Adaptation movies are such balancing acts, especially with comic book movies. Alienate the fans, and the negative backlash on the geek sites will wash you away. But the superfans alone do not bring in the box office numbers (just look at Joss and Serenity) so you can’t hew too close to the source if it means the movie will suck. A movie like The Wolverine, which covers some of the bases in a specific Wolvie mini-series (by Frank Miller no less, talk about a signal to the superfans) and you’ve got trouble.
It’s tough to look back now and judge that Claremont/Miller Wolverine storyline. There’s a ton of love for it, but when reading it now, it seems like pure 80s Japanophile cheese. It’s high art for a 1982 comic book, but I had to laugh when I read complaints about how the movie was such an over-the-top Japan fanboy wank. Source material’s got ya beat there, guy.
As for the movie, it’s got the important parts from that storyline, necessarily modified to fit the X-Men movie universe, including the fact that it’s now 30 years past when that was written. We see Wolverine in WWII, captured by the Japanese in Nagasaki, just as the atomic bomb is being dropped. He saves the life of a young officer who declines to commit seppuku and moves on. In the present, we see a haunted Logan living in the wilderness, seeing Jean Grey in his nightmares calling him to her. He is ready to die, but he can’t. He tracks down a hunter who shot a bear with a poisoned arrow (as in the comic) that went on a rampage when he is found by Yukio. Yukio takes him to Japan to pay respects to the man he saved, Yashida, as he is about to die. Turns out the old man has a proposal – he has developed a process to extract Logan’s mutant healing factor and transfer it. Logan declines to participate, but he gets caught up in Yashida’s world, most notably when he stops Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko from jumping off a cliff.
From there, the movie advances through some eye-roll inducing (but still sort of funny) ‘foreigner in a strange land’ moments with Logan and Mariko as he rescues her from an assassination attempt and flees her grandfather’s funeral. They bond, but Logan is weakened from some sort of mechanical parasite implanted in him by Viper, a mutant scientist working for Yashida. It surpresses his healing ability somewhat (I mean, he still gets riddled with bullets and survives) but it levels the playing field for a while. Mariko is taken, and that leads to the final battle between Wolverine and the Silver Samurai. Well, more like Adamantium Samurai but that doesn’t sound as good.
I enjoyed the movie, but then I enjoyed the last Wolverine movie more than most. There’s a few things I didn’t see coming, and I genuinely liked both of the female leads (for Yukio and Mariko). I like how they didn’t create a love triangle as in the comic, but there was an understated “Why does he keep running after her when I’m right here?” look Yukio gives Logan a few times. It felt more realistic to me, especially in the compressed timeframe of the movie. There are a few eye-roll moments as I mentioned, and the shaky-cam sequence is just as jarring as everyone says. I get that it’s probably to illustrate just how off Logan is while his healing factor is out of whack, but it was tough to watch. Thankfully it’s pretty short. Viper was lame. Wish there could’ve been a real “Wolverine destroys a ton of ninjas” scene. Stay until the mid-credits scene, if you are curious about Days of Future Past.