Unexpected fan favourites can appear just about anywhere. Marvel Comics has several, characters that, for various reasons, just resonated with readers. With some, such as Squirrel Girl, it’s the innate humour that draws in fans. For others, it’s the rebel of the group. In the various X-Men titles, that was Wolverine.
Wolverine first appeared in the final panel of The Incredible Hulk #180, with the story continuing the next issue. Conceived as a mutant agent of a Canadian intelligence agency, Wolverine reappeared in the first issue of Giant-Size X-Men, the soon afterwards in X-Men #94. His popularity grew, exploding in the 80s as the anti-hero movement began. This popularity led to a four-issue mini-series, Wolverine, helmed by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. With Wolverine’s in-universe longevity, thanks to his mutant healing factor, writers could look at various parts of his past, adding depth to the character. Popularity with fans led to Logan to several mini-series, cross-overs, becoming the anchor in the weekly Marvel Comics Presents, his own ongoing series, joining the Avengers, and the lead of a cartoon. He has joined Spider-Man as a means of letting readers know a title is part of the Marvel Universe just by appearing in a new character’s comic. Wolverine has been a Canadian secret agent, a teacher, an X-Man, a crime lord, a ronin, a soldier, an Avenger.
The Wolverine, released in 2013 by Twentieth Century Fox, takes a look at a moment in Logan’s long life, with Hugh Jackman returning as the title character. The movie opens at a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan in 1945, across the bay from Nagasaki. Logan is the first to hear the approaching B-29 bomber, but a Japanese officer also hears it and frees the prisoners to prevent their deaths in the coming bombing run. As the prisoners run for their lives, the officer remembers the one in the hole, Logan, and frees him as well. Logan, though, recognizes what is about to happen. There is only one bomber. However, instead of also running, the officer joins his superiors as they commit seppuku. Logan prevents the lethal stabbing, and both watch as the second atomic bomb ever explodes. Hauling the officer along, Logan returns to his cell in the hole, where he protects the officer from the fireball with his own body.
Logan then wakes up from the dream within a dream. As he shakes off the nightmare, he realizes that he’s in the Yukon, where he went after the X-Men movies.* He spends a typical day, a trip into town for supplies followed by work in the woods. He ignores the boisterousness of a group of hunters, not wanting to get involved or be noticed. That night, though, he hears their screams. When he investigates, he finds their camp torn apart and a bear in the throes of agony from an arrow. Logan puts the poor beast out of its misery and heads to town. He easily finds the hunters, including the one survivor of the bear’s rampage and starts asking questions, wanting to find the owner of the poisoned arrow he pulled from the bear’s body. Before an all-out brawl can start, a tiny Japanese woman introduces herself and her katana. The hunters don’t take her seriously, but she demonstrates finesse with the weapon, killing no one while making precise cuts that show that it was her decision to keep them alive. As she leaves, she invites Logan to follow her to her car.
The young woman introduces herself as Yukio, representing Yashida, the dying CEO of Yashida Industries, who has requested Logan, the Wolverine, to talk to him before he passes away. Yukio, herself a mutant who can see how people will die, manages to persuade Logan into going to Tokyo, though just for one day. As for the hunters, Yukio sees them dying in a week in a car crash.
In Tokyo, Logan is reunited with the Japanese officer he saved, Yashida himself, who is in the final stages of cancer. Yashida asks his doctor, Dr. Green, and his family, son Shingen and granddaughter Mariko, time alone to talk with Logan. With everyone out, Yashida makes an offer to Logan, the end of Wolverine’s long suffering, the removal of his powers and transferring them to the dying man. Logan refuses. Later that night, Yashida passes away. That same night, Jean Grey returns again in Logan’s dreams, only to turn into Dr. Green.
Yashida’s funeral the next day is somber and formal. Logan, though, senses something is off just before the Yakuza gangsters reveal themselves. One gangster produces a shotgun from underneath his monk robes and shoots Logan. While shooting the Wolverine is never a good idea, this time, Logan is staggered. The wounds don’t close as rapidly as they should. Logan doesn’t let the wounds slow him down as he demonstrates that he is the best at what he does. Still, he is slowed down by gunshot wounds, far more than he should be.
The gangsters’ target is Mariko; they attempt to kidnap her, but are stopped by not only Logan, but by Harada, who is making accurate bow shots from rooftops over a kilometre away. Logan is the only one to spot him, but since Harada is assisting Mariko, does nothing to stop the archer. Instead, he grabs Mariko to take her away from the fighting and the gangsters. The pair work their way through Tokyo, running from the Yakuza, until they reach the train station. Mariko loses Logan in the crowd at the station and boards a bullet train to Nagasaki. As she starts to relax, Logan falls into a seat across the aisle from her.
Logan’s tenaciousness is rewarded. Several gangsters have also boarded the train. Logan spots them and tries to deal with them. Adamantium claws are not the best weapon in an enclosed space, especially if trying to keep the space enclosed; Logan rips through the outer wall of the train car. At first, it works to his advantage, letting him toss out a couple of gangsters, but he, too, is soon dragged out of the bullet train. The fight winds up on the top of the train, still travelling at 300km/h** and ends when Logan bluffs the last gangster into jumping at the wrong time.
