Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"The Wolverine": Of Dark Roads, Monsters And Men

"The great battle, I always thought with Wolverine, is the battle within himself."  - Hugh Jackman, aka Wolverine


Since the disastrous events at the end of the last X-Men film, Logan (aka Wolverine) has retreated into the woods, living a life of solitude among the another animals. His past haunts him every night as the ghost of the woman he both loved and killed lingers. He's a Ronin, a samuri without a master and thus without a cause. Even worse, he's basically immortal, and the events of the past promise a future full of ruin and despair.

I left The Wolverine with mixed emotions (you'll see why in a moment). I ran an early version of my review past a good friend, Karl Meszaros, who has made appearances on this blog before. He knows the Marvel mythology behind Wolverine far better than I do, and he completely disagreed with my reaction to the film. Rather than rewriting my review, I have decided to post both: my response as a casual fan of the X-Men movies, and his insight as a follower of the Wolverine mythos for quite some time.

Perhaps our opposite reactions are inevitable considering the difference in knowledge about the story; perhaps we simply bring the very disparate circumstances that formed our lives into our analysis. After you have read these two perspectives, I'm interested hearing your response. 



The Wolverine is a movie about man as animal, a story of what happens to people in a world without hope and purpose. On the one hand, it could be seen as a morality tale in which we see the horror of despair, anarchy, and greed. On the other hand, it could be seen as a morally ambiguous homage to a superhero who deserves to be admired for his bravery and little else.  I'm afraid it's the latter.

Don't misunderstand: I want Wolverine on my side. He's fearless, unstoppable, and dedicated to protecting those in his care. He's a wolverine, and that's an animal you want fighting with you.  Even when he knows he could die, he continues to fight for those who need his protection. Shoot, the most horrible form of open heart surgery I can imagine barely slowed him down.

The problem with animals is that they are ruled by instinct, not morality and reason. Wolverine sleeps with the daughter of a a former peer, a young, vulnerable girl whom he barely knows, and who is a child compared to him. He tortures people; he finds great satisfaction in revenge and little remorse in unleashing his inner beast. "What kind of monster are you?" asks one terrified man. "A Wolverine," he growls. We all cheer.

But I'm not sure if we, the audience, were actually supposed to cheer for Logan or not. He is fighting some really horrible people, so...yes? But he's a samuri without a master, an unleashed animal with a keen sense of justice but a poor understanding of morality and honor...so, no?  As I understand it, in the comic book arc, he eventually looks back on these days with regret. I think the movie buried that important point beneath impressive displays of valor and chiseled abs.  The problem with heroism is that people can fight brilliantly and passionately for great causes while failing to display genuine goodness in the midst of an evil world. 

There's a lot I like about Wolverine. He can't seem to walk away from injustice, and nothing deters him. He's Jack Reacher with claws and virtual immortality. I just wish his moral compass was more encompassing, his newly acquired sense of purpose had a deeper foundation than a fleeting romantic fling, and a light other than the gleam of berserker rage could shine into the the darkness of his soul. 

My comic book friends tell me that, in the world of Marvel Comics, Wolverine eventually become the conscience of the X-Men, warning them not to go down the "dark road" he was once on.  That's a great story. Too bad only one chapter made it into this movie. As I see it, The Wolverine entertains us with a story about the very road we ought to avoid.


I completely and respectably disagree with Anthony.  Since I started reading comics in the 8th grade, Wolverine has been my favorite hero. I’ve always seen myself in him: my height, my temper, and my lack of fear when facing daunting odds. Life was not easy for me, but I learned how to face it head-on.

With that being said, I believe him to be the best and greatest of the superheroes. I also think he is far more morally admirable then, say, Superman or Spiderman for one key reason: choice. All the really good superheroes were raised in an environment saturated with good influences. Superman had great parents on Krypton and on Earth.  Spiderman had Aunt May and Uncle Ben.  Captain America was raised in a clean, patriotic time.  Even Batman was raised by Alfred and the memory of his saintly parents.  They were conditioned to be good people;  in spite of challenges, goodness was kind of the default position. All the odds were stacked in their favor.

Wolverine, on the other hand, has at least two strikes against him: he has an animal nature, and he was raised in a living Hell. He was horribly exploited by those who trained him to be a savage killer (this was covered in the previous movie).  He has no reason to do anything good.  Both nature and nurture did their best to bring him down. He should be a scarier version of Hannibal Lector. However, he chooses a different path. He goes with Xavier because he sees it as the right thing to do.  I think that makes him great.

