Director James Mangold talks at length about his approach to THE WOLVERINE

14 min read

We’re less than three weeks away from the world’s favourite multi-tasking mutant snikt-snikting his away onto our screens again in The Wolverine. For director James Mangold this is more than just a chance to redeem the damage done to the character by the utterly mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but rather it’s an opportunity to tell a tale of a lost warrior. One that doesn’t just have to fight against a seemingly unending barrage of things getting destroyed while instantly healing from any danger he finds himself in.


Mangold spoke to Bleeding Cool at length about his approach to the film, and I highly recommend you give the whole thing a read if you have the time, but here are the highlights. A whole lot of highlights.

Why tell this story, at this particular spot on Wolverine’s timeline?

The reality is that for me the focus of the movie was always about a very specific idea. I wanted to place the film at the end of the timeline of all the existing movies X-Men movies and their stories that we’ve seen, meaning that I didn’t want it to somehow be located in the middle of everything you’ve seen. I wanted to get past it all. I didn’t want to have to hand off to a pre-existing story.

What was it about this classic story from Chris Claremont and Frank Miller that made it a good choice to adapt?

I also was really interested in an idea that spoke to me from the original Claremont and Miller epic. To me, what is most interesting about Logan’s character is this concept of immortality and his healing. And the fact that there’s this kind of exhaustion that sets in when you’re here forever, when you lose everyone you love.  What I wrote when I met with Fox to give them my script, just five words, which were “Everyone I love will die.”

I felt the story I wanted to tell was about a man who felt cursed, and that everyone he had ever cared about in the world, whether it be the people he fought with in the X-Men, his wife, or others had perished. We all yearn or wish for immortality, but the curse of actually having to be on the Earth like a god forever is its own purgatory, is its own hell, which is to have to see everything you love go away.

The Wolverine has to keep reconnecting and re-finding inspiration, and to me the idea of finding him in a place where his tank was empty, this man who killed his wife. That’s a really interesting place to come in and find him.

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What makes The Wolverine different from other comic book movies?

I loved comic books since I was a kid, I collected them, but I’m bored by the cut-out of what the “comic-book-movie” is. If I’m going to do this, I really want to make more of a character-based film, more than just a film with a kind of threat like “Will the Earth be destroyed? Will the Moon be destroyed? Will the stadium be destroyed? Will the city be destroyed?” It’s all the same movie over and over again with some giant villain. I preferred the idea of exploring the world of gods – which is what superheroes really are. Mutants, superheroes, are all in a sense, bigger than people, more than people. Immortal people.

But what’s most interesting is to explore that and still be rooting for who they are and to still give a shit.  The only way you’re going to really be more spectacular in your next film is if your audience gives a shit, if you aren’t just bludgeoning them with sound, and with fast cuts, but if they’re actually emotionally invested in the outcome of the sequence they’re watching.  The focus was “How do I make it a film where I’m really invested in these people?”

I thought about things like The Outlaw Josey Wales, that’s a movie where I’m starting with a character who has nothing, who has lost everything, who is un-moored. And I watched samurai films, so there’s this idea of the Ronin, the samurai without a master, which in a sense is exactly what Logan is, a hero without a purpose, a hero without a mission. Does he even have any interest in a mission anymore, or is he so bored with the way mankind keeps fucking up that he has decided to recede? What’s the point? They just keep giving him more trouble.

How his previous body of work, which didn’t mark him as an obvious choice for most to direct this film, actually makes him a better choice.

Because I’ve made dramas, and because I’m not, by trade, a tentpole film maker, I like to believe I’m bringing the same attitude that I would bring to Walk The Line or 3:10 To Yuma to this kind of movie too. I have that moment-to-moment reality of the characters, living, breathing, loving, touching, feeling, in pain. It’s real, it’s not bullshit, and that’s been the biggest handicap of some of these films. No matter how many resources studios pour into them, there sometimes just isn’t the ultimate special effect, which is just a real life moment.

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How not having to rehash Wolverine’s origin story is a liberating thing.

We don’t have the burden of doing the origin story. We can actually start in media res, we can start in action, and we can just start telling you a story. When I opened 3:10 To Yuma, I didn’t do how Russell became Ben Wade, I just started the movie, and to me, sometimes the huge burden upon superhero films is that there’s this double tax on them. Like Superman – brilliant film, Donner’s Superman – is two movies in one, jammed together. It’s got the origin story, and then the Lex Luthor-battle story. That’s a really cumbersome thing to try and do in a movie.

Very often I think studios want a twofor, where they want you to set up the character and then also do the ultimate battle. In a way I think what was really freeing for me was that we could just start right away in action with this character that everyone knows.

Would The Wolverine be looking to correct the poor handling of the character in Gavin Hood’s previous films, as well as the critically lambasted X-Men: The Last Stand?

In public I don’t really get into knocking other people’s movies. What I would say is that we’ve talked a lot about what we hope this one to be, something that many other X-Men films – or otherwise – haven’t been. That’s as much a function of my own sense of what I’m interested in, and my own style, and this particular story.

