The Wolverine at Event Cinemas, Macquarie Centre

Not the best there is. But pretty good.

I think the first comic book I read as an adult was the 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine mini-series, and it is still one of my favourites. So I was very pleased when I heard that The Wolverine was going to be based – to a greater or lesser extent – on this series.

It turned out to be a lesser extent. But that didn’t matter, as I really enjoyed the film. I’ve seen reviews describing it as ‘good but not great’, and commenting that the character-driven first half is better than the action-driven second half. I’d have to agree with this. But, well … it’s Wolverine. And even half a character-driven Wolverine movie is worth seeing. Furthermore, there were still character elements in the action-driven half.

I thought the relationship with the 1982 mini-series was interesting.

Obviously, they were both set in Japan. There have, of course, been many Wolverine stories set in Japan. And I’m not familiar with any of the more recent ones (by which I mean anything in the past 15 years. Or more.) So it could be that there were lots of other references that simply passed me by. But I’m going to assume, unless I learn otherwise, that none of these was a particularly strong influence on the movie.

So … set in Japan. And with many of the characters from the mini-series (and elsewhere in the canon), but having totally different personalities and backstories. Yukio, in particular, was really a new character, who just happened to share a name with one from the comic. Fortunately, I liked the new version. And Mariko was made a bit more kick-ass. I’m less sure how I feel about this. Yes, it’s good that she wasn’t totally a damsel-in-distress (although somewhat), and I liked they way she was written and acted. But one of the interesting things about Mariko from the comics (at least the ones I’ve read) is that, in a world of superpowered women, she has no particular combat skills, and yet is an incredibly strong (in every sense but the physical) person. And some of that was lost in her translation to a more standard action-film-heroine.

The plot was, of course, completely and utterly different. But more interesting was that it was thematically different. The 1982 series is about Wolverine fighting to overcome the darker side of his nature – striving to be a man, rather than giving in to the beast. Summed up, I think, by lines like ‘No matter how hard I strive for inner serenity, I screw up. So why bother.’ And then ‘I may never be what I ought to be, want to be — but how will I know unless I try?’

But the movie was more about accepting the past, and moving on to the future. Letting go of grief, and regret, and loss, and guilt. Rejoining the fight. Which is also a strong story (if, at times, dealt with in a rather heavy-handed and unsubtle manner – yes, I’m looking at every scene that involved Jean Grey.) Of course, seeing as how my favourite film in the world is Casablanca, it’s not altogether surprising that this is something that worked for me …

Another interesting change was that, in the film, Logan is very much an outsider in Japan. He doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t understand the customs, and so the story has a bit of a stranger-in-a-strange-land element to it.  Which I hadn’t expected, and it took me a while to come to terms with, but eventually I decided I liked it. Although, again, less subtle than the comic, where he is much more knowledgeable, but not – quite – an insider.

But for all the differences, there were still occasional echoes from the mini-series. The opening story with the grizzly bear was clearly drawn from it (if slightly changed in the details), and there was a later scene, where Wolverine has been shot full of arrows, which I found strongly reminiscent of a panel from the comic. Ditto some of the Ninja-on-the-rooftop shots, although that is probably more generic Wolverine-in-Japan. Even the train fight may have been partially inspired by the bullet train scene in the comic.

Speaking of which … for all that it is being lauded, that scene didn’t really do much for me. It’s not like I haven’t seen plenty of fights-on-the-top-of-a-train before (e.g. in numerous Bond films), and this was just at a higher speed. Big deal. Although with the amount it was being talked up, I had been expecting it to be part of the climax of the movie, so I was rather surprised when it turned out to be quite early on.

I thought Hugh Jackman seemed distinctly more bulked-up in this movie than he had previously, and to be honest, I didn’t really like the result. Since seeing the movie, I have read an interview where he said that this time round, he finally felt that he had achieved a proper Wolverine physique. Perhaps so. But maybe it just goes to prove that what works on the page of a comic book doesn’t necessarily work in real life. At least for me. (Also, all the bulking in the world won’t turn him into the Wolverine of the comics. He’s too tall. And too good looking.)

But all of these criticisms (and I haven’t even mentioned the plot holes!) are just quibbles, really. Because, at the end of the day, what I was hoping for in this movie was a character-driven story about Wolverine, with enough action to keep things moving, a romance with a female lead I actually liked, and a sense of redemption at the end. And The Wolverine delivered on all counts.

Favourite moment

Wolverine: ‘Hip replacement.’

(Also most of his scenes with Mariko.)

My un-favourite moment would be [spoiler – highlight to read] Wolverine throwing Noburo out of the window, and admitting he didn’t know there was a pool below. The man was a creep, but that didn’t make it right to be willing to casually murder him. [end spoiler]

Bechdal test

Pass. Three named female characters, who do talk to each other (a bit) and not always about a man (albeit briefly).


(Probably being a bit generous here. But Wolverine is one of my favourite comic book characters, and I’m really, really glad that the movie wasn’t terrible.)

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