Logan interview: James Mangold is NOT a fan of 'bloated' shared universe superhero movies

James Mangold, the director of 'Logan' (Credit: 20th Century Fox)
James Mangold, the director of ‘Logan’ (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Hugh Jackman returns for his last hurrah as Wolverine in ‘Logan’ this week, and it’s unlike any other superhero movie you’ve ever seen.

Made for a modest budget, it’s an R-rated neo-western that eschews superhero tropes with wanton abandon. There’s swearing, brutal violence, flawed heroes, and not a single costume in sight. Basically, it’s about as far removed from the hypercoloured spandex of ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ as you could imagine, but that’s precisely what makes it so special.

It also feels very much like a James Mangold film with more in common with ‘3:10 to Yuma’ and ‘Cop Land’ thematically than it does even with his previous X-Men outing, 2013’s ‘The Wolverine’.

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The director credits the film’s singular tone and vision on the freedom granted by 20th Century Fox’s which allowed him to make a film that stood apart from the X-Men universe. He compares the process of making a “shared universe” movie – like the MCU or DCU – to sleeping in a bed where you’re not allowed to move the pillows.

“You don’t sleep, you don’t dream,” Mangold told Yahoo Movies. “You just go ‘I want to move this f***ing pillow! Why can’t I move this f***ing pillow?’”

He adds that superhero films have been “bloated” nowadays, and that less really is more.

“If you have a movie with 7-10 superheroes in it and you have 120 minutes and you’re taking at least 40 of those minutes to do action sequences, then you’ve got at most like 8 minutes per character that remains for their arc, their personal story.

“That’s less than what Roadrunner and Coyote get in an average Warner Bros. cartoon.”

Here’s everything we learned from James Mangold about Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine swansong ‘Logan’.

Yahoo Movies UK: I get the sense that everybody involved is really passionate about this movie?

James Mangold: I think that’s true. I think it’s a movie that came from a really strong impulse that the only reason to do it was to make something interesting for us. I think for Hugh and I particularly, we both thought ‘I don’t want to spend two years working on a movie that isn’t about anything, or is just a platform to sell another movie’.

I think, weirdly, when I think about it, with Christian Bale I was going to make this movie called ‘The Deep Blue Good-by’, a script that Scott Frank and I had written based on Travis McGee’s novels, and we were about 11 days from starting and Christian tore the ACL [Anterior cruciate ligament] of his knee.

(Credit: 20th Century Fox)
(Credit: 20th Century Fox)

We were shut down and I came off that movie back into Wolverine, and I’d already laid a story for Wolverine and I think I brought a lot of the energy I was going to bring to that movie to this. I was so hungry to make a non-tentpole movie that I just really resolved to myself – and also a function of what Hugh and I were talking which was that we really did not want to see another slick, mostly green screen, chock-full of mutants and CG, save the world movie.

In one way or another, and I don’t think this is so revolutionary, all I did was essentially make a movie like I normally make, only it just so happened to be full of superhero characters so it seems very rebellious. But I really just took these characters and dropped them into the kind of movie I’d normally write and direct. I just did it, but because these are superhero characters it seems shockingly rebellious.

But I don’t think it should be so shocking. What’s shocking is that people keep doing the same f***ing thing over and over.

What occurred to me while watching it was that ‘Logan’ is a film we’d never get to see from the Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. That must be liberating as a filmmaker?

This “universe” thing is something I don’t care about. What is the universe? What is this universe, it’s not real? I just keep thinking ‘who created this expectation that you could take all these movies and splice them into one never-ending 46-hour saga?’ Because I don’t understand where it came from.

It didn’t come from the comics. In the comics different artists have created new origin stories, alternate planets, mirror planets, they’ve gone back in time, they’ve redesigned [characters]. Superman from 1930-whatever does not look anything like Superman in 1950 or 1990. And somehow Lois Lane stays under 40 for 75-90 years.

(Credit: 20th Century Fox)
(Credit: 20th Century Fox)

The idea that the comics are a seamless reality is a fantasy that I don’t begrudge anyone but it doesn’t make good movies. Because it means the directors coming on these movies, it’s like telling someone they can sleep in the bed but they can’t move the pillows or the covers.

You don’t sleep, you don’t dream, you just go ‘I want to move this f***ing pillow! Why can’t I move this f***ing pillow?’

Or it’s like sleeping in some friend’s house and them going ‘don’t touch anything!’ and you just want to get the f*** out of the apartment. It’s too much.

If you ask filmmakers, Frank Miller did something very different [with Batman] than other artists before him, Neil Gaiman did something very different than the guy who did ‘Sandman’ before him, Joe Kubert did something very different on any number of the different things he did like Tarzan. And that’s great.

Meaning, the great thing to me and the great thing you want in your movies is you want to see filmmakers voices getting utilised. I mean, what a treat for film fans to see the same cast directed by a different filmmaker and what happens when there’s changes.

