Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Ladies of the Wolverine

This post is a part of my summer blockbuster series. I'll be tagging the whole thing as 2013 blockbusters.

Somehow the new X-Men movie, The Wolverine, totally slipped under the radar for me. I didn't even know it was coming out this summer until Ronald got passes to a free screening last Tuesday (and we were turned away because it was too popular.) So we waited for it to come out this weekend and I was pleasantly surprised, especially after crapfest that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. As Ronald wrote on his Facebook, "The Wolverine is the kind of movie the character deserves. Apology accepted, 20th Century Fox."

Aside from being a generally enjoyable X-Men film, the movie actually contained interesting, important women! Who interacted with each other! And had a friendship not related to any of the men involved!

Of course, the main story line and plot center around Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). That isn't surprising; it's his movie. But the interesting fact is that he is surrounded by women who fight along side him, threaten him as a villain, or plague his mind. Let's take a closer look at each of them. As always, this may get a little spoiler-y. I'm only going to focus on the female characters but some of the plot may be revealed in doing that.

[Image text: the four women of The Wolverine: Yukio, Viper, Mariko, and Jean Gray]

1. Jean Gray: If you've been keeping up with these films, you know that at the end of X3, Wolverine has to kill Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) because she went all evil and was destroying everything. I often write about how I see this moment as the prototypical example of a powerful women who can't handle their power in action movies. In The Wolverine, Jean Gray is back, but only as a figment of Wolverine's nightmares/dreams (or at least it seems that way...) While she plays an important role in helping us, as the audience, see what's going on with Wolverine now, she's the weakest female character in the film, which makes sense since she only exists inside Wolverine's mind. Oh well, you can't win them all...

2. Yukio: The first living woman we meet in the film is Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who is sent to bring Wolverine to Japan under the pretense of saying goodbye to a dying Japanese man, Yashida, who he saved during WWII. Right off the bat, we can see that Yukio isn't to be messed with. She has superior fighting skills, shows no fear in the face of danger, and has her own mutation. She can see the future, usually people's deaths before they happen.

Throughout the course of the film, Yukio is frequently at Wolverine's side. In fact, during one of the most tense sections, he is very vulnerable and she helps defend and save him. Yukio is also very important because she is best friends/adoptive sisters with Mariko (Tao Okamoto). This type of connection between women, let alone one that exists completely independent of the men in the film, is sadly rare in action flicks. It was great to see.

3. Mariko: In addition to holding the special friendship with Yukio, Mariko is another strong woman. She is the granddaughter of Yashida and she is consistently portrayed as ethical, smart, kind, and she can even hold her own in a fight when necessary. She was picked over her father to inherit Yashida's fortune. Inevitably, she is saved by Wolverine a few times, but that doesn't mean that she is defenseless. In fact, in the final battle scene, Mariko assists Wolverine in a few critical ways, which leads to their ultimate victory.

Mariko does also become Wolverine's temporary love interest--but rather than filling this role to be sexualized, I feel that their relationship is intended to humanize Wolverine and help him process the feelings he is still having about Jean.

4. Viper: The final woman in the film is Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who we first meet as Yashida's oncologist. We later learn that she is a mutant, immune to toxins, who uses them as weapons against others. Her presence in the film isn't essential (honestly, I was confused as to who the "real" villain was and who was working for whom--there's a lot about that stuff that I didn't touch here.) But it was pretty cool that there was a lady villain who posed a real threat to Wolverine (although it was in that sexy-evil way that the franchise so greatly loves with characters like Mystique.)

All in all, I'd say that The Wolverine did a pretty good job of representing women in a film that could have just been a total bro fest. It wasn't perfect, but it did move the needle forward a bit.

Please see the commenting policy before replying to this post.


  1. hello! first of all, i just stumbled across your blog and it's great, so kudos.
    however, i disagree regarding the wolverine's depiction of the above four women.

    jean gray is somewhat forgivable as being purely a device to allow the viewer to understand wolverine's tortured state, because she exists in his brain i.e. he made her up.

    yukio is by far one of the coolest characters i've seen at the cinema this year. however, i feel that the film is incredibly reluctant to allow her any agency - everything is done in half-measures. the incredibly tense scene you were talking about (if i'm thinking of the right one) is flipped halfway through to become a damsel in distress scene, of which, infuriatingly, the film is full of. later she goes from the service of one father-figure to another (albeit willingly).

    mariko is the character i had most issue with, as she felt the most regressive. i thought she was a straw (wo)man of the 'strong woman' trope, but she boiled down into a pawn to be moved in the powerplays of rich men. after a few kidnapping attempts where wolverine jumps to her rescue, the film drops in that she's an expert knife-thrower, as if to convince us that she's 'kick ass' and all that other patronising rhetoric, despite every point in the narrative proving otherwise. narratively, her only role is to a.) humanise wolverine - as you said yourself - and b.) provide justification for wolverine's actions later in the film, a casus belli of sorts.

    and the viper is laughable to the point of pantomime. she comes across as pretty cool, enigmatic and intelligent at first, but quickly descends into snogging the life out of men and donning impractical green costumes straight from the 'silver age' of comics.

    also, all of the japanese men are sly, cunning, evil, cruel, hard, insane, neurotic, and shot through with cowardice. it's up to wolverine to fly in, teach them a lesson, and protect their women. the film, stripped to the bones, is about men fighting other men for women.

    i felt the film, like most superhero films, was so in love with its own main character. he is an icon of (outmoded) nostalgic 'masculinity': quiet, brooding, heterosexual, fiercely protective, a warrior, troubled, loyal. the women (and, for that matter, the japanese men) exist only to bring out these qualities.

    yukio should have her own film - let wolverine slink off into the shadows.

    1. Whilst I agree Yukio could have her own movie and Mariko was a slightly irritating and patronising character lets be realistic here. Not every damn movie is going to have abadass female protagonist who hates cooking, cleaning, the notion of bearing children and crushes all men under her heel. I'm all for women not being treated like sex objects and ornaments all the time but they DO get a fair deal and some credibility in the X Men franchise and you have to allow the dudes their fan service. Pick your battles. Logan as a character embodies masculinity but he is also sensitive, loving and cares about asshole hunters shooting bears with poisoned arrows. In fact he's such a nice protagonist some alpha brahs complain he is emasculated! I think they got the balance right whilst also sidestepping the tricky issue of stereotyping the Japanese.

    2. I agree with the original article (that the female characters are surprisingly well-formed). I also agree with Ebony that Wolverine is not a typical 'masculine' protagonist, at least not in a harmful way (if you watch the X-Men franchise, I would actually argue that he respects women the most out of the X-Men cast. If my brothers and boyfriend treated Logan as their role-model, I would be ecstatic).

      However, I think what is missing from the analysis is what churchatnight brought up: the racism. While the female characters break most stereotypes of 'oriental women,' the male ones do not. I would disagree with Ebony and say the Japanese and Japan WERE stereotyped (Love Hotel, all the talk of 'honor,' etc.).

      I did enjoy the movie, but I do not think these aspects can be ignored. Here is an article that does some critique: http://the-toast.net/2013/08/23/a-conversation-about-the-wolverine/

      Note: I do not agree with the entire article. I think the female-characters were well-formed, and as an Asian American I do not think it is inherently bad for the Japanese characters to share their traditional customs with Wolverine (I do the same with my boyfriend; I consider it a part of sharing my culture and heritage). However, I do see where they are coming from, and I think it is worth noting.

    3. http://the-toast.net/2013/08/23/a-conversation-about-the-wolverine/


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