The Wolverine Sucked for Narrative, Not Political, Reasons

Okay, folks. Just to start NOC off on the right foot (i.e. to NOT give you the impression that Nerds of Color are all in agreement), I have to say that I totally disagreed with Jenn’s analysis of The Wolverine.

Well, I disagreed with 75% of it (and I’m not the only one.)

The part I agreed with is that it sucked: The Wolverine was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad movie … but not for political reasons. I think it was horribly badly written by someone who did not know how to write. Or else horribly hacked up by a director who did not know how to make a movie make sense. Or some of both.

I think what Jenn was doing was filling in the blanks with the products of her own intelligence because the movie was all blanks. And nerds abhor a vacuum.

Here’s what I saw (spoilers ensue):

I can haz agency?

In 1945, Wolverine saves a Japanese officer from 1) seppuku and 2) the bombing of Nagasaki, because dude was nice enough to release prisoners of war using his samurai sword (just go with it.) Fast forward to today. Wolverine is back in his lumberjack outfit in the Yukon trying to find a reason to go on living after the death of Jean Grey (and Professor X, and Cyclops, and the franchise that gave him life). One of Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls (maybe BabyJuke?), now magically endowed with the power of speech, shows up and drags him out of his movie and into a miso-flavored mash-up of Zhang Yimou and John Woo (with a mecha chaser). Tokyo splats against the windows of their private jet.

Wolvie visits the old and dying former officer and current tech company CEO, now under the care of a blonde doctor who is a full-body expression of vagina dentata. CEO tells Wolvie that he (Wolvman) really wants to die, and the CEO can make that happen, transferring Wolvie’s immortality to someone else (obvs the CEO). Wolvie gets one beat to react to this (which he fails to do, because we’re going for Takashi Miike, not Kitano) before the CEO’s beautiful granddaughter Mariko gets into an untranslated Japanese argument with her angry father and tries to throw herself off a cliff (conveniently located in the family compound… just go with it).

Meanwhile, we’ve discovered that Mariko and BabyJuke have a special bond, created when the CEO rescued and fostered mutant BabyJuke. The two have a Bechdel-safe conversation, which explains nothing but makes feminists around the world feel surprised. Mariko’s dad doesn’t like BabyJuke and tells her to go away, you yucky mutant. This all looks to be going somewhere (SPOILER: it doesn’t.) Also, the poisonously whorish blonde doc shows up in Wolvie’s dream that night.

Action shots! See? That means I have a story arc! Or, at least, a fan base.

CEO grandfather dies, and the Yakuza turn up at the funeral to kidnap Mariko from her angry father and slimy politician fiancé. A long-ass fight sequence ensues, in which a mysterious ninja archer helps Wolvie and Mariko escape, and Wolvie discovers that his healing abilities have been compromised. Let’s skip through [the slimy fiancé playing with nekkid girls and getting thrown off a balcony, the awesome bullet train fight, the random Kyoto “love hotel” sequence, and the scene where PoisonWhoreDoctor appears to be conspiring with Ninja Archer] to Mariko’s family vacation home, which none of the bad guys know about because reasons, where Mariko and Wolvie consummate the attraction we know they’ve been feeling because they stared at each other blankly a few times. Also, Mariko tells us, she just found out her CEO grandfather left the company to her, which he’s been grooming her for her entire life and she doesn’t want it because blankface. Then she gets kidnapped again, only this time, it seems that it’s not the angry dad/slimy fiancé/yakuza conspiracy that took her. Um.

Okay, some Wolvie, BabyJuke, angry dad kickassery later, with Wolvie’s healtastic powers restored, we end up at a random under-construction tower where ninja boyfriend fails to explain what’s going on, and CEO granddad tries to suck out Wolvie’s healing stuffs with drill bits because some people just don’t know what to do with immortality when they have it. PoisonWhoreDoctor kicks the bucket. Ninja boyfriend dies. CEO granddad bites it. We end with another private jet, and Mariko and Wolvie taking tender leave of one another. BabyJuke goes with the hairy mutant dude, because that’s the only way we’ll get an Asian into Days of Future Past. The Ending.

