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Before we get stuck in to today’s review I would like to make a few corrections. I’ve recently started reading the first original run of the X-Men from the sixties thanks to the Marvel app.The Marvel app allows you to read comics from across the company’s seventy year history and I’d recommend it!
If it wasn’t a glitchy piece of garbage.
But regardless, reading these old issues has made me realise that I had made some false assumptions about this period of the X-Men’s history which I’d now like to correct.
Firstly, I claimed that the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run didn’t have any of the Civil Rights allegory that was so central to the franchise later on. I was wrong about that. It’s not nearly as pronounced as it would become but it is definitely there, with the mutants facing fear and prejudice from human beings from fairly early on.
Likewise, I also claimed that the much later decision to make Iceman gay was a blatant retcon that directly contradicted the character’s established history. And while we do definitely see Bobby dating women in these early issues…
Yeah. I can’t exactly say they pulled that out of thin air either.
Lastly, I implied that Professor Xavier was a dangerous lunatic putting minors in mortal peril as part of his deranged scheme to raise his own paramilitary force of super-powered child soldiers.
So let’s look at The Wolverine!
Alright, so after everyone involved in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was disowned by their own mothers and driven naked through the streets being pelted by stones from angry children it was clear the Wolverine franchise needed a new direction.
Preferably upwards. Fortunately, after the last movie that was really the only direction left to go.
Origin director Gavin Hood was politely defenestrated and James Mangold was brought in to direct the sequel. Mangold’s career has been…weird. For starters, this is I think the first time I’ve linked one of my Marvel/X-Men reviews to one of my Disney canon reviews but he was one of the writers on Oliver and Company. As a writer/director he’s worked on projects as diverse as the prestigey music biopic Walk The Line, the pretty awesome Sylvester Stallone drama Cop Land and your mother’s favourite rom-com Kate and Leopold. And of course, a few years later he wrote and directed what many consider the greatest superhero movie of all time; Logan.
For The Wolverine, Mangold took inspiration from the first Wolverine solo series, written by Big Effing Deal Chris Claremont and illustrated by Frank Miller back before he started drinking paint. It depicts Logan’s journey to Japan and was an important step in re-imagining the character from one-dimensional rage case to complex, troubled loner trying to keep his violent instincts in check with a code of honour.
The movie opens in August 1945, a few days after the bomb has been dropped on Hiroshima and Japan is still fighting the war for some reason. In a military camp outside Nagasaki, the Japanese soldiers flee as they see two bombers flying towards the city and realise that another nuclear bombing is imminent. One young Japanese officer, Ichiro Yashida, decides to free the American POWs in the camp rather than leaving them to be killed by the explosion. One of those prisoners is our buddy Logan who’s been put in a concrete hole twenty feet below ground, presumably for bad table manners. In broken English, Ichiro tells Logan to run but Logan’s all “You know what? There’s a nuclear blast coming and I find myself warming to this concrete lined cell one mile below sea level quite a bit.”
So my favourite thing about being a cinephile is obviously having sex with movies. But my second favourite thing is watching good movies and finding the moments where they touch greatness. I mean, when you watch a movie that’s, yknow, decent. Three stars. But then you come across one shot, one line of dialogue or one moment that just makes you go “Oh, now that’s gorgeous.”
Like here, where Yashida fails to convince Logan to come out of the hole, and he turns to see three of his superior officers in the distance. Kneeling on the ground. Taking off their jackets.
I love the way it’s framed, I love the sound design, I love the lighting, I love the Japanese imperial flag in the background. I love that it’s just really good, clean, visual story-telling. I read a few reviews of this movie that claim that it’s fine but visually bland and that I simply will not countenance. There are shots in this thing that are frankly gorgeous and I don’t think this movie gets nearly enough love for its visuals.
Anyway, Yashida knows that he should commit suicide like his superiors but he can’t bring himself to do it. Logan, having witnessed him saving the other soldiers (which, considering their countrymen are about to incinerate his home town is mighty big of him) grabs him and pulls him into the hole and shields his body from the blast.
Logan wakes up in the present day in bed with Jean Grey played by Famke Janssen we should all be so lucky. Unable to believe his eyes, Logan tells her that he’s sorry for what he did in Last Stand (hey, she only died, I had to watch the damn thing, where’s my apology?) but Jean tells him it’s too late and he looks down to see that he’s stabbed her and then he wakes up screaming.
Ugh. Movie, we were getting on so well and you had to pull a dream within a dream on me? Lame.
Anyway, Logan is not doing well, people. No sir. He is living in a cave wrapped in his own body hair and his neighbour is a bear. The bear is a decent skin but one night Logan wakes up to the sound of screaming and finds a campsite wrecked and all the campers slaughtered. He finds the bear dying in the wood with a poisoned arrow poking out of him. He performs a mercy killing on the bear and then pays a little visit to the local town where some asshole is in a bar bragging about how he totally shot this bear with an arrow and it was badass.
