The summer of superhero blockbusters rolls on (and basically concludes) with James Mangold’s The Wolverine, which finds Hugh Jackman returning to his razor-clawed role for a record sixth time.
On an anticipation scale, I’m not sure where The Wolverine ranks alongside Iron Man 3 or Man of Steel. Do kids outside of the comic-collection crowd follow Logan’s brooding adventures on-screen? Were they chomping at the bit to finally see Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s seminal 1982 limited series – set in Japan and dripping with ninjas – on the silver screen?
It’s possible. The Wolverine might be on your child’s radar, just for the sole reason that it has advertised sprawling fight scenes and that bullet train sequence that’s been front and center in the TV campaign. So, let’s ratchet up our healing factor, switch into berserker mode and figure out when you can watch The Wolverine with your kids.
Late July can mean summer-spectacle fatigue. You and your kids have witnessed Iron Man saving passengers from a tumbling jumbo jet, and watched massive Jaegers battling towering Kaiju in the streets of Japan. What could The Wolverine possibly show them that they haven’t seen already this year?
To that, Mangold offers the bullet train sequence, a standout action sequence not just for The Wolverine but for the entire summer season. It’s one of the brightest Green Lights in Mangold’s new film:
The draw of The Wolverine is seeing the angry mutant in action, and Jackman brings the heat in this feature-length solo film. He and Mangold have been promising a vicious, savage stand-alone adventure, and they largely deliver. But they also pay tribute to the classic Claremont storyline by laying out deep character motivations and a politically driven plot that’s rooted in traditional Japanese cultural aspects like honor and sacrifice. Older teens (and parents) will appreciate this effort. Younger kids might be wondering why Wolverine always needs a love interest when he’s supposed to be kicking ninja rear end.
The best thing about The Wolverine is Jackman’s understanding of the character. Conversation points with your kids can circle around the hero’s code of honor, his commitment to the late Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and his inability to walk away when someone in trouble needs his help. Young kids might find more to love in this film’s third act, when the somber, slow-burning mood is burned off completely for an over-the-top, comic book-inspired finale involving the Silver Samurai.
Along the way, though, there are a few Red Flags that jump out, so let’s run through them below.
The Wolverine walks a fine line between remaining a comic book movie – one that inherently SHOULD appeal to kids – and wanting to finally deliver the gritty, grizzled Wolverine movie fans of the vicious hero have been demanding. And Mangold, in some interviews, has said that his film likely should have earned an R rating, only the MPAA doesn’t consider "mutant" characters to be human, so Wolverine slicing and dicing through hordes of enemies doesn’t sound its alarms.
And surprisingly, I didn’t find The Wolverine to be as bloody and violent as I expected, maybe because the battles are acrobatic instead of gory, and we don’t linger on severed limbs or spurting geysers of blood the way you might think when you have a hero who has claws for fingers.
Instead, Mangold tries to roughen up The Wolverine in different ways. The language is coarse, with Wolvie dropping one "f**k" (because saying it twice earns an automatic "R" rating). And as I mentioned above, there’s a lot of story in The Wolverine, with Mangold exploring the history of the Yashida clan, and the hierarchy of heirs who might be trying to eliminate Mariko, Logan’s true love. Knowing my nine year old, he’d have very little interest in the romance angle that weighs down The Wolverine in spots. And the convoluted story might have young ones fidgeting in their seats.
But if your kids read Uncanny X-Men religiously and have followed Jackman’s Wolverine character through every X-Men movie up to this point, the Red Flags won’t surprise you, and they won’t keep you from going.
That being said…
Because Mangold and Jackman have been selling this as the most brutal Wolverine movie to date, I expected this to be much grittier than it is. Though they tap into Wolvie’s feral side, the violence doesn’t reach carnage stage. I thought Man of Steel was more intense.
That being said, I can’t see the melodramatic plotlines of The Wolverine holding the attentions of young ones. They’ll dig the big-scope action – the bullet train fight and the funeral showdown, or the final clash with the Silver Samurai – but likely will fade (as I did) during the character-driven moments.
The Wolverine earns a PG-13. I think X-Men-loving kids ages 11 and up can handle pretty much everything on-screen. But seeing as how this is the sixth attempt at nailing Logan on-screen, if your kids are new to Wolverine, start with Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie, and gradually build to the main course that is Mangold’s film.
As always, if you do take your kids to the movie, please let me know how it goes!
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.