Don't Forget How Good The Wolverine Was

For many, Logan will be a comic-book film they've been waiting for. With a hard-R rating, the character whose power is six retractable blades that he uses to stab, slice and dice people will finally be seen in its full bloody glory.

James Mangold is returning to direct and this will be Hugh Jackman's final outing as the titular hero. That's a very impressive feat considering he's played the same character for seventeen years over the course of nine films. From all accounts, it sounds like the most appropriate and well-made swan song for the character. Despite Hollywood's insistence on reboot and recasting EVERYTHING, I feel some security in the idea that maybe Wolverine will only be Hugh Jackman's for a long time.

In 2009, Fox had recently finished their X-Men trilogy. While the Marvel Universe was starting to form, it would be another three years before The Avengers really proved the concept of the shared cinematic universe. Fox, holding the rights to the X-men on screen, decided to continue to mine the franchise. There were rumors about what they were going to do next, and at one point a series of Origin films were being considered. The two that were talked about most were one for Magneto and the one that came to be: X-Men Origins: Wolverine. To reiterate, this was before the cinematic universe concept existed the way we understand it today, so for all intents and purposes, this film was a spinoff. 

Origins was a universally hated movie. In retrospect, the film's worst sin is not knowing what to do with their badass collection of characters. The opening credits depicted Wolverine and Sabertooth (who here are brothers even though in X-Men they didn't recognize each other) fighting through all of history's greatest wars as immortal and indestructible soldiers.  The credits were the most enjoyable and memorable part of the film. Everything after is generic and forgettable. Origins was also the film that infamously sewed Deadpool's mouth shut. Fox had the right pieces but was just flailing with execution. This a few years after X-Men: The Last Stand similarly showed that Fox didn't have any clue how to make a superhero film without Bryan Singer at the helm. 

Which brings me to The Wolverine. In 2013, James Mangold directed the Wolverine's second outing on his own. In my opinion, this is the most under-appreciated film in the X-Men series. 

The Wolverine in many ways does not feel like an X-Men film, with the exception of the final act. Most of it takes place in Japan, and excluding the post-credits sequence, the only other X-man to show up is the deceased Jean Grey in Logan's dreams. There are a few other mutants in the film, but there is relatively little mutant-v-mutant CGI-fueled fighting. 

Logan has been summoned to Japan by a dying man, Yashida, who he saved in Hiroshima decades before. Yashida offers to relieve Logan of his burden of immortality. Logan is unnerved by this offer and refuses. But after weird dreams finds his healing factor is suddenly gone. This is terrible timing naturally as suddenly finds himself de facto guardian for his Yashida's granddaughter, as his impending death is creating a power vacuum that involves the Yakuza. Taking away, even temporarily, his healing factor puts Logan into a vulnerability we rarely have seen from him. His aggressive methods now require defensive tactics as well. Jackman again knows how to sell this with a character that by this point he's come to embody better than anybody will. 

I didn't see The Wolverine in theaters for a specific reason. I'd heard towards the end of production that the film would have an R-rated cut on blu-ray. Instantly I knew that this was the film I wanted to see. Not for the blood, but for the character. And I think that's what I got. 

When Logan first tells Harada to "Go fuck yourself, pretty boy." I was floored. It's an example where vulgarity feels in character and not forced. For so many X-Men films now, Wolverine has always been a gruff bad boy who always felt on a leash. His claws never dismembered or left anybody bloody despite the fact that literally would be no way around that in real life. So our only indications that he's a rebel are that he smokes a cigar and is perpetually grumpy. He never could really fully be the antihero dick he is. The Wolverine, the unrated edition, let him do that. 

The unrated edition also has notably more action of Logan vs. ninjas. Notably more. And there is more blood, though the blood is pretty CGI'd up. But mostly there is more depth to the story there, and with Logan, the little moments are interesting. I'd argue Wolverine dropping F-bombs are little moments that flesh it out more. There is more here.

It's obvious from the start that James Mangold accepted that he'd never get the version he wanted into theaters but made it anyway. It's not a perfect film, however. The character of Viper seems out of place, and the finale between Silver Samurai and Wolverine is pretty uninspiring and feels tacked on. Until that fight, Mangold's film had a pretty appropriate amount of action. 

Hugh Jackman is so good and compelling as Wolverine that he's interesting when he doesn't have his claws out. In the early films, his gruff demeanor felt more like a bad boy act, but by The Wolverine he had long grown into the role and gave the character a weariness that makes every interaction of his fascinating to watch. His relationship with Mariko is more tenderness and compassion than traditional swelling romance. Mangold is a director who knows how to delicately understate moments and there are several examples of this in The Wolverine

The Wolverine is a small film. There are no alien invaders or world ending devices, just hubris, greed, and ninjas. It proved that you can have theses superhero characters be interesting when the world isn't on the line. The Japan setting and Asian cast all are great and interesting as well. 

Logan is destined to be the one everybody remembers, and X-Men: Origins is the one we'll remember because we hated it. My fear is that The Wolverine will be the one we forget. And that's a shame because it's a good film. And it sounds as if you'll see much of what Mangold was setting up in this film payoff.