Film Review: 'The Wolverine' (2013)

Updated on March 4, 2019
RachaelLefler profile image

I've always been curious about movies, especially interested in how they create characters that resonate emotionally with the audience.

The Wolverine is a sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Set in Japan, it kind of also feels like a one-off movie. Except that Logan is constantly haunted by memories of Jean Grey, which was confusing for me because I didn't see X-Men: The Last Stand. So it is also a kind of de facto sequel to that movie. But plot-convenient amnesia means he's forgotten Kayla Silverfox, the love interest from Origins.

RIP, forgotten love interest lady - in yet another action franchise that treats girlfriends as disposable, interchangeable sideline cheerleaders. They're there to be sexy and flirtatious (but not too much) in the first act, threatened by the bad guys in the third act, saved during the resolution of the movie, and thoughtlessly abandoned in the sequel. At least we can look forward to Captain Marvel and Dark Phoenix coming out this year? Hope they're good? Yay? Hey, I am happy to accept progress, even wagon-wheel-in-the-mud slow progress.

Plot

You can summarize all of American history in one sentence!
You can summarize all of American history in one sentence!

During World War Two, Wolverine was fighting in Japan when he rescued a Japanese soldier named Ichirō Yashida from the atomic blast on Nagasaki. The two parted ways.

In the present, Wolverine is hiding out in the Yukon, living as a rugged outdoorsman. Which is another way of saying he's a handsome homeless guy living in the woods. He is haunted by dreams of Jean Grey, who he had to kill in X-Men: The Last Stand. He's contacted by Yukio, Ichirō Yashida's granddaughter. Logan agrees to go meet with Yashida in Japan because he is dying. Yashida wants to offer a good death to Logan - the chance to pass on his abilities and near-immortality to Shingen, Yashida's son.

The yakuza are after Ichirō Yashida, who, after the war, ended up running one of the largest companies in Japan. Soon after he dies, it becomes a battle between rival heirs to his fortune. Logan protects Mariko, who was also his granddaughter and named as his heir. Since a woman named Dr. Green, aka The Viper, poisoned Logan, he lost some of his super healing ability.

I won't spoil the twist, but Wolverine ends up in danger of losing his powers, thus making his final battle against the Silver Samurai, a powerful robot, all the more exciting.


Info

Title
The Wolverine
Studio
Marvel Entertainment, The Donners' Company, TSG Entertainment; Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Year
2013
Producers
Lauren Shuler, Donner, & Hutch Parker
Director
James Mangold
Writers
Screenplay by Mark Bomback & Scott Frank; Based on Wolverine by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller
Main Actors/Actresses
Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Tao Okamoto, & Rila Fukushima
Cinematographer
Ross Emery
Music by
Marco Beltrami
Box Office
$414.8 million
Run Time
2 hours, 6 minutes
MPAA Rating
PG-13
Awards
Golden Schmoes Award for Favorite Movie Poster of the Year

Review

Rila Fukushima's performance as Yukio was one of the stronger aspects of the film, you've got to hand it to her. We all know who should have been the lead in 2017's Ghost in the Shell adaptation.
Rila Fukushima's performance as Yukio was one of the stronger aspects of the film, you've got to hand it to her. We all know who should have been the lead in 2017's Ghost in the Shell adaptation.

When Western movies want to depict Japan, I get a little nervous. One thing that consistently happens is that Western movies showing Japan highlight the elements of Japanese culture or tourist spots that stand out as especially exotic, especially different from the Anglophone world. But American culture and Japanese culture really aren't that different, and have converged considerably following World War Two. I prefer movies that focus on similarity between cultures and show the possibility of bridging the gap between different groups of people, to ones that focus on how alien the "other" culture is, making it seem mystical and exotic.

Other movies are worse about orientalism than this one, (this is also a major issue I had with Doctor Strange, I'll talk about that in my review of it) but it still has some orientalism. I'm an anime reviewer, and aficionado of Japanese culture, so I have to nit-pick here.

Examples of how it seems to fetishize and accentuate the "foreignness" of Japanese culture:

  • Logan complains about his geta sandals being too small.
  • Yashida's home is a very traditional Japanese-style ryokan-like house.
  • The bad guys are ninjas, the kind that actually only exist in Hollywood films.
  • They of course have a scene where Logan is uncomfortable with being asked to bow.
  • Mariko's story involves fleeing an arranged marriage, and she says Logan just doesn't understand how things are done in Japan. The reality is that arranged marriages are relatively rare in Japan. And Japanese arranged marriages are not forced upon unwilling participants. The parents arrange for two young people to meet each other, and consider the possibility of marriage, but they are free to reject it. Some young people actually welcome this, because they find it difficult to court the opposite sex by themselves. But that is nothing like how the concept of arranged marriage is depicted in the film - as a force against which Mariko has no power.
  • They also mention the "don't leave chopsticks poking straight up in rice" taboo in Japanese culture. But "it's a bad omen" it implies that this is a superstition. It's just that the practice is associated with funerary customs, which is why it's taboo. This wording seems to go out of its way attribute mysticism or superstition to the Japanese people, a common style of depiction of the "East" by Westerners.

What I do like about the handling of Japan as a location is that a lot of it is actually filmed in Japan, most of the lead Japanese characters are played by Japanese actors, and Japan, Korea, and China are not blurred together into one indistinguishable "Asian" aesthetic, like in some American movies. It's hard to show a culture in film realistically, and to show how it is different, without over-accentuating its different-ness. Usually, the film does a good job of an honest, well-researched, depiction of Japan. But, it also does seem a bit insulting that while Logan ends up in bed with a Japanese woman, he spends almost less time talking to or interacting with her than he does with his white ex-girlfriend, who exists only as a series of sad flashbacks, dreams, and the occasional Hollywood hallucination. And the Japanese woman is a disposable "Bond girl" type of love interest, who will be forgotten by the next movie, but his white dead girlfriend gets to have a lasting emotional impact.

But at the end of the day, The Wolverine is just a fun action movie. It's a thrill ride. If you analyze anything too much, you can get weighed down. It's not a movie that was made for extensive analysis. But this kind of movie is great if you just want to sit back and enjoy a fun movie about Wolverine fighting ninjas. It's nothing more, and doesn't pretend to be. But sometimes, you don't really need more than that. The Wolverine is extremely enjoyable, the perfect pajama/sweater/bad day/ice cream movie to watch at home.

Rating for 'The Wolverine': 8/10

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Rachael Lefler

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