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The Wolverine

July 26, 2013
The Wolverine

Having seen The Wolverine I find myself at a loss as to whether the filmmakers actually want us to, you know, like the main character. I get the whole anti-hero thing, like Batman, but that relies on the protagonist adopting questionable means to pursue ultimately noble goals. And while I like the idea of movies using superheroes in smaller, more personal stories — not every problem needs to be literally world-shaking — the story underlying this movie is in essence a domestic abuse narrative from the perspective of the abuser.

After the events of The Last Stand, Logan (Hugh Jackman) has gone into a self-imposed exile in the Yukon, tortured by nightmares of having killed the woman he loved, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). And then, one day, a deceptively slight young Japanese woman named Yukio (Fukushima Rila) shows up. Her employer, the wealthy and powerful head of the Yashida corporation (Yamanouchi Haruhiko), is the Japanese officer whose life Logan saved during the bombing of Nagasaki. Yes, that bombing. Yashida is on his deathbed, and wants to say goodbye, and offer him a gift to repay his old debt.

But when Logan arrives he finds himself in the middle of a palace intrigue. Yashida’s son, Shingen (Sanada Hiroyuki), and granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), are upset; Mariko herself is near suicide. That aside, she’s also in the sights of the Yakuza over her engagement to the rising Minister of Justice, Noburo (Brian Tee), and even the efforts of her childhood sweetheart, Harada (Will Yun Lee), head of the ninja clan that has served the Yashida family for centuries, may not be enough to protect her.

Yashida says that his doctor (Svetlana Khodchenkova) knows of a way that Logan’s super-healing power can be removed, allowing him to age and die normally, and escape his torment. Logan refuses, and the next day Yashida is dead. The funeral degenerates into an attempt on Mariko’s life, and Logan swiftly decides to take a break from his whole not-hurting-people vow to save the distressed damsel.

Mariko is basically serving as yet another trophy woman. People say she’s essential to some grand plan of Yashida’s, but it’s never really clear what that her purpose is. She doesn’t even play much of a role in her own salvation, even after the script goes out of its way to say that, as a child, she was as skilled with knives as Harada was at archery. Yukio, thankfully, is a bit less one-dimensional, but she also gets little but some handwaving at a tragic backstory.

But it’s when you dig beneath the surface that things get really disturbing. Logan’s whole arc is about coming to terms with his guilt over Jean’s death, and the inflection point happens in bed with Mariko. A recurring theme of Logan’s nightmares has been waking up in a panic, claws out, Jean already impaled next to him. He’s tortured by the idea that his unthinking temper can destroy something he loves. But when he wakes up, panicked, claws out, next to Mariko, she calms him, telling him how she sees him as a protector.

So what Logan really needed all this time was a woman to love him and trust him enough to look past his violent rages. And, in contrast, this puts the blame on Jean for her own death by not loving and trusting Logan enough. Yes, she was acting as the Phoenix at the time, but within Logan’s mind — and within the context of this movie — he could have saved her if only she had believed in his ability to do so, and because she didn’t he had no choice but to kill her.

This is, to be blunt, a horrifying moral. Not only is the main female character a prize to be won, she plays into Logan’s fundamentally dysfunctional psychology. The journey here is not towards real healing, but towards the self-justification of a domestic abuser. I suppose I shouldn’t be entirely surprised to see this in a screenplay from Jack Reacher writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, adapted from an arc co-written by Frank Miller, but that doesn’t make this undercurrent any less disturbing.

Other than all that, director James Mangold does a decent enough job of throwing together the isolated, striking tableaux and chaotic, spatially-incoherent action that’s become standard for comic book movies. But there’s not really enough of that to enjoy with your brain off, and the story you get with your brain on is even less enjoyable.

Or at least it should be; the most disturbing point is realizing how many people will find this narrative something to cheer for. This is not a character that should be lionized. Remember: the wolverine is really just an overgrown, mean-tempered weasel.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: surprisingly, it squeaks out a pass.

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