So, THE WOLVERINE? It’s Hugh Jackman, a big hairy beefcake of a guy dispatching bad guys with his shirt off (and if we’re lucky, as we have been several times now in the franchise, naked for some of the movie as well).

I’m sold.

Let’s face it, Wolverine aka Logan is yet another caricature of a male “hero”, super or not. He’s a lone wolf (check); bad tempered (check). Already a mutant (check), he’s genetically modified AS WELL (check)! He’s got a tortured past AND for some of the installments, amnesia as well (check check). He’s good looking, white, sexually alluring (CHECK CHECK CHECK).

In addition to ALL of the above, Logan has a habit of getting his friends and lovers killed so he can swear revenge whilst cradling their bodies and yelling “Nooooooooooooooooooo ….!” Yep; you guessed it: CHECK. Oh and he’s American. Well actually Australian. But Jackman’s **pretending** to be an American, c’mon. Also: CHEEEEECCCCCK. [Whoops! Marauding Geeks on social media have since informed me Logan is supposed to be Canadian. Whatevs. It’s next to America. Innit. And also: Jackman’s still Australian. So there. Moving on!]

So, you would be forgiven for thinking THE WOLVERINE was yet another vehicle for showcasing Jackman flexing his hairy muscles and dispatching yet more bad guys in various locations in various ways. And really, if it was, why not? We were essentially treated to the full-blown version of the flashback sequences in X2 in the subsequent WOLVERINE: ORIGINS and everybody still watched that, despite effectively knowing how the story worked out already. Cos, y’know. Wolverine is well ‘ard. And bloody gorgeous. Even I watched it. I’m not ashamed (OK, a little bit: I’m weak!).

So basically, no one was more surprised than me when I took my Male Spawn to see the movie for his birthday and I actually liked it on a story and character level. WTF?

From its opening at Nagasaki in WW2 moments before the atom bomb hits, it’s clear we’re dealing with something quite different to the incarnations of Wolverine we’ve seen before. It’s not Logan’s response to the incoming terror we are privy to, but the Japanese soldiers’ as they prepare to commit Harikari and the American POWs’ as they race off fruitlessly into the distance; this is watched by Logan impassively from his solitary confinement.

What’s more, the tragic Jean Grey is also part of the narrative: the voice of Logan’s conscience, she chides Logan throughout for his (unwilling) role in her death in the previous movies and invites him to “join” her, providing an intriguing sub plot that gives us an insight to Logan’s state of mind, making him “more” than just the beast that is Wolverine.

What is perhaps most interesting about THE WOLVERINE is its similarity to the first X MEN in terms of theme, however.

The X MEN franchise with all its talk of mutants, segregation and “you people” is a well meaning, but somewhat inelegant metaphor for an anti-racism message. Why? Because of the lack of diversity of the cast in the franchise! Now, the diversity of the comic book characters may well have been better (I’ve never read them), but for every prominent black X Men character in the movies – I’m thinking principally Storm here, played by Halle Berry – there’s countless white X Men: even mutants as diverse as Mystique, Nightcrawler and Beast (who are all blue) are played by white actors.

And THE WOLVERINE does indeed have some anti-racist moments, most typically embodied in the character of Mariko’s father, who rejects Wolverine at the funeral on the basis of just being a mutant. But I would venture it’s not the anti-racism theme of X MEN that THE WOLVERINE has in common, but the one of anti-rape … But how?

Well, for this we must travel back and take another look at the first movie, principally the character of Marie aka Rogue, played by Anna Paquin.

There are some artful misdirects in X MEN. We are invited to think the movie is about Logan, when in reality it’s very much about Marie and her journey. We even meet Logan via her eyes at the bar. Isolated and conflicted, Marie has run away from home; she’s trying to escape her amazing power, which no one really knows what is for. She is lost and vulnerable; she doesn’t know what to do with herself – a great metaphor for burgeoning womanhood.

Logan is essentially Marie’s older brother, counselling her to go back to Xavier and to let him help her. However, because of those misdirects mentioned previously, we are as surprised as Wolverine in the train: he demands to know what Magneto wants with him and he replies, “What makes you think I want you?” before the camera’s gaze falls on Marie instead.

