Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Wolverine: A Wolverine film worth watching

Though the first three X-Men movies were pretty hit and miss, the best decision the people behind those movies made was to cast Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. No matter what else was going on in those movies, Jackman as Wolverine was always worth watching. He walked the fine line between being likable and being badass, and between being a superhero and being believable. I liked the character, so naturally I looked forward to the first Wolverine movie. I was completely disappointed with it. For weeks afterward I found myself wondering when I would finally get to see the Wolverine movie, because my mind had not yet processed that, yes, I had seen it, and yes, it really was that bad.

If I had known at the time, I would have skipped over the first Wolverine movie and seen the second one in theaters instead. The second Wolverine movie isn't perfect, but it is good, and it gets my recommendation.

There are some spoilers under the cut.

If the title of the second Wolverine movie is anything to go on, the people who made the movie felt the same way about the first Wolverine film as I did. The first film was officially entitled "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." The second film is simply "The Wolverine," with nothing to indicate that it's a sequel. In fact, while "The Wolverine" follows the events of "X-Men 3," I did not notice any references to "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." It's therefore safe to skip the first Wolverine film, just like the people deciding the movie's title did.

Hugh Jackman is as good as ever in The Wolverine. Though thirteen years passed between the first X-Men movie and "The Wolverine," Jackman still looks lean and powerful. There are many scenes where he is shirtless and flexing, and to be honest it's a little frightening how muscular he is. Being Wolverine is more than just looking intimidating, though. It's about attitude, and Jackman snarls his way through the movie in a way no-one else could. I feel bad for the executives at Marvel who will have to find a new Wolverine once Jackman is done with the role!

The film starts with Logan living as a hermit in the wilderness. He gets into a fight with some rednecks and meets Yukio, a Japanese woman with red hair and a badass sword. I went into the movie fully expecting not to like this character. She seemed to have been created entirely to appeal to nerd boys, but in addition to looking cool and being a "strong female character," Yukio actually turned out to be an interesting and likable character in her own right.

The plot of the film deals with Wolverine traveling to Japan to meet a man he saved from an atomic bomb during World War II. The man is old now, and the head of a powerful business empire. He offers Wolverine to take on Wolverine's mutant healing power, which Wolverine sees as a curse. Wolverine declines: it may be a curse, but it's his to bear.

I was glad to see that Wolverine made that decision. When I watched the trailer and saw that Wolverine wasn't healing as quickly as before, I was afraid that meant he had taken the man up on the offer to take away his mutant powers, and I was let down. It turns out to be more complicated than that, and I was glad of it. Wolverine is awesome because he has a healing factor, and while it can be a burden, I didn't want him to give that up and become an ordinary person. Ordinary people are boring.

Knowing that the film would take place in Japan, MLW and I were worried that the Japanese characters would spend the whole film talking about honor and doing crazy ninja flips. While there are some references to honor, and some crazy ninja flips, the truth is that it could have been a lot worse. Also, to my great surprise, the Japanese characters always speak Japanese to each other unless there is a reason not to. It's such a cliche in action movies to have non-English-speaking characters say a few lines in their native language, then switch to English for the audience, that it was great to see this movie avoid that route.

There is also a love interest. Logan falls for Mariko, the lovely granddaughter of the man whose life he saved. Again, this could have been a lot worse. I was worried that she would be the American cliche of a Japanese woman, lovely and demure. While she is lovely, Mariko also has a backstory and a personality, and she is capable of surprising the audience. The writers wisely allowed time for her relationship with Logan to grow and develop.

I really only had two complaints about this movie: one of the villains is a woman who is so over-the-top with her villainy while wearing such elaborate costumes that she might as well be a bad guy in an 80's cartoon like G.I. Joe. My other complaint has to do with ninjas. Maybe it was inevitable that a superhero movie set in Japan would include ninjas, but I was hoping they would avoid having ninjas dressed in the generic, Halloween costume-style ninja clothing. Early in the movie we see a character dressed in black firing arrows at some thugs who take their shirts to show off their yakuza tattoos. I was hoping that would be enough for the writers, but no, there had to be ninjas dressed in full ninja costume, flipping around for no reason.

These are both forgivable offenses, because this is, after all, a superhero movie. Its strengths outweigh its weaknesses. If you, like me, are a fan of Jackman as Wolverine but you originally passed this movie up, I recommend going back and giving it another shot. And be sure to listen for Wolverine saying "bub!"


  1. I was about to go and say no one saw this, but then I checked, and it's the second-highest grossing film in the X-Men franchise. I guess you weren't the only one to have that opinion! I definitely need to see this.

    1. I'm glad to know that it made a bunch of money, because it had some great stuff in it that I would like to see in more films. For once, a superhero movie had a butt-kicking woman character who wasn't a love interest for anybody.