Certainly, the opportunity I saw here was to take a great actor in one of the roles of his life, who maybe hasn’t done it justice yet. Who maybe hasn’t done “the one”, the one that hits it out. So that’s a huge opportunity for me, as a friend, to go “We don’t have to deal with nine other members of the X-Men. This is about you.” So that investment, and the actual real estate I have in the running time of the movie means we can go a lot deeper than people have gone before. Both of us were really looking forward to that.


On the use of 3D in the film, and why it’s being done using post-rendering.

3D is a brand new experience for me. It’s something the studio is very excited about for the film, and I’m very excited about it in terms of the way it might play for the martial arts stuff that we’re doing. My own taste in 3D films has been that I don’t really like it when it feels like it’s a gimmick, and it’s coming at me and flying at me. But this is my first experience so I’m actually glad on a movie like this that I’m getting a chance to taste what 3D is like. We never could have afforded to shoot 3D in production. This movie is a risky movie, it’s got a lot of foreign language, it’s got a cast that’s nine tenths not American. All those things make studios feel that they’re taking a little more of a risk. It’s a character based film, there isn’t some obvious uber-villain that everyone’s heard of and who is going to be reigning through the film. So, a lot of the aspects of the movie become elements of risk. They also asked us to make it for a little less than some tentpoles. So the idea of shooting in 3D was always, under these limits, off the table. But for me, there’s also  freedom. They’ve really set us free to make the sort of movie we wanted to make.

How his past works as well as his cinematic influences influence The Wolverine.

I want to be in there, I want to feel these characters, I want to be inside Logan. The thing about me is that I move from genre to genre, but I essentially shoot the movies all the same way. I shoot Walk The Line exactly the same way as I shoot 3:10 To Yuma. I think that film makers get in trouble when they’re watching too many DVDs and they’re quoting all the time. John Ford wasn’t quoting, he was just making the movie. I think you should internalise all these movies then make your movie, and  see what all those influences do.

I take in movies as far ranging as Besson’s The Professional, or Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. This movie has a lot of Chinatown in it for me. Logan is cynical, disillusioned, he is in this labyrinth of women and lies and deceit. Is he falling in love or is he falling into a hole? Or is this something that will save him? These are all questions that will destroy him.

For me the idea is to make a noir film in Japan, and all these other things are just parts of it, to me. The Noir film and the Western are incredibly close together, not far apart. What’s in front of the lense changes, but not the way you shoot them. The gunman walking down a wet brick street with a single streetlight is not all that different to the gunman walking on the dusty street with a single Winchester. The stylised nature of those movies is not that different. I would say that I’m very much living and breathing in the world of the Western and Noir film. I want this film to have actual romance, I want this film to have actual sensuality and danger and I don’t want it to live only on the bombast of its action sequences – although that’s all going to be there.


How, despite his dramatic leanings, he still wants to make an action packed film, but one that’s a lot more believable than previously done.

For all my talk about wanting to do a well acted film and a naturalistic film and a film that’s urgent, you also owe yourself. You want to make a movie that you would want to see and that fans would want to see. There’s been a good amount of imagination put to the action. Some things I’ve seen in some of these movies, I’m like “I don’t believe they can do that,” and it’s being strained for me. When I read comics, I loved believing in what my heroes could do,  I loved believing that they were still flesh and blood. Whether they were inside some uniform or not, there was some reality to when they hit a wall or brick, it still fucking hurt, it wasn’t just painless. Staying within the realm of that, I think we got some really great ideas and some great set-pieces that I’d hate to describe. But we’ll definitely have some fun with the blades.

He does get bloody. There are repercussions. You get hit, it hurts. You get cut, you bleed. For me, the instantaneous nature of healing was a thing that got carried to such an extent that I felt like there were no stakes for the character. What I wanted to find again was this idea that it hurts to be Logan. He’s not free of pain. Just because your leg might heal, doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel broken. It doesn’t mean a car hitting your body doesn’t hurt in the same way it would hurt if a car hit your body. He’s still flesh, blood and nerves wrapped around that skeleton.

There’s been rumours of a post-credits scene (as has become the norm with most superhero movies) but that’s not the real end of the tale.

I will say that the tags-after-the-credits thing has never been my favourite thing in movies. To me, the idea is that the curtain rises and the curtain comes down. I understand that even in the theatre there’s the idea of the encore, and I’m not opposed to it, but the best films I see are films that don’t pan-handle for extra laughs later, and actually deliver the goods. When the screen goes black, you go “Yes!” So my goal, whether there’s an easter egg for you later or not, is that when the screen goes black, then you say “Yes. The meal was good. I don’t need a fancy wine, I don’t need an aperitif. What he gave me was satisfying.” That’s my hope and dream.


Wow. I didn’t think it was possible for me to be more excited about this film, but I’ll be damned if Mangold didn’t just up my anticipation to Omega-class levels. He really seems to have a solid understanding of what previous filmmakers failed to accomplish with the character and exactly how to go about fixing them. Unconventional choices for comic-book movies have previously resulted in unexpected but inspired results (Chris Nolan, anyone?), and it looks this may just have the potential to follow suit.

Like I said earlier, I do recommend you go read the full interview, where Mangold also discusses some of his casting choices, why he used the camera rig that he did for the setup, why he chooses to shoot digital instead of film and how the Japan setting influences his approach.

And if that’s not enough, you can go rewatch the last trailer over and over again until the film releases locally on July 26.

Last Updated: July 9, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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