Nothing could be a better anecdotal, albeit slightly scientific test, of what a filmmaker does than to see how tone can shift… what happens when you take these characters and give them to another filmmaker and see what happens with the tone.

It helps that you have Hugh Jackman too, you wouldn’t have a movie without him…

Hugh Jackman at the film's Berlin launch (Credit: 20th Century Fox)
Hugh Jackman at the film’s Berlin launch (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Yes, without a doubt. You wouldn’t have it without the lead actor insisting that they do what I’m suggesting. Although there wasn’t a great deal of argument.

This movie happened, in part, because I think of a nexus of cultural events. One them, ‘Deadpool’, was something that helped. Also an acknowledgement by all the major studios that what they’re doing is costing more and more, but the audiences are not growing at the same rate that the cost of the films is growing. And I think there’s some kind of acknowledgement that they need to reevaluate the tone and style of these films, whether they’ve gotten bloated in some way.

Bigger isn’t always better?

It’s rarely better. Less is more.

It can be really factual: if you have a movie with 7-10 superheroes in it and you have 120 minutes and you’re taking at least 40 of those minutes to do action sequences, then you’ve got at most like 8 minutes per character that remains for their arc, their personal story. That’s less than what Roadrunner and Coyote get in an average Warner Bros. cartoon, and the fact is that you can’t really expect, no matter the filmmaker or talent, that they’re going to produce the depth of ‘Wild Strawberries’ in 8 minutes with a character.

What else, aside from the success of an R-rated ‘Deadpool’, enabled to you to make this movie now?

I think for most creative folks in Hollywood the highlights of the last few years from the world of comic books have been the less bloated pictures.

I personally really dug ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ which felt breezier and less self serious, and it looked like the filmmakers were having fun making the movie and it was a little less influenced visually by ‘Triumph of the Will’, and more by ‘Indiana Jones’ or something like that.

It was more James Gunn maybe?

Exactly, you have a filmmaker with a voice, and that’s a big deal.

Dafne Keen as Laura in 'Logan' (Credit: 20th Century Fox)
Dafne Keen as Laura in ‘Logan’ (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

So did you feel like you had more freedom on this than on 2013’s ‘The Wolverine’?

Yeah. I honestly felt like, it’s my fault: if you don’t like it, it’s my fault.

Other than my collaborators we had very little interference from the studio and when we finished the movie we put it in front of audiences and they responded, and the studio was like ‘let’s release it’ meaning there wasn’t a lot of hand-wringing about this film, either in prep or in production or in post.

The biggest controversy was actually trying to get the marketing department to let us call it ‘Logan’. That was hard. Because you’re letting go… the head honchos at Fox got a memo where they were being told that effectively you’re letting go of $12-15m in profits, just domestically for people who won’t understand that this is a Wolverine movie.

And you’ve got to explain there’s no toy figurine that looks like Wolverine either.

Right. But also I dispute it. I don’t think people are as stupid as sometimes people think they are. I don’t think there’s a soul left in America that doesn’t know there’s a Wolverine movie coming out, or in the UK as well.

Logan international poster (Credit: 20th Century Fox)
Logan international poster (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

But there’s some territories in Europe you’ll still find the movie is being released as ‘Logan: The Wolverine’ which baffles me. That’d be like saying ‘The Dark Knight: The Batman’ or ‘Man of Steel: The Superman’, it’s redundant to the max.

Hugh said this is his last time as Wolverine, was there a day on set where he said goodbye to the character?

I think the last day… I think he was fraught with anxiety because the last day was the last scene in the movie, so I think he had more anxiety about whether he had nailed the scene. You’d have to ask him.

But I know he felt the weight of it obviously just playing the scene, it only added to the weight he was feeling saying goodbye to the character, and in many ways he probably used what he was feeling in the scene. The strange thing is, for most of us, if you’re talking about my films, or you’re talking about Hugh’s films, he’s never played Leopold again, he’s never played the guy from Les Mis again… we’re mostly always saying goodbye to our characters at the end of a movie.

The odd bit is when you have one that lasts so long because these things are usually one-offs. But I think we’ve only begun to feel the weight of the passing of these characters. In Berlin a week ago the three of us were sitting together and we felt the weight of what was on the screen, and finally being free of working on it, and just taking it in.

Does Logan link into any other future X-Men stories?

I certainly didn’t intend for this film to launch anything, but I do think Dafne Keen is a remarkable talent and I think we would all be foolish if we didn’t at least push around pencils a bit on how we could use her again in a different way. Well, not in a different way, but in this character. And what’s magical is she’s growing older so you’re going to have, by the time we get our act together, she’ll be a teenager.

‘Logan’ is in UK cinemas now. Watch a clip below.

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