With Wolverine adamantium-clawing his way back into cinemas this week, we got a chance to sit down with ‘The Wolverine’ director James Mangold to chat about his the upcoming Marvel movie.
We asked him questions submitted by Yahoo! users on twitter and in our comments, as well as a few from the movies team.
Topics covered included:
- Winning back fans after ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’
- How close is it to the source material
- Taking risks
Hugh Jackman said he was unhappy with how he’d played his character in the past, but that this movie was “The ultimate” Wolverine. Why do you think that is?
James Mangold: I think we tooled him darker and we lightened up on the jokes. What I told Hugh to think about as a model was Clint Eastwood in the classic westerns, particularly ‘Outlaw Josey Wales’. Man of few words, still a sense of humour, but just dangerous. I wanted him to feel dangerous, more than anything else. And vulnerable too, but not looking for help. Just kind of going on, but that the audience shares and understands his pain.
What is it about Logan/Wolverine that people love so much?
I think people have always enjoyed the kind of misanthrope and the gruff exterior. I mean used Clint Eastwood as an example. He usually plays the loner. I think the loner kind of Steve McQueen. The loner hero is an icon, certainly in America films, and I think in Western films. Even James Bond is a bit of a loner and p*ssed off, at least as currently played. But I think what Hugh’s got going for him that’s unusual is that as well as playing all that, the audience feels his heart at the same time. The audience think that it’s a guy that would kick anyone’s ass, but will protect them: ‘He’ll be my friend. He might be dangerous, but he’d always be nice to me.’ So there’s a chumminess that I think everyone feels towards the way Hugh’s constructed this character.
As with Johnny Cash and ‘Walk The Line’ [which Mangold directed], did you ever worry about getting it wrong with such a popular figure, and the potential backlash?
Well there is no wrong, because everyone wants something different. If there’s one thread among what Wolverine fans have been asking for, it’s a greater sense of intensity - a greater depiction of the berserker rage when he fights and a greater feeling of his frustration and alienation from the world. In all the ‘X-Men’ films, if you have seven or eight mutants and only 120 minutes, inevitably you’re only going to get 11 or 12 minutes per character, per film. This movie, with the exception of one or two scenes, Wolverine’s in every scene. That’s a huge amount of real estate to give to a character, and you get inside his head and his heart.
Will fans will engage with this movie after ‘Origins’ strayed so far from the source material? (Question from Yahoo! commenter Mary)
I hope fans really enjoy this film. We put a lot of attention in to trying to really live within the world that Chris Claremont and Frank Miller had created in the Japanese Saga. But also where we left, we also tried to live within the important themes and the right tone of ‘The Wolverine’ graphic saga.
How closely is the movie based on the original 1982 ’The Wolverine’ comic book arc? And what does the film take from the Japanese element?
The whole world - every character in the movie is in Claremont/Miller. They’re all in it, with only modest re-toolings of the set-up. For instance in Claremont/Miller, Logan has an ongoing relationship with Mariko, in this film they’re meeting when the film begins. Well that makes sense. It’d be kind of odd to just open on a movie with a guy living in the wilderness who has an ongoing relationship with a Japanese woman. It’s not quite right. It worked perfectly well in the comic, but that fact is that it’s different.
Your previous films have had a psychological aspect to the characters. How hard is it to balance the desire to do that, and the need to fit the mould of "summer blockbuster/comic book movie"? (Question from Derek via Twitter)
It’s a good question. One of the reasons I took on this film was that I sensed both the studio and Hugh were going to give me the room to make a movie that wasn’t like other summer blockbusters. That they were actually going to allow me to make something that kind of defined its own energy and its own outlook. For instance, mostly summer blockbusters have some kind of big villain who’s trying to destroy the world. When you see this movie you’ll see no such villain. The story itself is built on character relationships and it’s not about saving humanity. It’s just about what will happen to these characters on the screen.
Why are so many movies today omitting exposition, establishing characters and motives, in favour of action? (Question from Damien Straker/@DStraker90 via Twitter)
Well I definitely think that in many ways it’s that people just want to get going. And I think there is a general perception that attention spans have gotten shorter in audiences. People just need to get going faster to provide the audience with continuous stimulation. But I do feel like there’re diminishing returns from that. In this arms race to be faster and louder, there are problems in not allowing periods of time at the beginning or elsewhere in the film to get intimate with the characters and get to know them. Even good music doesn’t exist at a continuous crescendo. You need to build toward it.
