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The Wolverine vs. Wolverine – the film as adaptation

“The one I’ve wanted to deliver since putting on the claws 13 years ago.”

Hugh Jackman tweeted this one day before The Wolverine opened in US theaters. I was extremely excited to see this film, especially after the X-men Origins debacle. While I enjoyed rereading the 1982 miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller much more than I ended up enjoying the film derived from it, for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. I expected that the film adaptation would take some liberties, and when you compare it to the liberties Fox has taken with the X-men thus far, this HAS to be the closest one to the source material. So I’ve decided to take some of these significant changes and rate each regarding its acceptability. I feel the article addresses flaws in the film whether you’ve read the comics or not, but if you don’t like the phrase “in the comics” then just skip to the end. I promise that this isn’t fanboy hate mail.

More of this, please.

More of this, please.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Jean Grey hallucinations – In the miniseries Wolverine is not mourning Jean Grey’s death (in the comics she has also recently died in the Dark Phoenix Saga). This is because he isn’t the one who killed her like in X-men: The Last Stand. Yet, Wolverine in both texts is questioning his humanity. In the comic, he has a past with Mariko Yashida for whom he feels unworthy. Guilt over killing Jean Grey is an acceptable substitute motivation for feeling a loss of humanity. If only she didn’t show up SIX times! If he hallucinated about her twice, it would have worked fine. But the multitude of times she shows up makes Mariko a rebound girl instead of someone who helps Logan heal. Unacceptable.

The absence of the tryst with Yukio – Dubbed “The Wild One” in the comic, Yukio understands and accepts Logan for his wilder side. She enjoys seeing him cut loose and the two have an affair when Wolverine has hit rock bottom. In the film, Yukio’s admiration for The Wolverine as a warrior is kept intact. But she takes on the role of his little sister, or sidekick, without being sexually attracted to him. This makes perfect sense with the other plot changes in the film and results in a charming Yukio instead of a wild one. Acceptable.

Noburo Mori as fiancé instead of husband – Who cares? Acceptable.

Mariko Yashida as more than damsel in distress – Her attempts to fight off her kidnappers was a nice touch. Acceptable improvement. But I don’t think we needed her to brain her grandfather with Wolverine’s clipped claws. Unacceptably predictable and cliché.

Wolverine as borderline orientalist - In the comics, Wolverine speaks fluent Japanese and has a deep respect for Japanese

Where was this?

Where was this?

culture, even if he doesn’t agree with it. This works because despite his attempts at fitting in, he is, yet again, an outcast. In the film he comes off as ignorant instead of defiant. Slightly unacceptable.

Viper – In Uncanny X-men 172 and 173 Viper is revealed to be the mastermind of the storyline where she tries to take hold of the criminal operation vacated by Shingen through his bastard son, Kenuichio Harada, the Silver Samurai. While it would have been cool to see this character take a more prominent role in the plot of the film, aside from her obnoxious acid spit and going all Shinaide O’Connor, her portrayal didn’t stray far from the comic. Superfluous but acceptable.

Silver Samurai – This is easily the most disappointing adaptation of the film on multiple levels. My fears after seeing visuals of the enormous Silver Samurai were validated. This isn’t Iron Man 4! Why do we need a hulking man in armor with ridiculously large molten swords to present a challenge to Wolverine? In the comics, Silver Samurai possess the power to charge his sword with tachyon energy so that it can slice through anything. I would have much preferred a mystical sword as an adaptation of this ability and I anticipated James Mangold was going in that direction when both Yashida and Yukio use the sword to cut through other metals. Such a sword would have presented an adequate challenge to Wolvie’s adamantium. And did we have to have his claws get chopped off? After the loss of his healing factor was rectified (to be addressed soon), hadn’t we run the course of fretting over Wolverine’s pain? At this point, the entire audience just wants to see Wolverine take down Silver Samurai piece by piece.  Add to that that it’s Yashido in the suit, and it ruins a redeemable character for the sake of a plot twist that everyone saw coming anyway. Unacceptable.

Harada who? What was up with this character? One minute he’s impersonating Hawkeye. The next we find out he’s Mariko’s childhood sweetheart. Then he’s inexplicably getting his face melted by Viper, helps capture Wolverine, and gets pimped by the Silver Samurai. HARADA IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE SILVER SAMURAI! In the comics, Kenuichio Harada is the bastard son of Shingen and challenges Mariko for legitimacy of the family business. The old “bastard son usurping the throne” bit would have been a welcome adaptation to the plot. Throw in the jilted lover for extra measure and he’s got wonderful motivation for kidnapping Mariko and killing Wolverine. Put him in a regular-sized suit (that’s fine if it’s adamantium) and give him a magic sword (or tachyon powers, whatever) and he would have been much more of an interesting villain than the old guy who doesn’t want to die. Seriously. Could there be a less interesting villain than Death Bed Samurai in his adamantium-lung? (See how that was a pun on iron lung?) UNACCEPTABLE.

Shingen as a meany-mean daddy. In the comics, Shingen has rebuilt the family as a crimelord. It’s difficult to interpret if that is how he keeps the company out of ruin and why he has all the body guards. But he is a heartless father and does consider Wolverine to be nothing more than an animal. That’s right from the pages. But he too gets lost in the shuffle, whereas my version of the script puts him right in the middle of it. He would genuinely want Mariko back so he can marry her off. He would also want to not only to remove Wolverine from the equation but embarrass him. The fight between Wolverine and Shingen in the film is underplayed. I was most disappointed when it didn’t include the classic jumping-opponents-who-both-strike-a-blow-before-they-land-but-one-falls-a-second-later-finale that is in the comics and every awesome ninja movie. (Sorry, that was almost as many hyphens as Jean Grey hallucinations!) Shingen should have played a larger role in the film instead of Depends Samurai. Unacceptable.

Failing healing factor. Not only was this irresponsibly inconsistently applied in the film, it was just uninteresting. Never once was the audience actually concerned that Wolverine was going to die. At most we were annoyed that he was limping. Unnecessary.

While that seems like a lot of “unacceptable” ratings, I found the movie as a whole to be acceptable. They got some of the basics right. Wolverine is grasping at what is left of his humanity. Wolverine battles countless ninjas and opens a can of Butt-kick Cola. Mostly it just felt underwhelming and overcomplicated. If there were less pieces on the board, it could have been so much better. If you want to know how much better, read Wolverine 1-4 by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.

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I've been a comic nerd since the Super Friends and Spider-man and his Amazing Friends. I prefer the original Star Wars, the BBC Sherlock, and any version of Kirk under 40. Above all else, well-written characters matter. But I'm also a sucker for literary allusion.