This film has one of the coolest posters of any Marvel movie, and that was enough to excite me to see it in the summer of 2013. After the canon decimating mess that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the clawed tough guy really needed a cinematic redemption. Directed by James Mangold, a personal favorite of mine who brought us Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, and Girl Interrupted, The Wolverine has the strength to stand alone as a production, and not as just another log on the X-Men fire.
Wolverine (aka Logan) is a soldier, a creature of war. For decades, he fought in battle after battle unable to die, though perhaps hoping he would. This film begins in 1945 with him as a P.O.W. in a Japanese base in Nagasaki, shortly before it is assailed by the atomic bomb. A soldier named Ichirō Yashida has some mercy for Logan and tries to help him escape. Logan assures the guy there’s no way out but down, so Yashida joins him in the underground cell. It’s a little ridiculous to think even Wolverine could survive an atomic blast, but he does, saving both Yashida and himself. Yashida vows to repay him one day and calls him a friend.
We fast forward to Wolverine today, sleeping in the woods, on the run after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. He is intercepted by Yukio, an associate of Yashida’s with a message. Now an old man, Yashida is dying and wants to see his friend one last time. After some grunting and groaning, Logan accepts the invitation and follows Yukio back to Japan.
We soon find that Yashida didn’t call Logan back to say goodbye, he called him back because he wants to “steal” his ability to heal so that he can live on. He wraps up the deal by encouraging this desire in the back of Logan’s mind that he really doesn’t want to live anymore and he can end his misery by helping a dying man. The story is ultimately about this conflict between wanting to die and wanting something to live for.
Though the bullet train chase and the adamantium samurai draining marrow from Logan’s claws are both kinds of ridiculous scenes in nature, this film still features some thrilling and dynamic action sequences. The production design is top notch, and the use of color is exquisite. Though there were a few unfortunate “throw away” characters (namely Mariko’s ninja ex-boyfriend who was so forgettable I can’t even recall his name to reference him) the rest were on point, especially the ladies. They really stand out to me as central to the story as our Wolverine himself.
Mariko is, to me, an example of an ideal female character. She has a quiet independence about her, she’s not conceited. She is brave and faces the fate presented to her. She is refined, feminine, and has gentleness, yet she can stand up for herself when it’s necessary. She represented female strength in a more attainable, authentic way, especially in light of her Japanese culture and her respect for it. That’s not to say she’s perfect, she had kind of pretentious snobbery to her that she exerted over Wolverine initially, but it is kind of hard to avoid being a pampered brat when you’re the granddaughter of the wealthiest man in Japan.
On the other side of the coin, you have Viper, a fantastic villain. Sadly, she doesn’t get as much of a role or screen time. Her cold, clever nature makes her very snake-like indeed. Her mutation and her occupation as a scientist go beautifully together, and I think if they brought her back in future X-Men films she would be an absolutely delicious addition to the baddies. When asked who she is, her response says it all, “”A chemist, a nihilist, a capitalist, a mutation…a Viper.” Not only does she have a deadly mutation and internal power, she’s an intellectual at heart which can make her even more elusive and unstoppable than villains who lack that quality. Also, her wardrobe is fabulous.
Yukio brings something else entirely to the table. In her ability to see how someone will die, she carries quite a burden, but her childlike spirit and open-mindedness make her a perfect vessel for such a power. With her bright red hair and heart-shaped face, she’s manga/anime heroine in the flesh. I’m saddened that the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past sort of make this film null and void because she would be a great partner for Wolverine in future endeavors as she is entirely his opposite.
I really hoped for Logan and Mariko to become a thing permanently, though it sort of left it open in the end. She isn’t afraid of him. Even his claws don’t frighten her. We find out that her grandfather told her bedtime stories about his friend “Kuzuri” the Wolverine. To himself, and perhaps many other people, Logan is seen as a monster, but to Mariko, he is what chases the monsters away. He is not the nightmare; he’s the comfort from it.
“Everything finds peace… eventually.” Mariko echoes her grandfather’s words when she and Logan return to the place where his relationship with Yashida began. The war zone that was decimated by the atom bomb is now lush, green, and safe. Families are thriving, the sun is shining, and it’s as if danger never had a foothold there. The hole in the ground where he was kept is now covered over, people walk over it every day, and it is no longer is a prison. This was a favorite moment of mine as it foreshadowed Logan’s future, which is truly brighter than he dared to dream.
One of the great themes of this film is letting go. Throughout this story, Logan is haunted by memories of Jean Grey, having killed her in the previous movie. He loved her, but darkness inside her was destroying innocent lives. He holds on to her spirit in dreams and visions, longing to be with her again in death. After his experience in Japan, Logan realizes that he does have something to live for, and much to offer the world. He lets Jean finally rest in peace so he can find his own peace too, eventually.
This is a solid film and is one of my top favorite of all the X-Men franchise. It’s willingness to take a risk and tell a story a little more outside the box makes it unique, engaging, and able to stand on its own two feet. Like most samurai based films, there is an internal tie to the American western, in that the lead is someone with an unbreakable spirit and who belongs to no one but himself. The Wolverine basically summarizes the essence of Logan’s character and what he always has been and always will be in our contemporary mythology, a Ronin with true grit.