"The Wolverine" isn't just another stand alone movie. Following the disastrous "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," it's a complete tonal overhaul, with the property being rebuilt almost from the ground up. While there might be traces of the character's 'X'-past, particularly in the somewhat-garbled third act, there is still a very clear attempt to remake the character inside a more atmospheric, emotionally rich context. That, coupled with the movie's welcome change in scenery (it's set mostly in Japan), makes it a very, very different X-perience than you're used to. Sure, it has plenty of it's own issues, regardless (you can read our review of the Hugh Jackman movie here), but keeping all this in mind, we thought this would be a good opportunity to run through a list of ten movies that will get you ready for "The Wolverine" - whether literally, spiritually, or thematically, these movies share some mutant DNA with everyone's favorite metallic-clawed hero.
It's important to note that some of these movies don't necessarily explicitly relate to "The Wolverine," but could share certain similarities that are worth noting. The fish-out-of-water concept certainly isn't limited to movies about westerners in Japan (or vice versa) and there are a number of movies that share nothing more than a similarity of mood or texture. The fact that we're able to speak about these different kinds of movies in relationship to a superhero flick is pretty cool, even with the many shortcomings of "The Wolverine."
"Black Rain" (1989)
Ridley Scott's appropriately moody 1989 thriller follows a pair of New York City cops (played by Michael Douglas and a very young Andy Garcia), as they bust a member of the yakuza and transport him back to Japan. Once there, he escapes, and the pair spend the rest of the movie trying to track him down, while uncovering a larger conspiracy and generally pissing off both the Japanese gangsters and the local police force. While it's mostly considered a "minor" work for Scott, it's undoubtedly one of his most stylistically bold; he shoots Japan as if the cluttered, rainy, neon-lit future of "Blade Runner" had suddenly sprung to life. (Scott hated working in Japan, which he found costly and difficult, and vowed never to return. So far, he hasn't, despite having been sent my spec script for "A Good Year 2: Journey To Hokkaido.") "Black Rain" shares with "The Wolverine" a classic fish-out-of-water set-up, its interest in how ancient Japanese culture interacts with modern Japan, and a fetishistic love of Japanese swords (in the movie's most memorable sequence, Garcia is beheaded by a motorcycle-riding yakuza member). It should also be noted that Douglas' feathered hair style (seriously, it's insane), arguably the single most dated thing about the movie, somewhat mirrors Logan's iconic "horns" (which are sadly subdued in this movie). If you can get over the somewhat problematic xenophobia inherent to this kind of movie (it was especially prevalent in the eighties, when America was feeling pretty iffy about Japan), "Black Rain" is a nicely paced, beautifully shot (by Jan de Bont, who lensed "Die Hard" the year before, a movie that oddly enough also concerns Japan) curio from the honorable House of Scott.
"The Last Samurai" (2003)
In "The Last Samurai," Tom Cruise plays a soldier still shaken up from his involvement in the war against the Native Americans, but who accepts an eerily similar job battling samurais in Japan. Do you think he'll gain a better cultural understanding and atone, in some way, for the crimes he committed in America? You better believe he will! Director Edward Zwick ("Legends of the Fall," "Glory") has a flair for filming large-scale battle sequences, and there are a bunch here, although the film's most powerful moment is relatively small scale, when a group of ninjas attack the samurai, scuttling spider-like over pitched rooftops. Like "The Wolverine," "The Last Samurai" concerns a stranger in a strange land -- a man psychologically damaged by the horrors of combat, who is seemingly done with conflict but of course is inexplicably drawn back into it. And both feature a really cool sequence where ninjas are perched on top of rooftops. Also, while we're on the subject of hairstyles, Cruise's flowing locks in "The Last Samurai" are a sight to behold. Who cares if its historically inaccurate, we just want to know the ancient Japanese secret for that conditioner.
The similarities between Roman Polanski's sorely overlooked thriller "Frantic" and "The Wolverine" might not be apparent at first blush, since Polanski's film is a mystery set in Paris and "The Wolverine" is a big time superhero movie set in Japan, but they're there. We promise. Most of the parallels lie in the relationship between the clueless foreigner abroad (Wolverine, Harrison Ford) and his relationship with a comely young woman who aids them in their quest for the truth. Both films have elements of mystery and intrigue, and both lead characters go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of a foreign country. In "Frantic" that role of mysterious and gorgeous ingenue fulfilled by the drop dead gorgeous Emmanuelle Seigner (who Polanski would go on to marry) who wears a lot of leather; in "The Wolverine" it's Tao Okamoto, who wears a lot of kimonos (Rila Fukushima’s character is in the mix too, since she's essentially Wolverine's sidekick). All are exotically beautiful and lead our heroes into both a mysterious criminal underworld, as well as even thornier areas of forbidden eroticism.