Night before last, we had offered to take our granddaughter to a movie theatre across town to meet a friend, and then pick her up when the movie was over. It seemed to make more sense to just go see a movie ourselves than to make the trip twice, so I looked to see what was playing. The only thing that was even remotely interesting to me was Wolverine but I had seen some discouraging reviews somewhere or other, so I wasn't too enthusiastic. I decided to check around anyway and the first review I found was this positive one by Steve Greydanus in National Catholic Register. He mentioned Goodness, Truth, and Beauty (three of my favorite things), and said it wasn't a great movie, but that it was a good one, so off to Wolverine we went, and I was pleasantly surprised.
I hesitate a bit to try to write about the movie for two reasons. One is that I'm pretty sure that most of my readers don't know much about the X-Men or the back-story that's more or less necessary to understand what's going on. The other is that what I'm writing about is serious, but the movie is, after all, a movie based on a comic book about superhuman mutants, and you will quickly see that some of the things that I have to include are going to make it hard to take me seriously. Still, I'm going to try. I'm going to say as little as possible about the plot of the movie (although there will be some slight, necessary spoilers) and only discuss the aspects of the film that I found remarkable—remarkable in the sense that it was unusual enough to be worthy of note.
Before I start, I guess I ought to say that Wolverine's particular mutation is that although he can be wounded and feel the pain, his body immediately heals itself, so he is, as far as we can tell, immortal. He also has long “adamantium” claws which project and retract like a cats—thus Wolverine.
As the movie begins, Logan (the X-Man known as Wolverine) is a man with a wounded heart. He is overcome by guilt arising from the fact that he had to kill the woman he loved to keep her from destroying the world. This broken heart has broken him, and robbed him of the strength he needs to be the soldier he once was, and of his will to live—which you can see is an especially difficult problem in his case.
Soon, a rather unusual messenger, Yukio, arrives with a summons from a man whose life Logan saved during World War II, and he reluctantly agrees to go. The man, Yashida, who is dying from cancer, offers Logan a gift—death. He says that his doctor has discovered a way to transfer Logan's immortality to another person. Logan doesn't answer at that time, and later wakes from a strange dream to find that the old man has died.
At the funeral, a sort of gang breaks in and tries to kidnap Yasida's granddaughter, Mariko, who is also his heir. Logan naturally gets involved in the brawl that ensues, and manages to save Mariko, but in the process receives several wounds that do not heal. He knows that the old man's doctor has done something to weaken him, but he doesn't know what.
Eventually, we find that a small robotic device is attached to his heart, inhibiting his healing power. And this is what I thought was so great about the movie, that the writer or the director or whoever made this connection between the wound in Logan's body and the wound in his soul. Logan removes the invading device by a means which I won't reveal (but Mr. Greydanus does) and for a moment dies. And it's at this moment that he makes a decision for life and both his physical and spiritual wounds are healed. This just wasn't something I expected in an X-Men movie.
The scene reminded me in a way of the undragoning of Eustace, or even more of the man in The Great Divorce who has the nasty reptile on his shoulder whispering foul things into his ear. The difference, though, is that while both Eustace and the man in The Great Divorce are helpless to heal themselves, Logan is able to do it under his own power. Wolverine isn't a Christian movie, but it is a moral movie, even if it's the morality of a virtuous pagan.
At one point in the movie, Logan confronts Mariko's fiance, who is cavorting with a couple of scantily-clad women. He says something like, “I thought you were engaged. Isn't it time to be giving up this sort of thing?” Again, for an X-Men movie, it's a seriously moral comment. The movie isn't completely virtuous in this area. Logan and Muriko do make love, but it is that and not the hideous hooking-up that we are becoming used to, and we aren't made to watch.
Another strength of this movie, and I think that this is generally true about super-hero movies, is that there is no blurring of good and evil. The doctor who implants the robotic device is a female mutant. She's slinky, she's sinuous, and eventually, she's scaly. Viper is a cross between the femme fatale in a 40s detective movie and the Prince of Darkness. There's no question which side she is on. On the other hand, Logan has a sort of guardian angel cum ninja on his side. Yukio, the young woman who originally summons him to meet Yashida, appoints herself his bodyguard. She knows when he's in danger and she's pretty good at fighting the foe.
I've seen Hugh Jackman play Wolverine in at least two other movies, and I haven't been too impressed one way or the other. He was competent as Wolverine, but he didn't strike me as a great actor. He was very good in this movie, though, and I almost wonder if the role wasn't somehow informed by his very excellent performance as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. It might be that, or it might be that this movie was as much drama as it was a showcase for martial arts, CGI and special effects. In fact, although there was a certain amount of all three of those, there was notably less than usual.
I wrote this review because I really liked the movie. I especially like movies (and books and music) that might be secular, but which have a subtle dose of eternal verities. I never know for sure whether the artists responsible for the film have the vaguest notion what they are revealing, or whether the Truth is so powerful that it just reveals itself without their knowledge. But the fact that I like it so much doesn't necessarily mean that I would recommend it. If you are familiar with the X-Men saga, you would almost certainly like it. If you aren't, it pretty much depends on what you expect from a film or for how long you can suspend your perception of reality.
But I really like it.