When I was a preteen, in the early 1980s, I was a little mystified by the overwhelming popularity of Marvel comics among my peers. I loved comic books and I even enjoyed the Marvel titles I’d read, but it seemed that the same good guys were always fighting the same bad guys. Nobody ever seemed to die, and if they did they never seemed to stay dead. I had friends that would get excited about how big and bad Marvel’s characters were, yet when I read the stories it seemed like a lot of fighting without any lasting damage. After a while, I’d just get bored with it because nothing ever seemed to change. It was always the same characters fighting it out, without much in the way of any real resolution.
The major exception to this was when I read the Wolverine miniseries in 1982. This was the real deal! Here was a dark, tortured antihero cutting his way through his enemies using metal claws. The story was grim, gritty, and full of plot twists, death, and betrayal. The fight scenes didn’t end with any villains running away, cursing the hero for foiling their dastardly plan and vowing to be back another day. These fights had consequences and, more often than not, the results were lethal.
I have long believed that if the Wolverine miniseries were made into a movie, it would be well received and would attract attention. I never had any particular issue with Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine, but somehow none of the X-Men movies captured the sheer grittiness of the character that so captivated me all those many years ago. Never, that is, until now…
After thirty years of waiting, The Wolverine finally brings the character I remember to the big screen in all his tormented glory. This is a tortured, angry Wolverine, haunted by visions of the woman he loved but had to kill. Freely adapted from the 1982 mini series, the movie captures much of the spirit of the source material while changing it up enough to prevent it from becoming too predictable. The fight sequences are riveting, and the violence hits you like a punch in the gut. I really have to wonder how this film got away with a PG-13 rating, while the much milder The Conjuring got an R, but this is definitely the Wolverine that I remember from the comic books.
Would I recommend this movie? Yes, but with reservations. It’s adapted from a comic series that was written at a time when Japanese popular culture was more of a niche than it is today. Tales of ninja, samurai, and yakuza battling in modern day Tokyo may have been appealing to the sensibilities of 1980s American popular culture. However, in our modern era, it comes off as being rather silly. The film seems to tell a story of Wolverine’s adventures in Japan, as envisioned by somebody who has never actually been there. The Japanese characters are uniformly presented as cardboard stereotypes, and it’s only Wolverine and his love interests that come across as relatable human beings. The end result is a story that seems silly at best, condescending at worst, when it comes to its portrayal of the Japanese.
If you can set that aside, The Wolverine is a solid thrill ride with some stand out action sequences and a grittiness that leaps directly from the comics page to the big screen. It’s an entertaining summer popcorn flick that’s sure to appeal to fans of superheroes and action movies. Be sure to stay through the early round of credits for a special post-credit sequence at the end. While not a perfect movie, The Wolverine, on the whole, is a lot of fun.