Logan confronts the asshole, saying that thanks to his poisoned arrow a bunch of campers and one real nice bear are all dead. The asshole claims he doesn’t use poisoned arrows and Wolverine stabs him with the arrow and says that if that’s true he has nothing to worry about.
Um…even if it’s not true, he’s just been stabbed with an arrow and that bear did not look clean so…don’t take medical advice from a hobo who never gets sick, is the lesson here, I guess. The asshole’s friends try to jump Logan but he’s helped by a mysterious Japanese lady named Yukio (not to be confused with Yuriko, the other mysterious Japanese lady from Wolverine’s past).
Look, Wolverine’s supporting cast is basically fifty percent mysterious Japanese ladies. Anyway Yukio is played by Rila Fukushima, a Japanese fashion model who made her feature debut with this movie and is actually all kinds of awesome in this role. She’s a ninja, and also a mutant with the power of predicting people’s deaths. She tells Logan that she works for Ichiro Yashida, and that he’s dying and wants to say goodbye to Logan. Logan at first refuses, as this will cut into his busy schedule of nightmares, flea-picking and sobbing over the tattered picture of Jean he keeps in his cigar box but finally agrees to be flown to Yashida’s compound in Tokyo. For Yashida, since almost being nuked, has become Crazy Stupid Rich.
Hey, know what I never ever talk about in reviews? Sets. But goddamned I love this set.
You see, this movie doesn’t take place in Japan. It takes place in JAPAN♥♥♥!!!! It’s this ridiculously over-the-top amalgamation of every Japanese thing ever, it’s got ninjas and Yakuza and samurai and zaibatsus and love hotels and bullet trains and ladies dressed as geisha and this big gorgeous beautiful set that is clearly just trying to be the most Japanese thing ever. I mean, yeah, reductive as all hell and probably a little offensive but it’s so goddamned beautiful.
Anyway, Logan is introduced to two characters here, Ichiro’s son Shingen, a kendo master with a chip on his shoulder, and Mariko, Shingen’s daughter and Ichiro’s grand-daughter. Mariko won’t let Logan see Ichrio because he looks like he’s just come from a bear’s funeral so Logan first has to be bathed, shaved, scrubbed and possibly sexually molested by some older women just like Moses in Prince of Egypt. and my, what an odd trope. Anyway, this results in a scene of Hugh Jackman butt naked and I suppose this is a good time to mention that this is perhaps the most female-gazey super-hero movie I can remember seeing. Seriously, if you want shirtless Hugh Jackman, this movie right here is your jam. It makes the Thor movies look positively demure.
Logan finally gets to see Ichiro as well as his oncologist, Doctor Green, a statuesque blonde lady who might as well have a giant green neon sign flashing over her saying “ASK ME ABOUT MY VILLAINOUS PLAN”. Ichiro tells Logan that he’s dying of cancer but, considering he’s a ninety something year old man who got nuked in his twenties I gotta feel like he beat the odds. Ichiro isn’t ready to clock out yet and offers Logan a gift to say thank you for saving him all those years ago; the gift being old age and death. I’d have gone with a book token, but maybe it’s a cultural thing. See, Ichiro claims that his company can transfer Logan’s healing factor from him to Ichiro, meaning that Logan finally gets to experience the joys of being mortality’s bitch while Ichiro gets to live forever in a hot indestructible body. While that offer is….tempting, Logan turns the old man down.
Outside, Logan overhears a violent argument between Mariko and her father and then stops Mariko from throwing herself off a balcony. Later, he asks Yukio what her connection to Mariko is and she says that she was a street urchin who was essentially snatched off the streets by Ichiro and raised by the Yashidas because Mariko was having trouble making friends.
I love this origin because it explains why Mariko and Yukio are so close while also handily demonstrating how fucked up and terrifyingly powerful the Yashidas actually are. They basically gave their daughter a human as a pet and no one could stop them.
That night Logan wakes up from one of his usual Jean-dreams to find Doctor Green kissing him (goddamn, how many times must Wolverine endure assaults on his virtue in these movies?) but she vanishes. The whole compound is in an uproar and Logan learns that Ichiro died in the middle of the night. Yukio is distraught because she didn’t foresee his death. Logan goes along to the funeral, which, because this is The Wolverine, is no ordinary funeral but one of the most ridiculously, sumptuously Japanese funerals in the history of cinema.
At the funeral, Logan is formally introduced to Shingen, who seems to have a real hate on for mutants. He also meets Noburo, the Japanese minister for justice who’s engaged to Mariko and is just asshole all the way down. During the service, Logan notices that one of the Shinto clerics seems a touch more tatted up than usual and realises that the Yakuza have crashed the party. Mariko gets abducted and Logan fights his way through a bajillion of them to get to her but something is wrong. He’s not healing nearly as fast as normal and bullets and weapons can actually hurt him.
