With the release of the first X-Men film in 2000, audiences not only witnessed the dawn of the modern day superhero film boom, but also the beginning of a complicated franchise that would span sixteen years and nine films. With X-Men: Apocalypse on the horizon, Kayleigh Hearn and a rotating cast of merry mutants are revisiting the X-Men films from the very beginning, and examining the comic book storylines that inspired them. What would you prefer, yellow spandex?
Directed by James Mangold
Kayleigh: After X-Men: First Class proved that good X-Men movies were still possible, the franchise’s second wind continued with James Mangold’s The Wolverine. If anything, I think The Wolverine is pretty underrated! Unlike the incomprehensible shit stew that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the more bluntly titled The Wolverine is a pretty straightforward adaptation of a classic Claremont/Miller miniseries, and actually improves the story in adaptation. Plus, after two prequels, it’s the first X-Men film to take place after X-Men: The Last Stand.
Max: I love this movie! I’ll try to save some of the beat for beat comparison for when we talk about the Claremont/Miller mini tomorrow, but I totally agree that this uses that four-issue comic as a blueprint but improves on it immensely. I’m a little bummed by what could have been if Darren Aronofsky had stayed on this project, but Mangold (Walk The Line, the 3:10 to Yuma remake) is a very solid, workman director. It’s funny how, just as Iron Man 3 was about Tony having Avengers movie PTSD, The Wolverine starts with a shaggy forest-hobo Logan fundamentally broken from how terrible X-Men: The Last Stand was.
Kayleigh: If two X-Men movies opening with the Holocaust weren’t enough, The Wolverine begins with the bombing of Nagasaki. Within the first ten minutes, the movie leaps from the horrors of World War II, to Logan dreaming about killing Jean again, to a bear pissing in the woods. I love hairy, traumatized caveman Wolverine, who looks like he narrowly missed being cast in The Revenant. I was pleasantly surprised to see Famke Janssen return as Jean Grey, though her appearance here is less a phoenix rising from the ashes than a hallucination/ghost asking Wolverine to join her in death. It’s weird.
Max: Jean Grey is here as a ghost/dream manifestation but because only Wolverine can see her she’s always in lingerie. The Wolverine’s an interesting flick because it picks up from X-Men: The Last Stand but is pretty much entirely separate from the whole franchise (save for the post-credits stinger). How does Wolverine remember meeting/saving the life of a young Ichiro Yashida? He shouldn’t but also uhhh who cares? This movie using an act of heroism Logan performed during WWII as the inciting incident for the modern day plot is pretty clever, and I think it pays off really well.
The opening of the film is more or less exactly from the Miller/Claremont comic and I think this is the best Jackman’s Wolverine has ever been, this smelly loner who is avenging the death of an innocent bear and just torturing the shit out of the evil hunter who poisoned it.
Kayleigh: The bar fight introduces us to Rila Fukushima as Yukio, who is my favorite character in the movie. The original miniseries and the film have very little to do with the actual world of the X-Men, but Yukio bridges the gap a bit by being re-imagined as a mutant with precognitive powers, specifically being able to foresee a person’s death. This is potentially grim stuff, but rather than being Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone, Yukio is a lot of fun, and I actually like movie Yukio a lot more than the Yukio of the Claremont/Miller miniseries.
Max: Yukio’s a really fun character, and a nice way of giving Wolverine one of his classic spunky teen sidekicks. She shows up to bring Logan to Tokyo so he can say goodbye to the now enormously rich but dying Ichiro Yashida. Yashida wants Logan to transfer his healing abilities to him so he can keep on living and Logan can live a mortal life. Logan isn’t super sure about this and Yashida dies before he can agree to the procedure, kicking our movie into high gear.
Is this the best outing for female characters in an X-Men movie, Kayleigh? Hilariously low bar that that is? Viper’s kind of a throwaway but she at least seems to have her own agenda here. Mariko is the movie’s damsel in distress but also has +1 cool knife throwing stats.
Kayleigh: This is the best outing for female characters in an X-Men movie, and for most superhero movies in recent memory, honestly. When a lot of superhero movies still struggle to have more than two women in them at a time, The Wolverine has four female characters in significant roles. As much as “Jean Grey is reduced to one of Wolverine’s dead lovers” infuriates me on a gut level, at least none of these women have a subplot about a stolen uterus or something. I really, really like how Mariko and Yukio’s relationship is rewritten so that they have a close, sisterly relationship instead of being rivals for Wolverine’s affection. The original miniseries is verrrrry Frank Miller in its gender roles, which we’ll certainly talk about later, and The Wolverine is wise to scrap it for something much more Bechdel Test-friendly.
