I was first introduced to Wolverine through the early 1990s X-Men: The Animated Series. I thought he had the coolest mutant power and loved how he always did what he thought was best (even if Cyclopes hated the idea). The first comic book I bought was Wolverine (issue #67, "Valley O'Death!"). When X-Men: Children of the Atom came out in arcades, I spent countless hours (and quarters) mastering Wolverine’s “berserker barrage”. Looking back, Wolverine was an essential ingredient in my origin story as a geek.
Did my nostalgia for Wolvie set me up for unrealistic expectations for his new movie, The Wolverine? Nope, his last solo adventure, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was so bad that it completely destroyed any hope I had of seeing a good Wolverine story on the big screen. I went into this film expecting nothing.
To my surprise, I enjoyed a lot of The Wolverine. It was refreshing to see a movie take place entirely in Japan (with a little bit of Canada) and feature a predominantly Asian cast. Compared to the rest of this summer’s genre films, The Wolverine has better representation of women (3 female leads who speak to each other and kick ass). It met the needs of fans by including major threads from the comics while also making the movie accessible to anyone who hasn't seen a X-Men film.
What I enjoyed most was Logan’s internal struggle. His mutant power is superhuman healing. Combine that with an adamantium reinforced skeleton and our hero is nearly indestructible. The film explores how such abilities impact Wolverine’s psychology. Since pain and fear have no consequences for him, we see Logan habituate to these feelings. This leads Logan to become impulsive, quickly reacting to threats without any concern about what might happen to him (because nothing ever happens to him). Since Wolverine is constantly losing those he loves (because he outlives them), his only source of meaning is his quest for enduring justice. This film challenges Logan by stripping him of his purpose in life. Seeing Wolverine go through this as a psychological ronin gave the film surprising depth and reminded me of some of the ideas raised in Viktor Frankl’s seminal work - Man’s Search for Meaning .
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is shallow. The villains bored me (I've been spoiled by Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison from Star Trek Into Darkness). Besides one fight on a train, the action was uninspired. Remember that epic Wolverine/samurai battle you played out in your head as a kid? Yeah, it never happens.
It's sad that this film will be mostly remembered for its post-credits setup for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Wolverine consumed my imagination as a kid and I'd like to see him done with the same attention to detail as my adult obsession - Batman. That probably won't happen anytime soon. I'll just wait for the next X-Men movie, for which I now have enormously inflated fanboy expectations.