James Mangold has established himself as one of the most versatile directors in the business. Having dabbled in an assortment of genres including the horror thriller, biopic and western, it made sense when he came on board for 2013’s The Wolverine. Although that film was a marked improvement over the debacle that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it still had its issues and as such, we were left waiting for that definitive Wolvie film.
Thankfully, that’s now arrived in the form of Logan, an incredible character piece that truly gets down to the heart and soul of the hero without ever shying away from the darkness. It’s not only the best Wolverine film to date, but could very well go down as one of the greatest comic book movies ever made. Seriously, it’s that good.
Last weekend, we were lucky to sit down with Mangold for an exclusive interview during the Logan press day in New York City. The director goes into what the R-rating actually meant for the film, the storytelling difficulties of Wolverine’s healing factor, ideas he had in previous drafts and much more.
Check it out below and enjoy!
This is the first time we’ve seen the character of Wolverine down to his true essence – not that he hasn’t been portrayed well before, but I think this one really gets down to those basic building blocks of who this character was intended to be. What do you think was the key this time around?
James Mangold: It’s such an interesting thing. I think part of it is just a shift of tone. We built this movie from the ground up with the intention of getting to the place you’re describing so that all the elements were built to facilitate telling a story with this tone. A lot of the character aspects he’s showing in this movie, we’ve seen before.
I do think there are a whole bunch of things Hugh and I did early on in terms of thinking through the movie that were important. One of which was the rating for reasons that you wouldn’t expect. You’d think I wanted the rated-R for the violence and that was a value added and you’d think I wanted it for just language.
But what I really wanted it for was it alerts the machine, the marketing machine of a large multi-national movie studio, that the film is not for everybody and there’s something magical that happens when you’re making a rated-R film which is that people instantly stop expecting it to sell toys, T-shirts and speak to eleven year olds in some way.
The second it’s no longer thought of as a four box movie is the second you feel free to write a movie that is an adult film. Like truly an adult grown up movie and the juxtaposition for me of writing and directing a grown up movie that also happened to be about these fantastical characters was really fruitful.
On top of that, we moved forward to a point where we’re finding them in a moment of weakness. Speaking as a dramatist and not just a purveyor of comic book movies, I was always struck by the main challenge with a lot of super hero characters which is their invincibility. Certainly that was one of the challenges that both Scott Frank and I felt writing this movie and the previous Wolverine.
The biggest challenge to make him interesting is that you have a guy who can live forever and heal from anything….
Right, the stakes.
James Mangold: What do you drive? Things get really mechanically simple. You put yourselves in our shoes and you go alright, what are the stakes in this scene? Well, he can never be fighting for his own self so he has to be fighting for a loved one who then has to be in peril.
So in a sense, you have to continually put him in these situations where his invincibility may help him but it doesn’t help the thing he cares most about. That’s interesting and you can do a lot of interesting things with that, but there’s something more fascinating to me about a superhero who has an Achilles heel. So part of what we did from the basic architecture up as me and my collaborators worked on the script was try to figure out how to make him vulnerable, how to make him feel ill at ease in the world.
The other thing that dawned on us that I thought was a huge asset in this movie was this idea of being a faded star. Like the way comic books and fame of the X-Men exist in this movie is kind of like a canceled TV show. Like you were the star of something, but there’s only a small group of dedicated fans keeping it alive.
In a way, it’s not just that you’ve been shunned as mutants have in all these movies, but that you’ve been forgotten to a large degree and I think that adds a kind of pathos and an interesting quality to things particularly because in some ways Logan probably likes it like that and that makes him all the more interesting because he’s the least narcissistic of any of the super heroes in my mind, DC or Marvel.