Nonetheless, Logan manages to rescue Mariko with the help of a mysterious black-clad archer. Mariko and Logan take a bullet train down south and bleeding and injured Logan has to fight off some Yakuza on top of the train while it travels at 300 miles an hour and it is as awesome as it is stupid.
Mariko just wants to be left alone but Logan ain’t never abandoned a broad in trouble yet so they hide out in a love hotel and Wolverine stands guard out on the balcony in the rain, bleeding from multiple bullet wounds, talking to the ephemeral vision of his tragically slain lady love because he is just so damn extra.
Alright, so firstly this is another of the casually gorgeous scenes in this movie that it just whips out like it ain’t no thing. But I actually had to do a double take when I saw this; the hero, standing on a rooftop at night in the glow of neon signs talking to a projection of the woman he loves…
Did Bladerunner 2049 just mimic this scene by coincidence? Probably, but it’s weird, right?
Anyway, Logan passes out (imagine that) and he wakes up discover that Mariko has gotten the hotel owner’s son, a veterinary student, to operate on him. Which is nice of her an all, until you remember that Logan’s not actually on the run from the law and she’s the richest woman in Asia so she could have just sprung for a people doctor.
Oh yeah, Mariko’s now super rich. Because, as she explains to Logan, Ichiro cut Shingen out of the will and left everything to Mariko. Mariko and Logan hide out in Mariko’s home in Nagasaki and pretty much immediately fall in love. It seems implausible until you realise Hugh Jackman looks like sculpted oak and Mangold keeps finding the perfect lighting to make Tao Okamoto look like some kind of moon goddess who arose from a midnight pool to bewitch lost travellers.
Mariko also explains that the archer who helped them back at the funeral was Harada, her old boyfriend and a member of the Black Clan, a group of ninjas who work for the Yashida corporation because of course the Yashida corporation has ninjas and you’re a fool if you thought they didn’t. Meanwhile, Yukio has a dream of Logan’s death and races to Nagasaki because apparently Yukio is one of those people who thinks other people want to hear about their dreams.
Mariko gets captured by Yakuza but Logan gets one of them to him to spill his guts, figuratively and not so figuratively. He learns that the Yakuza are working for Noburo, Mariko’s asshole fiancée. Yukio catches up with Logan and warns him that she saw him dying with “your own heart in your hand”.
Alright, everyone who’s seen Logan take a few seconds to pull yourselves together. Moving on.
Logan and Yukio go and confront Noburo and find him partying with some ladies of negotiable affection and Logan is shocked shocked! that Noburo is carrying on like this behind Mariko’s back. And, sorry, but really? I mean, it’s not like Mariko is a model of chastity either. As Logan should know, what with him making the beast with two backs and six claws with her. Anyway, Noburo reveals that it was Shingen who asked him to put a hit on Mariko in revenge for being cut out of Ichiro’s will. Logan takes this rather well, by pushing Noburo out of a ten storey window (I said “rather” well) and they head back to the Yashida compound to rescue Mariko.
Okay, so much as I enjoyed this movie I really have to admit that it doesn’t stick the landing. The ending is kind of a confused mess and feels like several different drafts of screenplay crashed into each other. So Mariko is brought before her father and he’s about to kill her when the compound is attacked by Harada and the rest of the Black Clan, led by Doctor Green. Shingen is slightly confused as to why his dead father’s oncologist is leading his dead father’s ninja death clan. He asks her what her deal is and she replies…
Green reveals that she’s Viper, a mutant with snake powers and she poisons Shingen who staggers off and collapses into a garden pond. And it’s pretty clear that he’s supposed to be dead. But when Logan and Yukio show up, Shingen is there in a samurai suit and fucking ready to throw down so what the hell? Like I said, it feels like two different drafts got mixed up.
Logan deduces that the culprit for his powers no longer working was Doctor Green, in the bedroom with the spider-robot medical device. The spider is now inside him, clamped to his heart which is why his healing no longer works just go with it. Logan has to perform surgery on himself to get it out which Yukio is really not happy about because if she saw him dying with his heart in his hand so rooting around in his own chest cavity is probably not a smart play.
While Logan performs surgery on himself, Yukio defends him from Shingen.
And then he comes back. I’m sure you were wracked with worry.
Anyway, Logan and Shingen battle and Shingen performs remarkably well for a man who was poisoned and left face down in a lily pond but Logan cuts him up a treat and it is weirdly gorgeous.
Logan and Yukio learn that in his final days Ichiro almost bankrupted his company stockpiling medicine, medical equipment and adamantium ..
…and also building what can only described as a Doom Fortress. Logan and Yukio head over to said Doom Fortress and Logan gets captured by the Black Clan.
