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.
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