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In Defense of The Wolverine

At the beginning of this blog’s life, The Wolverine was a very popular topic. Jenn wrote about her issues with the film — primarily how she felt the movie was yet another example of Hollywood’s exotification of Asia and is essentially an Orientalist fantasy in the spirit of Miss Saigon. Later, Claire rebutted Jenn’s claims of Orientalism in the movie but still thought it sucked because of all the plot holes and poorly drawn characters. We even discussed it at length on Hard NOC Life.

Here’s the thing, though. I liked this movie. Like, a lot. It was probably one of my favorite movies of the summer and is definitely my favorite in the X-Men movie canon (which, I guess, isn’t all that difficult since X2 and the Magneto bits in First Class are the only good ones in the franchise).

Now that it’s out on blu-ray and DVD, I thought it was an opportune time to express why I liked it (even though it seems no one else on the blog did).

Let’s be clear, I did not have high hopes for the movie going in. Ever since the post-credits sequence in X-Men Origins: Wolverine alluded to a sequel set in Japan, I was filled with dread. Here was going to be another in the long line of movies where the white guy goes to Asia to be better at being Asian than the Asians. In other words, I expected to see the movie Jenn saw because Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s Japan-set Wolverine stories were just that, Orientalist fantasy played out in the pages of a comic book.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a movie that, in my opinion, steered away from the cliches found in other movies in this milieu. Yes, Logan — the lone white guy in the movie — kills a lot of Asian folk. And yes, there is a “romance” between Logan and the female love interest. But I didn’t feel either case was a result of Orientalism or Asian fetishism. Because, let’s face it, the real problem with any kind of Orientalist take on Asia is positing Asia as some sort of fantasy world. The Japan in The Wolverine felt like a real, lived-in place with real people. Also, the prologue set during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki was both breathtaking and harrowing. In the case of the high blood count, it’s a Wolverine movie, there’s going to be a ton of casualties anyway. The fact that the victims all happen to be yakuza and/or ninjas this time is because of the setting of the movie. Through the course of six movies, a whole ton of folk have felt the pointy end of Logan’s adamantium claws. Hell, the victims in the opening scene were going to be a bar full of abusive Canadian bear hunters before Yukio intervened.

A scene pulled almost identically from the comics, by the way.

As far as the “romance” between Logan and Mariko, this was another aspect that was culled directly from the comics, but handled much better in live action. I never got the sense that these two lusted after one another like in the comics. And they don’t really have a romance besides a one-off fling towards the middle part of the movie. By the resolution of the film, once Mariko has assumed CEO-status of the family business, she’s basically cast Wolvie away, and he isn’t too broken up about it either. Yes, they’re supposed to be “soul mates” in the comics, but unlike most Miss Saigon-type WM/AF romances in the movies, no one is sacrificing anything for anyone. Again, the “it could have been so much worse” argument doesn’t hold a lot of water with some folks, I know. But really, it could have been so much worse.

I also appreciated that, though it is clearly set in a time period post X-Men: The Last Stand, it’s basically a standalone film. Logan starts off as a reluctant hero who unwittingly gets tangled up in a high-stakes family drama. I mean, Logan is barely the protagonist in his own movie. And while this might be a narrative foul in most situations, I found it refreshing insomuch as it once again steered The Wolverine away from “White Savior” syndrome. Not to mention the fact that while Mako Mori got all the fanboy love and feminist cred over the summer, I thought Yukio was actually the baddest Japanese female badass on the big screen.

Interestingly, The Wolverine is also Bechdel Test-approved as well.

Is this movie perfect? Of course not. Viper is probably the worst comic book movie villain in the history of comic book movies, the Jean Grey dream sequences were a little contrived, and the overindulgent action set piece at the end of the movie is out of place and really kind of dumb, but nonetheless, I really enjoyed Hugh Jackman channeling Toshiro Mifune for most of the movie. And I also appreciated the fact that the movie didn’t have to suffer from being an origin story/sequel continuation and was just allowed to be a movie. So yeah, maybe I need to turn in my Asian American activist card, but I had no qualms with The Wolverine and didn’t find it to be an Orientalist’s wet dream of a movie (that would be, ahem, Pacific Rim. Yeah I said it!)

Also, the “Unleashed” Extended Edition on blu-ray is supposed to flesh out some of the characters more — including Mariko and the rest of the Yashidas — and have more ninja mutilations. And let’s not forget the piece de resistance in the deleted scene that was supposed to introduce Wolverine’s classic costume into movie continuity:

I mean, that’s got to be worth the price of admission — or in this case, the purchase of the blu-ray — right?

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7 thoughts on “In Defense of The Wolverine

  1. Reading some of the other anti-Asian accusations against this film has been a real shock. Some of them, like from The Toast, are plain misandrist and have no understanding of the comic book origins of the film. They just blew the anti-Orientalist horn once they saw any attributes of Asian culture even those shot in Japan itself. On that note, cliché Japanese elements, like ninjas and samurai are used a lot in Japan’s own pop culture If people don’t like having Hollywood depict any Asian culture they should say so and make their own films.

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  2. Saw this film some months ago after it came out, and really didn’t know too much about the plot—it was good to see that it was shot in Japan, which is why it actually came off as less stereotypical in its depiction of its Asian characters (my guess is that the Japanese actors would not have stood for any lame stereotypes anyway.) All in all, it was a little better than I though it was going to be, and I enjoyed the bullet train sequence, mainly because it reminded me of of a similar sequence from Jackie Chan’s classic actioner SUPERCOP (minus the special effects) and it was cool to see Hiroyuki Sanada in it, even if he was playing the bad guy. And of course, I like the swordfighting chick because she did serious ass-whooping, and I always like watching ass-kicking female characters onscreen anyway, since I’m also a woman.

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