Be careful what you wish for.
We might, for instance, think it’d be nifty to be a little more like Logan, aka Wolverine. The guy’s immortal, for one thing—eternally gifted with youth and energy and bulging biceps. His wounds close faster than an Adam Sandler production of Hamlet, and should he be invited to a cutlery-poor barbecue, he’s never without cutting utensils.
But Logan will tell you that being an immortal Swiss Army Knife isn’t always that nifty. In his immortality, he has watched everyone he loved die. He was even forced to kill the person he loved the most—the beautiful-and-complex Jean Grey. So frustrated is Logan with his lot in life that he’s taken to living in a cave somewhere in the frosty North, far away from anything he might harm, anyone he might hurt.
Still, a guy like Logan can only hide so long.
When a neighboring bear is poisoned by boisterous hunters and left to die, the onetime superhero saunters into town looking for some frontier justice. He finds a hunter at the local watering hole, and during the ensuing mayhem meets a mysterious, sword-wielding, apple-red-haired visitor who promptly chops up some furniture and ushers Logan out of the bar.
The woman’s name is Yokio, and she works for Yashida—a man whom Logan saved during World War II.
Yashida is now the most powerful businessman in Japan. But he’s not “blessed” with Logan’s super skillset, and is therefore old and dying. The tycoon longs to see Logan one last time, and perhaps honor him with one last gift: mortality.
Yashida believes that through the, um, marvel of science, Logan’s abilities can be transferred. And he longs for Wolverine’s powers. Logan? He would receive the gift of living a normal life and dying a normal death.
Maybe that doesn’t sound that nice to you or me, but to Logan—a man who’s been there, done that and has very little in his life to show for it, the offer is indeed tempting.
Be careful what you wish for.
Logan turns down Yashida’s rather morbid offer but gets the “gift” anyway. And he finds that it has its advantages. He takes a shine to Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, with whom he can imagine spending the rest of his life. He helps out folks in a village, not by killing ninjas but by helping clear a tree. He grows tired, enjoying the sensation. And when he’s injured in a battle, he finds that his stubborn wounds require attention—and the kind care of others, something the notorious loner rarely accepts.
“I never needed this before,” he says.
“What,” Mariko asks. “Help?”
He finds pleasure in the simple things that most of us take for granted, and in the companionship that dependence requires. Seeing his joy, we grow to appreciate our own quiet pleasures too.
Logan also finds another, more subtle thing he was lacking: purpose. When he and Yashida are first reintroduced, Yashida calls him a ronin, a samurai without a master—someone who’s run out of things to live for. But through his relationship with Mariko, he rekindles not just a new love of life, but new direction. He’s given a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
And, of course, he does more than just get out of bed. He sacrifices (or shows a willingness to sacrifice) everything for Mariko and her safety. Logan discovers that he’s still a superhero, after all, and not just for his new dearly beloved. Eventually he understands that the rest of the world could use his services too.
Yokio can “see” how people will die. And Logan sometimes longs for death, where he believes he’ll join Jean Grey in some sort of afterlife. Yashida’s funeral is a Buddhist ceremony.
Mariko’s would-be future husband (a politician) dances, flirts and caresses two women—and all three wear revealing underwear and lingerie. “I thought being engaged meant you were done with this bulls‑‑‑,” Logan growls.
Logan, in an effort to keep Mariko safe, checks them both into a “love hotel” filled with themed rooms. They’re given a choice of “Dungeon, Nurse’s Office or Mission to Mars.” They choose the Mars room, which contains a round, rotating bed and various sci-fi accoutrements. Mariko sleeps while Logan stands guard all night. But later, the two do apparently sleep together. Mariko adjusts Logan’s kimono before they kiss. The camera returns later to find them lying together—Logan shirtless at the very least, Mariko wearing a thin-strapped nightgown. Speaking of going shirtless, Wolverine, as he is wont to do, goes without his for quite some time in various scenes, showing off his aforementioned bulging biceps and hyper-chiseled abs.
Mariko also smooches an old boyfriend. Another woman injects something into Logan’s system by way of a kiss. Logan has visions of lying next to Jean Grey (who wears a lacy, cleavage-revealing nightgown). A female mutant with snake-like powers dresses in revealing, curve-hugging getups.
Wolverine has long been one of Marvel’s darker superheroes—an antihero, really, with few qualms about killing his big, bad adversaries. So while both Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel technically have bigger body counts, the violence in The Wolverine is more visceral, and it can be bloodier as well.
Logan takes a lot of abuse here. And because he’s mortal for much of the movie, some of that abuse is life-threatening. He’s shot several times, necessitating a secret trip to a vet to remove the slugs. We see the bloody blooms on his shirt and the stitches used to close up the wounds. But even the injuries he receives when he’s unkillable are far from painless: He’s shot and stabbed and cut almost clean through. He falls from huge heights and is shot full of harpoon-like arrows. Present at Nagasaki during the atomic blast, he shields one of his captors and has his skin almost burned off. (We see him covered in blisters and burns before he begins to heal.)
[Spoiler Warning] Wolverine cuts open his own chest to remove a mysterious parasite on his heart. He reaches into the gaping wound (out of the frame) and spends a good deal of time rooting around inside. Later we see the horrific cut and Logan’s blood-soaked hand.
The snake-like mutant (Viper) sometimes slices people across the neck and face with her sharp nails. She exhales poison, which sometimes infects the fresh incisions and almost always causes victims’ faces to mottle horribly. Viper also kills people by kissing them.
Logan stabs a man’s hand with an arrow. (We see the projectile pinning the appendage to a table.) He’s stabbed Jean Grey in a dream. (We see his embedded claws and her bloody nightgown.) In a fight atop a bullet train, he tricks an assailant into hopping up—just in time to get crushed by an overhead sign. Several people fall out of the train. Others are hurled from balconies and precipices.
People who are hurt and killed via bullet, blade and arrow. Corpses lie around. In flashback, Nagasaki is shown in ruins. A man slaps his daughter. We see training skirmishes. A bear lies dying with an arrow embedded in its body. (Logan kills the beast to put it out of its misery.)
One f-word and four or five s-words. A smattering of other profanities includes “b‑‑ch,” “d‑‑n” and “h‑‑‑.” God’s name is misused once or twice.
We see people drinking in bars and such. Logan asks if he can buy a hunter a drink: He then stabs the man’s hand with an arrow and pours the drink over the wound. Champagne bottles lay on an apartment floor. A beer bottle is chopped in half.
Mariko and Logan loiter at a vacation home Yashida built near Nagasaki—the same place where he might’ve met a nuclear end had Logan not saved his life. It’s a beautiful, quaint village, full of laughing children and shading trees. Less than 70 years before, it had been a wasteland. Yashida built his place there to remind him and his family of something important.
“Everything in the world finds peace,” Mariko quotes her grandfather. “Eventually.”
The Wolverine is about Logan’s own quest for peace—and he does eventually find that peace can only be found in purpose. While the quiet life holds some appeal to him, he knows his life probably doesn’t point that way.
And that means we, as moviegoers, don’t get a lot of peace in the process.
The Wolverine is one of the better films to come out of Marvel’s cinematic X-Men franchise. It’s also one of the most violent. From beginning to end, we see people killed and maimed as havoc and horror rains down on Japan. It’s just as frenetic as you’d expect from the genre and perhaps more grotesque than you’d hope.
Granted, not a lot of folks go to a movie like The Wolverine for the tranquility of it all. Fans of the franchise will likely feel this is a welcome and worthy addition to the canon. Some might even go so far as to say they’ve been wishing for a film just like this to be made.
Be careful what you wish for.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.