Magneto’s Evil Plan is basically to turn the whole world into a mutant – and he needs Rogue’s curious ability to absorb other mutants’ powers to fuel it. Rogue will most likely die from the sheer velocity of the machine, but in his arrogance and thirst for power, Magneto does not care. He will use a young girl for his own ends, just like a rapist; throwing her away when he is done.

This notion of “taking what you what” from someone without their permission underscores the whole of the first movie, too: Magneto’s dark desire is contrast against Rogue’s need to “borrow” Logan’s healing power when he accidentally stabs her. Though she almost kills Logan, she has no choice – or she herself will die. They are, in effect, even; neither holds it against the other and their brother/sister relationship, if anything, is strengthened.

In the same way then, THE WOLVERINE mines this theme, by ensuring Logan mirrors Rogue’s journey from the first movie. He too is lost and vulnerable, unsure of what to do with himself. His immortality has become a burden. And like Rogue has her power misused against her permission, Wolverine’s is stolen from him not once, but twice: first by Viper and her curious technology, then again via his adamantium claws. Logan even says, “I feel violated” after his hair is cut and he is washed and scrubbed, before he is permitted to see Yashida on his deathbed.

Like many heroes, Logan is looking for death, which he must confront before embracing life again. It is the “why” of that confrontation that sets THE WOLVERINE apart from many others of its ilk. We can invest in Logan’s journey by understanding his state of mind: as Yukio says, he is a soldier. It’s his choice, no one else’s, if and when he dies – and NO ONE will take that away from him.


Though male heroes are frequently tortured individuals with tragic backstories in movies, true vulnerability is not something we often see as they are presented as being too “exceptional” or “strong”. But THE WOLVERINE is proof that even a caricature of a superhero can be rebooted effectively in an interesting and unusual way, providing character motivation and theme is explored.

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2 Responses to The Powerful Feminist Theme Of THE WOLVERINE

  1. Mike says:

    Magneto, acting like a rapist? There are no anti-rape themes in X-Men any of the X-Men spin offs. It’s pro hero, but not anti rape. Rape is a very specific action, and using it in the figurative sense is not justified here. Surely, there is a certain power structure surrounding and dominating the act of rape, but rape is purely, in our post-modern present English understanding, the act of forcefully, without consent, having intercourse with someone.

    However, the power structure that exists between Logan, Rogue, Magneto, and the intentions behind the character-you hit right on the head. However, I have a difficult time believing that Logan stands for anti-rape just as alluding to the notion that Magneto means rape. I’m curious, and would certainly like to see, you write further evidence for this, as I find it interesting. Is the the hetrosexuality component of it (domineering male versus innocent female)?

    I think deeper reading into the Logan/Wolverine character will reveal that, based off of the source materials that movies use, he speaks frequently in a tongue in cheek manner. Furthermore, Logan is a bit of an anti-hero, but still seems to possesses the moral qualities that make him, in our eyes, “one of the good guys.” By your critical analysis, we’d have to state that many films that portray a dominant male protagonist, a vicious antagonist, and an at risk for abuse female, especially where the protagonist and female bond, are part of the rape-brother-sister-protection power structure.

    Interesting blog post!

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Hi Mike, glad you thought the post was interesting. Yes, I’m talking metaphorically and I feel it’s justified for 2 reasons:

      1) According to its dictionary definition, the word “rape” has no less than 8 variations and whilst most relate to forcible intercourse or “despoiling”, the last definition is “to seize, take, or carry off by force.” Rogue’s power and Wolverine’s power are both seized by force: Rogue’s by Magneto, Wolverine’s by Viper/Yashida. So no, I don’t feel it necessarily has to be a gender issue.

      2) When it comes to theme, I think it’s principally about creating one’s own meaning from a work – ergo, if “you” see it, it’s there (and if you don’t, it’s not). So whilst I might see this theme, another audience member – ie. you – may see something quite different. Who is right? Neither of us; both of us. More details here on my thoughts on theme as a whole here:

      Thanks! 😀

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