakers to have some fun once the Matrixy bug is removed from his heart. You could argue that Wolverine then feels a bit overpowered, but I’ll consider it good, not-all-that-clean fun.


Exploring the loneliness and pain of an immortal soldier was another smart angle. Sooner or later, everybody dies. Live long enough, and you’ll lose everyone you love. In the superhero business, the time table speeds up. This character clearly doesn’t have many happy memories to fall back on. After so many movies, I think it was very fortunate that we got to witness the character find renewed purpose. Unfortunately, its hard for me to tell if that purpose is defending others, or Mariko. I thought our hero was reinvigorated by a new love, but then he chose to leave. This isn’t entirely inconsistent, but I didn’t follow that part. 


After X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I’d like to give the filmmakers a special shout-out for using CG effects that were not distractingly bad. OK, so the bear seemed a bit fake, but do you remember how bad Wolverine’s claws looked in his last outing? I never once doubted those claws, which is essential in this franchise. As silly as this sounds, the drama doesn’t work well if I can see the seams.


The Negative

While there is much to like about The Wolverine, I do have a few gripes. The Viper character seemed completely unnecessary and was not very interesting at all. I understand that she served the purpose of weakening Logan, but it seems that this could have been worked in without adding a new character. 


The mystery of the Silver Samurai was drug out for too long. Once it was clear that Shingen wasn’t our primary villain, it wasn’t too hard to guess. I’m all for for drawing out the mystery, but once Shingen was gone, it seemed as if Viper existed only to stall until the big bad revealed himself.


This is where the ending feels like a bit too much. Yukio feels like too much of a sidekick, and we don’t care too much about her story. In fact, Makiro seems to be left in the cold by the end; as everyone in her life that is still alive is leaving her. I understand that Wolverine couldn’t stay in Japan forever, but choosing to end the film this way clearly communicates that this is Logan’s journey. None of the other characters even matter. 


Final Thoughts

While The Wolverine isn’t my ideal adaptation of the source material, I understand that the creators wanted to use that story to tell a slightly different one. The creators used this opportunity to explore what happened when our hero was truly lost, dealing with guilt and made him face his mortality. I’m not sure how many answers we got, but I appreciate that so much thought and effort was put into the film beyond the action sequences.


Last question: Is anyone else curious about when and how he gets those claws back? After defeating Yashida (as the Silver Samurai), Logan is in a facility with a ready supply of adamantium. Surely someone could have helped him create new claws. Perhaps there is a payoff in the next movie, but I have trouble seeing it. Since the bone claws grew back, I don’t feel like there was a true consequence from the fight; but perhaps we’ll see something important in Days of Future Past. We will have to wait and see.