If your response to all of this (or the actual movie) was WTF????, you’re not alone. You saw Jenn’s attempt to fill in the blanks, now hear mine:

  • I left the theater feeling the same way I did when I walked out of (that very same theater!) Star Trek: Insurrection: namely, that I’d just watched an extended tv episode rather than a stand-alone movie. Because tv series tend to have protagonists wandering through the landscape (or galaxy), stumbling into situations they really have nothing to do with and materially altering them, but not before mackin’ on the attractive woman. Then they move on. This movie purported to depict a profound turning point in Wolverine’s story, but I have no idea why fucking Mariko and restoring her to her rightful CEO-dom inserted Meaningfulness back into Wolverine’s story arc. (Actually the whole process rather sapped me of my will to live.) Wolvie was instrumental to Mariko‘s story, but Mariko wasn’t instrumental to Wolverine’s (except insofar as they told us, implausibly, that she was.)
My contract stipulated that I only had to provide one facial expression.
  • That means that this was Mariko’s story, and that of her family: her honorable and just, but afraid-of-death grandfather; her ambitious, humiliated, and murderously angry father; her damaged, but loving and talented foster sister; her lost love, who was a traditional servant of her family and died in their service; and herself, nerdy, awkward, uncertain, and unable to make many friends, yet able to fight, and ultimately take over her entire family’s legacy. And it would have been a good story, if it hadn’t been told from Wolverine’s dumbass point of view.
  • Which also means that everybody — and I do mean errrbody — used Wolverine for their own ends. Pause for a moment. What happens between Mariko and Wolverine is unclear because Wolvie is too busy cuddling with a bipolar hallucination of Jean Grey to spare an emoticon for Mariko, and the model-turned-puppet playing Mariko couldn’t act her way through a wet shoji screen. But all evidence (evidence being my knowledge of human nature, which is, admittedly, useless in this film) points to Mariko and Wolvie being each other’s rebound fuck. After all, Mariko is still dealing with being cut off from her ninja archer true love, and having a hit put out on her by her slimeball fiancé and her angry father.  And since I’ve just established using no evidence (which is legit in this movie) that this is Mariko’s story, that means Wolvie is the one being used. Which means that the movie title notwithstanding, Wolvie is the empty plot contrivance in this film — not any of the women characters.
Virgin? Meet Whore.
  • And while we’re on the topic of the women characters: They Win. Seriously, they won the movie. BabyJuke kicked much ass and survived. Mariko survived, and inherited, like a boss. (No, literally.) Dad, Grandpa, and ArcherNinja died, and SlimyFiancé was kicked to the pool. The wimmins were left in charge, and Wolvie had to go away or become even more adjunct than he already was. And even BabyJuke (I’m really gonna have to learn that character’s name) chose to leave so as to find her own destiny and not remain Mariko’s family servant.
  • And while we’re still on the topic of the wimmins, did anyone notice how little skin we saw on them? The only boob action we got was Jean Grey cleavage-squish in bed. The only leg action we got was two inches of BabyJuke’s thigh and Poisonwhoredoctor walking. This film wasn’t about women’s bodies, but rather about women’s powers. Or women’s power. How men conferred power on women (CEO to Mariko) or didn’t (BabyJuke born with mutant powers), how men tried to take away women’s power (angry dad with both Mariko and BabyJuke), attach themselves to women’s power (slimy fiancé), or subvert it to evil ends (CEO to PoisonWhoreDoctor), and finally, how it takes men to secure and protect a woman’s power (Wolverine and Ninja Archer Boyfriend.) But women’s power is at the heart of this film.
Who me? I’m just the talent.
  • And the sexist orientalism? Again, look at where the power and knowledge lies in this film. Wolverine only has his personal power; he doesn’t access any connection to institutional power. The institutional powers in this film are: the tech company, the Japanese government, the yakuza, and the structure of traditional Japanese society. All of these powers are in the hands of the Japanese, not the whites. And the knowledge? Throughout the entire movie, Wolverine has no idea what’s going on. He relies entirely on the Japanese players to reveal the plot to him, piece by piece. Both white characters were brought to Japan to serve Japanese interests. And this is a thoroughly modern Japan we’re talking about. The CEO doesn’t object to Mariko marrying a family servant; only to her doing it before she turns 15. Both girls were trained to fight. And the CEO does leave his entire company to his granddaughter over his son. Sure, the CEO’s conservatism forces BabyJuke to wear traditional clothing, but only to visit him at his deathbed and go to his funeral. Otherwise, both she and Mariko wear stylish, but unrevealing modern clothing. And, again, are the men fighting over control of the women’s bodies and lives, or are they fighting over the power the women have had conferred on them? Is the power inherent to the women? Or is it a power that anyone, man or woman, could have? And if anyone, man or woman, can have this power in modern Japan, then how is fighting over it gendered, or sexist?