This part of Wolverine resonates with me. You and my wife, for example, were raised to be Christians.  I and my friends were raised to be agnostic or atheist.  I should have ended up something other than Christian, but I chose the Christian path in spite of where I was raised to go. It’s why that recent Mike Tyson interview nearly brought me to tears. Tyson has had serious issues, but I love a guy who admits he is broken and works hard to fix himself. What’s to fix about Superman? He is nothing more than an automaton doing what he was programmed to do.

The main reason people look at Wolverine differently is that he kills - brutally, with claws. However, I have no issue with him killing people in the heat of battle when they are trying kill an innocent person. Isn't that what the police sometimes need to do?

Think of it this way: how would the kidnapping scene have turned out if Batman had tried to intervene? He would not have had time to suit up, because Batman doesn’t come out in the day. In effect, Bruce Wayne would choose hiding his identity over protecting an innocent.  Even if he made it into costume, Batman would spend his time trying to merely subdue the thugs, sparing their lives while risking the girl's life.  When Logan talks to Jean about why he killed her, he is absolutely right. - he had to do it. She was killing people, and he was the only one of the X-Men who had the guts to do what was right.

As for Wolverine's relationship with the girl, I didn't like that they had sex outside of marriage, but I don't agree with your criticism of the relationship itself. No matter who he is with, there will always be a massive age difference because he's basically immortal. However, we want Wolverine to fall in love.  It’s dangerous if he stops loving others because of his age, or because he knows he will lose someone yet again as she dies and he does not. You don't want him to check out when it comes to compassion and love for others, even if he goes about it poorly.*

I found Wolverine in this movie to be honorable.
  • In the beginning, he is hiding in the woods because he believes himself to be a danger to others. When he finds the poisoned bear, his sense of right and wrong compels him to hunt down the cruel hunter.  
  • He hates his immortality and believes it a curse, yet he hangs on to it because he feels it’s his cross to bear. 
  • He gets involved with the girl when he stops her from jumping off a cliff.  At that point he had barely seen her face. He can’t stand to see evil happen -  not because he was raised that way, but because he knows it’s wrong.
  • When he loses his healing power, he fights on without flinching. He embraces the human condition, which means he has now experienced the fears of the people for whom he fights. He understands what it's like to think he might die - and is so doing discovers what it's like to truly live a life of self-sacrifice.
  • In the end, he re-enters the world as a better man - and hero - because he has found his purpose again: he is a soldier, and he must fight against evil even as he fights the darkness within his own nature. He's not perfect, but he's trying - and learning. That's what heroes do.

*And is the age difference in The Wolverine really that much different than The Lord of the Rings? Aragorn marries an Elf who is hundreds of years older than himself.  If he had married a human woman, he would have been older than her grandfather. It's part of the tragedy of fantasy or mythological love stories.


  1. Wolverine is not an anti-hero. To me Wolverine is one of the most "human" comic book heroes that exists. He appeals to a wide audience because although he makes some bad choices, he struggles with those choices and they usually come back to haunt him. Despite his past, he is always trying to do better or be greater. He loves, he loses, he fights to control his temper, he feels pain, and yet he must go on. We empathize with Logan I think, and we feel he would empathize with us as well. He's the hero that does what needs to be done (what Superman or even Batman would never do), he get's his hands dirty. At the end of the day he's one of the few heroes that would sit down next to you, put his arm around you, hand you a beer and smile as the sun hit his face. Wolverine would never want to be admired or looked up to. He's simply the best he is at what he does, and what he does isn't very nice.

  2. That phrase is the perfect Wolverine phrase. It's an admission that he was built for mayhem. It's also an acknowledgement that thing he was designed for is not a good thing.

  3. While I understand and love it when a bad guy is fighting fot a good cause...
    I would vote for Anthony's view.."the lack of goodness in an evil world", needs to be looked at.
    Yes he overcame odds and yes he chose to fight and defend for good causes..but that doesn't make him my hero....

  4. We just saw this movie last night. I fall somewhere between the both of your views and "meh", but I will say that one of the things that really bugged me was Wolverine's fury and indignation at the woman's fiance, who he caught in a rather compromising situation. Is the man a scumbag as Wolverine claims? Obviously. But Wolverine himself just came from the house where he slept with the same man's fiance. Not really batting a thousand in the judgement department, Logan.

    (I also wish they would have followed up on the claim that the men from the bar would die in a car crash without Wolverine's help. They spoke about it more than once in the film, there should have been some resolution--preferably with Wolverine having mercy on them and saving them, BUT WHATEVER. I'm not bitter)

  5. Good review, one of the best I`ve read lately. I agree with Ruth`s comment!