The pair leave the train at the next stop, long before reaching Nagasaki. Stopping at a love hotel, Logan gets patched up by a veterinary student after collapsing. His healing factor is completely shut down, yet he insists on protecting Mariko through to Nagasaki and beyond. They take a bus to the reborn city, where Mariko’s grandfather had built a sanctuary for the family. Logan recognizes the view. He looks for and finds the cell he was in when the atomic bomb exploded.
During the time at the sanctuary, Logan and Mariko fall in love. Yukio, still in Tokyo, has a vision of Logan dying, and heads to the haven to warn him. The Yakuza catch up and kidnap Mariko, taking her away before Logan can stop them. After some interrogation of the sole gangster stopped by Logan and some investigation, Logan and Yukio return to the Yashida residence, where they do not find any security. Eariler, Harada and his ninja had arrived to rescue Mariko from her father. Dr. Green also appears and poisons Shingen, leaving with Harada. Logan, not finding anyone, heads to Yashida’s hospital bed and uses the X-ray machine there to find out why his healing factor isn’t working. The X-ray reveals a device attached to his heart. Yukio reminds Logan of the vision she had: him, on his back, his heart in his hand. Logan, however, performs his own open heart surgery.
Shingen, left for dead by Dr. Green, appears. Yukio fights him off as Logan tries to remove the device. The Wolverine does, indeed, die on the table, but instead of his heart in his hand, he has the device that had blocked his healing factor. Yukio keeps Shingen away from Logan, the fight a standstill. Despite the flatline beep, though, Logan’s body repairs itself. Shingen manages to get the upper hand in the sword fight, but before he can kill Yukio, Logan stops him. The fight’s tenor changes. Logan is no longer hampered by his lack of power. Cuts that would kill another man just get him angry. Shingen’s best attack, one that, if The Wolverine was an anime series, would leave Logan cut in twain, does little to stop him. Logan leaves Shingen alive, reminding him that he tried to kill his own daughter.
Yukio and Logan work out where Mariko is taken. Logan heads out to Yashida’s birthplace and enters the family compound. Harada confronts him, and tries to point out that getting further is a death sentence, not realizing that Logan has solved that little problem. Ninja move in to attack and are cut down. Harada, realizing that there’s nothing gained by throwing more ninja at Wolverine other than giving Logan practice, orders his men to use bows insteads. The archer poisons his own broadhead arrows, and, after many arrows, all with cables attached, Logan is brought down.
Inside, when he awakens, Logan finds out what has been happening. The family’s Silver Samurai, protector for many generations, has been modified. The pilot needs Logan’s healing factor. Logan, however, refuses to go down without a fight.
A lot happened in the movie, to say the least. Before I analyze The Wolverine, I want to make reference to Adaptations and the Superheroic Setting, which discussed the creation of using a different universe in different media. The short version of it: Comic books tend to have a lot of continuity behind them. With the Wolverine, there is forty years worth of stories since his first appearance in 1974. While fans of the character are aware of the backstory, not everyone in the audience is. Setting the X-Men movies as their own cinematic universe allows the film makers room to tell the story they want without spending half the running time explaining everything that has happened prior. Adding to the complexity, The Wolverine also has to fit in with the previous movies; X-Men: First Class was, essentially, a prequel to X-Men, not a reboot. It’s an interesting position to be in, where interesting is akin to the “Chinese curse“.
The film makers, in the DVD extra***, mentioned that they used the Claremont-Miller mini-series as a starting point, using the dichotomy in Logan’s nature to be both soldier and loner. Mariko has appeared not only in the mini-series but also in the regular X-Men title and is, for the most part, portrayed the same. Logan’s visions of Jean flow from the events in X2, though it’s possible that the film makers could be angling towards the Dark Phoenix Saga or that what Logan remembers is not necessarily how things are, thanks to Days of Future Past. Time travel really messes up continuity. The Wolverine focuses on Logan as Logan, not his superhero identity. This focus has appeared in the comics, including his time as the anchor for Marvel Comics Presents and his own mini-series.
Balancing the different aspects and origins (film and comic) of the character is a fine line, but the movie manages to walk it. Anyone familiar with Logan from either just the comic or just the movies will have no issue with Jackman’s portrayal. There are liberties taken; in the comics, Harada is the Silver Samurai and a mutant himself. The changes, though, don’t take away from Logan, nor do they substantially change the events. While The Wolverine follows the movies more than the comic, the essence of Logan is caught and portrayed well.
Next week, a second look at Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
* The X-Men movie timeline gets a bit convoluted. X-Men: Days of Future Past ignores X-Men 3 completely. The Wolverine seems to do the same thing, but there are elements, such as the Jean Grey dreams, that hint at something else, like a timeline that is about to change.
** Speed limit in Ontario is 100km/h, or a bit over 60mph.
*** DVD extras are a boon to these reviews. Sometimes, a bit of insight into the process of making the movie helps figure out why some decisions were made.