Sigh. I just don’t see the Madame Butterfly in any of this.

Now, having accused Jenn of filling in the blanks, I have to admit, I’m totally filling in the blanks as well. There was more than enough blankety blank to support both of our interpretations, in the same movie. It’s entirely possible that they were going for an orientalist trope and simply failed because of incompetence. It’s also possible that they were going for a really cool half-Asian/half-western family betrayal and revenge drama starring two wimmins … and also failed because of incompetence. Point is: they were incompetent, and left the movie open for radical interpretation.

… No, the point is just that they were incompetent.

We may never know what the filmmakers intended. Anyone who makes that much of a hash of things may not be able to articulate whatever vision they’re capable of having using words. And that’s okay with me. I went hoping for a good story, but mostly just expecting to get lotsa Hugh-Jackman-veins-bulging-over-pecs action. Mission accomplished.

Now, where’s my shirtless Michael Fassbender/Hugh Jackman doubletime?

I’ll also accept slash.

6 thoughts on “The Wolverine Sucked for Narrative, Not Political, Reasons

  1. Let me chime in here:

    Over the course of a year, I got to audition for the roles of Mariko and Yukio. This also meant I got to read the script before they started shooting a few months later. What ended up on-screen, as usual, was vastly different, to say the least. There was no Jean Grey (who was a bit of a fourth wheel anyways) and Mariko was a MUCH stronger woman. Yukio was pretty much the same… she never showed any sexual attraction to Logan unlike how the comics had depicted.

    My greatest dissapointment was in how the Mariko character turned out, script-wise. There was an entire segment where Mariko demostrates her Aikido prowess, which became a vehicle for Wolvie and Mariko to really connect. Alas, that did not happen. As an Aikido-ka, I was hoping that such a scene would really re-invigorate the Aikido community. However, this was completely removed and I ended up thinking “Why are they sleeping with each other?? Did I miss something? Was there a spark of chemistry that I missed because lying in bed together with that lack of chemistry just reminds me of dry sex. ouch.”

    My second greatest dissapointment, as an actor, was that the studios had decided to hire two women with ABSOLUTELY NO ACTING CREDITS OR DISCERNABLE CREDITS. Hence, neither had anything going on upstairs and it was all EMOTE EMOTE EMOTE EMOTE!!! or keeping a stoic face at all times. I will say that bad guy Sanada was EXCELLENT. And to be totally biased, I’d have to give props to Brian for playing a convincing slimey guy in red undies. (and props to my buddy Garrett for a great death-by-Wolvie scene)

    This film had potential, 6 months before they started shooting. In the end, my optimism was dashed to the ground, but at least my friends will have residual checks for the next few years.

    1. Oh, now I’m even more disappointed! Mariko had no agency, and made no decisions throughout the course of the film. It would have been so great to at least see her whoopin’ ass with aikido!

  2. Baby Juke? Is she related to Baby Jinx from “Queen of the Damned”? I guess addressing her as ‘Yukio’ isn’t enough. It would have been more interesting to see more of Mariko’s martial arts prowess. But the way I saw it, her skill with the knives was more of a childhood thing. It felt similar to the khalaripayat training Indian girls get. They are expected to stop when they reach adulthood and act more ‘sensible’. Ironically, I’m kind of glad we didn’t get the usual martial arts training of a white man by an Asian master. Logan’s long history with Japanese was missed. It would have served a good counter-point to Deadpool’s banter in the Origins film. But I think the immediate plot was more important. If we do get a sequel I’d love to see Wolverine try to learn Japanese, or discover he used to speak it fluently.

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