So it was about this point that I said to myself “damn, this thing has yakuza, ninja, samurai, seppuku, love hotels, bullet trains, geisha, constant talk of honour…the only thing missing is a giant robot oh hello.”
So, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Ichiro isn’t actually dead, he faked his death with the help of Viper who also helped him build a massive robot suit of adamantium samurai armour (now there’s an oncologist who provides full and comprehensive care). Now, Ichioro’s plan isn’t the stupidest villain scheme I’ve come across (shit, it’s not even the stupidest villain scheme in the particular sub-series of this particular franchise). When I actually sat down to pick holes in it I realised that it mostly holds together even if it could have been better explained in the movie itself. It boils down to:
- Invite Logan to Japan so you can ask him to give you his healing factor.
- If he doesn’t, have your all purpose evil scientist weaken his healing factor so he can be captured.
- Meanwhile, fake your death and leave everything to your grand-daughter. Now, this had me rolling my eyes because faking their death is one of the most ridiculously implausible and impractical things a character can do. But even this does make sense. If Ichiro is going to be de-aged by Logan’s healing factor he’s going to need a new identity and he’ll also need to pass his assets on to someone he can control, like Mariko. Also, he’s so crazy rich that it becomes somewhat plausible that he could actually pull off a fake autopsy and burial.
- Next, lure Logan to your Doom Fortress so you can extract his healing factor with your samurai robot that you built for this very purpose. This is…somewhat baroque, but it does at least hang together under crazy comic book logic. He has an understandable goal, and he is taking logical steps to attain that goal. Sort of.
So yeah, the plan isn’t necessarily bad it’s just weird. And the problem is that a lot of this isn’t really explained in the movie itself, you just have to piece it together yourself. Anyway, Logan and the giant robot samurai battle and Logan ends up getting his claws hacked off which means he’s back to bone claws again.
Ugh, I hate the bone claws. Who thought the bone claws were a good idea? The metal claws are Wolverine’s most iconic feature. Would He-Man be better if the Sword of Grayskull was made of bone and more easily breakable?
Anyway, Inchiro uses the suit to drill into Wolverine’s creamy middle and suck out his delicious mutant healing factor but Mariko saves Logan by flinging one of his severed metal claws into her grandfather’s head (and they say romance is dead).
Logan says “saynonara” and pushes Ichiro off the Doom Fortress to his death.
And the movie ends with Mariko assuming control of Yashida enterprises and Logan and Yukio setting off together in a private jet to have adventures, as all good stories should end.
Seriously “they got a free jet and went off having adventures” knocks “they lived happily ever after into a cocked hat”.
I was actually a little gobsmacked by how much I liked this movie. The word of mouth I’d heard before watching it was that it was better than Origins which is damning with faint praise if ever I heard it. Now though, I think this movie is really under-rated. The derpy climax costs some points in the final furlong, but it’s a thrilling, often surprisingly gorgeous movie and one of my favourites in the franchise.
Two years later, Logan is approached at an airport by two men who say they need his help to save all mutantkind: the dudes in question? Magneto and Charles Xavier.
And the audience went:
You may be wondering how the hell Xavier is back looking all Patrick Stewarty considering when we last saw him he’d jumped into the body of a comatose coma patient at the end of The Last Stand. Well…there is an explanation, but I must warn you. It is deeply stupid.
Hey, was that Stan Lee?
No, that was Will Yun Lee, playing Hararda. Easy mistake to make.
Stan continues his tradition of sitting the Wolverine movies out.
Department of Duplication Department: This is possibly the most self-contained of all the X-Men movies since the first one, with very little connecting it to others in the series. So no duplicates.
How worried is Guinan right now?
Where even are we? First Class rather definitively wiped The Last Stand and Origin from canon so how is any of this even happening? How can you have a sequel to a movie that no longer exists?Also, in this movie Logan remembers his time in World War 2 but in Origin it was establishes that Logan’s memory was wiped at three mile island so he shouldn’t have any memories from before the seventies which were after World War 2 (I checked). In short, what the effing jeez is going on?
Wait, Magneto is how old?!
The Wolverine plays coy with just how much time has elapsed since The Last Stand. Damn coy. So I have no choice but to assume a seven year gap between the two films corresponding to their 2006 and 2013 releases. And then we add two years for the post credits scene. So that means Magneto is now 81.
Mutant Heaven has no Pearly Gates, only revolving doors: Yashida gets the afore-mentioned bullshit resurrection even though he was never actually dead. Wolverine himself dies for a little stretch but I don’t think the movie really expects you to buy it. Oh, and Jean is a ghost in Logan’s brain but still technically dead.
Today, Mutants are: Incredibly buff forest hobos.
FINAL SCORE: This movie is…
NEXT UPDATE: 28 March 2019
NEXT TIME: Oh great! A Studio Ghibli film…oh.