Max: Yukio is kind of a mirror to Wolverine himself, given their shared history of dehumanization. She’s a street urchin taken in by the Yashida clan to be Mariko’s childhood playmate, but she’s treated as a servant by the rest of the family. Mariko’s EVIL AS HELL father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) even cruelly dismisses her as “a toy [Mariko] has outgrown.”
So the major hook of this movie is that Wolverine is running around with severely dampened healing powers for most of it thanks to…a robot spider in his chest? Look, whatever. Part of me sort of feels like having Logan’s powers reduced rather than removed completely is a copout, but it does a nice job of raising the stakes as Logan and Mariko are pursued by the Yakuza and The Black Clan, a group of ninjas loyal to the Yashida family WHO ARE LEGALLY DISTINCT FROM THE HAND FOR THE PURPOSES OF COPYRIGHT LAW.
Kayleigh: Wolverine’s reduced healing factor at least gives us a couple cute scenes like Wolverine putting his lumberjack skills to good use, then being winded for the first time in his life. Logan facing mortality for the first time is something that could have come across as heavy-handed, but the film does a good job of making him seem emotionally and physically vulnerable. Of course, he’s only as vulnerable as the film wants him to be—the fight scene against the Yakuza on the bullet train is COMPLETELY ridiculous and super deadly, but I get a kick out of it.
Max: This movie has a number of very clever action scenes. The bullet train fight, the funeral scene, the extremely Kill Bill: Volume 1 sequence where Wolverine fights the Black Clan in a snowy countryside town. The Wolverine’s an unusual superhero movie because it’s very restrained compared to typical Marvel outings. It’s sort of quiet and the action beats feel like a natural extension of the plot. When we rewatched it, Dylan [Roth] compared it to a Bond movie, and I think that’s pretty spot on.
Something kinda subtle I dug about The Wolverine is there are big swaths of the movie where characters are speaking in Japanese, often without subtitles. And they often aren’t necessary, because you can infer what’s happening based on the performances. It’s well executed and an interesting way to emphasize Logan’s status as an outsider here. This whole movie kind of feels like a quiet Japanese crime drama that Wolverine just walked into. A crime drama with a giant samurai robot made of adamantium, granted.
Kayleigh: The Silver Samurai mecha is where the movie loses me a bit, but I guess there was no way a Wolverine movie was going to end without a snikt bub snikt fight to the death. Viper’s whole deal in the movie is kind of weird, since she’s basically Poison Ivy from Batman & Robin turned into a literal snake woman, and her big “shock” moment is to…shed her skin and her wig? (Plus, she should have had green hair. Whatever.) In keeping with the theme of Wolverine being made vulnerable, he loses his adamantium claws, not that that’s something the next X-Men movie will pay attention to.
Max: Wolverine losing his adamantium claws (but, to be clear, not the adamantium coating the rest of his bones) was a decent metaphor for Logan becoming “mortal,” but it really is a shame it’s totally forgotten about by Days of Future Past. The reveal that Old Man Yashida didn’t die but is being kept alive inside a giant robot is a totally ridiculous twist, and I love it. Yashida being the secret villain of the film is cool, I like how he learned all the wrong lessons from his experience with Wolverine and has grown into a pretty nasty piece of work.
Kayleigh: Yashida stealing Wolverine’s healing factor almost seems too low stakes, because while he’s a creep, he’s still just a normal dude, as opposed to, say, a supervillain like Apocalypse gaining immortality. But Wolverine being betrayed by and forced to kill an old friend is an appropriately tragic end for a Wolverine film. At least Mariko gets one good stab at her evil grandfather—and I must say, I was relieved as fuck she didn’t die. I was convinced the mercy killing of the bear and Jean’s ghostly visage were all foreshadowing her death, but Mariko Yashida is the Final Girl in the horror movie that is Wolverine’s love life.
Max: With the villains dead, Mariko takes her place as the head of
Sony the Yashida company, and Logan/Yukio head off to adventure with unlimited Frequent Flyer Miles. Post-credits, we get a totally nonsensical scene of Magneto and Wheels Professor X recruiting Wolverine for the next X-Men movie. Added bonus: Patrick Stewart wheelchair racing through an airport!
Kayleigh: That mid-credits scene is so obviously tacked on, but I love it? Any scene with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart together is a treasure, and I want a DVD extra short film all about Magneto and Xavier driving to the airport to pick up Wolverine. “Did you remember the ‘Welcome Home’ balloons, Erik?” “No, Charles.” “Fine, when we see him I’ll just do the ‘mentally freeze everybody in the building’ trick.”
Max: I hope you enjoyed your vacation, Logan, because Peter Dinklage is up to some fuckery in the future and you’re the face of this franchise.
Kayleigh: Tomorrow, Wolverine is the best at what he does in Claremont and Miller’s Wolverine miniseries!