What was the biggest problem you had to overcome to create the totally over-the-top train-fight scene? (Question from Cinema Chords/@CinemaChordsvia Twitter)
The sense of realistic wind. When we were doing the shots that are against a green screen, we have to generate enough wind that it looks like Hugh and the people he’s fighting against were existing on the side of the train in 280mph winds. Honestly if you saw a picture of production you’d see Hugh hanging onto the side of a train, a camera right in front of him and an array of about seven or eight garden leaf blowers all aimed at his face. So his skin is going floppy all over the place. You’re trying to create gale force winds on a sound stage. It’s one of the great things about movies that we’ve come a long way technologically, but we still have to kind of make it happen.
How has this film tried to prove itself as something other than a cash-in on an established franchise? Bearing in mind that this same franchise has had its fair share of negative backlash, particularly the previous solo film? (Question from Yahoo! commenter Paddy)
I think from the get-go we’re doing things that are riskier. I think the fact that this film does have to prove something, does have to earn the respect of the audience again is a good thing for me. The fact that the movie is almost a half in Japanese and subtitles, the fact that Hugh speaks very few words in the first 30/40 minutes of the movie, and that there aren’t any other mutants who’re there to help sell more action figures means we’re really focused in on one mutant and his story. They’re all testaments to the fact that our hearts were in the right place as we made it.
You have a great history of directing strong women well (Angelina Jolie in ‘Girl, Interrupted’ and Reese Witherspoon in ‘Walk The Line’) - How important is the influence of Logan’s great femme fatales in ‘The Wolverine’?
The strong female characters are absolutely a good thing. I honestly never have an agenda to make strong female characters. I just have an agenda to make strong characters. And I view the women as no different from the men, which is that I just want them to be not stereotypes and not objectified. Certainly I think that I enjoy the women especially when they’re facing off against a character like Logan. They need to bring a little something to the game.
A two part question really, do you think comic book creations are going to dominate the box office and as an aspiring screen writer what do you advise in such a hard industry to break into? (Question from Yahoo! commenter Lindsey)
I think like any trend, things don’t change until the money leaves. So the short answer is I think it’ll continue as long as they’re making more money than they’re loosing. As for screenwriting? Don’t quit. The people who make it and the people who get to where they want to get don’t stop writing. No matter how discouraging it may be in the moment. Also, don’t write one script, and then never write another. Write one script, put it on the shelf and now go write another one. People who make good tables and chairs, they don’t make one then go to the department store and go will you buy my chair? They make another and another. Everyone’s so anxious to be discovered. And of course, it’s completely understandable. But for most of us, including me, there was a long period of working on projects with no one paying attention. And it’s very advantageous to use the time you have while you’re young and no one’s paying attention to you to build up a body of work. Not one piece of work that you think proves everything people need to know about you. Get more work done. Write another, don’t rest on your laurels and it will happen if you don’t quit.
This is your first ever 3D movie. Were you worried about using the technology?
It wasn’t a worry, but it was a learning experience. I think my biggest issue was just not getting too gimmicky with it. Trying to use it as more of a window into a three-dimensional world than trying to have the audience ducking and covering from boulders flying at them. I think that always reveals that it’s a brand new technique. It’s like the show-off type stuff always happens for the first two years that something’s around, then it kind of settles in. It’s like when ‘The Matrix’ first came out with bullet time. Maybe people like it, but for me, I can’t do it too much of the same thing.
Would you direct another ‘Wolverine’ movie?
If it presented me with the opportunity as this one did then yes. What I mean is the location and the world in Japan really presented me with a unique set of freedoms. Certainly any project with Hugh is enticing, but if someone came to me, or I came up with a strategy that stays as inventive and as exciting, I wouldn’t hesitate to do another one.
If you could direct a movie for any DC character, who would be a good match for Wolverine, who would it be? (Question from Mohamed Alhameed/@ChewBLacca7 via Twitter)
The Sandman. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is a great property. Actually I’ve talked to Neil about it before. I think it’s one of the great really interesting modernist tales. Also, on the complete other side of the universe I’ve always been a fan of The Flash. Although the outfit would have to definitely change, with those little wigs on his ears.
If you could be Immortal, would you?
I think I’m weak. I think I would. If I could I would. But I think this film forces you to examine what would be the downsides of that: living forever and watching all the people you’ve ever known pass on. You’d have to start over again, every generation, and I can see exhaustion setting in.
Is there a way out for way out of immortality for Wolverine?
We’ll have to see…
'The Wolverine' is released in the UK on 25 July.