I think a reasonable amount of time has passed since The Wolverine was unleashed into cinemas to consider this non spoilerish. A little while ago I had the chance to chat with Director James Mangold the man, who made: Cop Land, Girl, Interrupted & Walk the Line amongst other films, about his eagerly anticipated new film the Hugh Jackman starrer - The Wolverine.
During the discussion about his approach to making The Wolverine James Mangold came across as very much his own person and having a very clear vision for his Wolverine – he won me over, and too be honest I ended up wishing that I had enjoyed The Wolverine more. Who knows? Maybe when I rewatch the Blu-ray I'll have a deeper appreciation of it.
I felt like I was in the minority as most of the audience attending on the day really seemed to enjoy The Wolverine - possibly my familiarity with the character combined with high expectations of finally seeing The Wolverine that I wanted to see on screen, wouldn't allow me to enjoy it - for what is was. But I can certainly recognise that for the most part The Wolverine is a good effort to create something different from the usual blockbuster superhero film.
As much as I enjoyed most of the first half of the film I couldn't shake the feeling that it was a mistake not to explore Logan's past - particularly his previous visit to Japan, this seemed like a prime opportunity to let us see how Eastern techniques could have both transformed Logan from a rage driven Hulk like Logan - a Beast - into the more compassionate and focussed man we have come to know in the films as well as how Martial Arts training - honed his fighting style into a sharpened killing machine rather than a brawler.
To raise the stakes, part of James Mangold's Wolverine tale is to make Logan more credible and increase tension by introducing the possibility of Logan's mortality - by taking away his healing power. This element could have been enhanced by having non super powered samurai give Logan a seriously hard time (like they do in the comic) making him realise that discipline and training have benefits as well add tension as danger lurks in the shadows.
I asked James Mangold about the thinking that went into the decision not to explore more of Logan's past and this is what Mangold told us.
JAMES CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE THINKING BEHIND THE DECISION NOT TO EXPLORE LOGAN'S PAST IN THE EARLIER SCENES OF THE FILM?
James Mangold: I was very interested in making a present tense film, what I mean by that is, that there is a danger when you are making an adaptation of .. anything really, like when I made Johnny Cash's life story (Walk the Line) you’ve got to leave something behind - you can't jam everything in. You just can't show everything.
Take a great film like Dirty Harry right, There's a shooting, Clint Eastwood shows up at a swimming pool, he takes some notes.
Video: Opening scene of Dirty Harry
Who is he? Where does he come from? Why's he called Dirty Harry? Who's his mother? Did his wife leave him? Does he have kids?
I don't know - but the movie just starts.
We have become almost obsessive with explaining and setting up - I try find some kind of balance -because it isn't story, it's all set up and back story. In a sense the story is what is happening in the present tense of the picture. Sometimes it is great for the audience to learn - if you watch this movie and you hadn't seen any of the previous Wolverine or X-Men films or even read the Wolverine comics you would learn about his past with Jean Grey in the course of the film.
It's built to function that way as well as for someone with pre-knowledge. These are the things we think a lot about and there is actually an additional scene in the well with Yashida that will be on the Blu-ray or DVD that we did shoot, but didn't think we needed and we were already at the edge lengthwise anyway.
Can you tell us anything about the scene in the well?
James Mangold: You'll see it soon, when the Blu-ray comes out.
If I'm not mistaken there is a subtle nod to the Dirty Harry pool scene in The Wolverine and more than one person has mentioned to me that Hugh Jackman plays Logan like Clint Eastwood would. I don't see it myself and feel he plays it more with John Wayne's swagger.
Highlights from James Mangold's chat about making The Wolverine included:
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THIS STORY IN PARTICULAR THAT BOTH YOU AND HUGH JACKMAN WANTED TO BRING THE SCREEN?
James Mangold: If you take it as a given that we wanted to get further into his character and the previous Wolverine picture - although was called Wolverine - was also called X-Men Origins, and ended up being, in a way, an X-Men film - it didn’t really give much time to his character, and I think what we were really out to do was to find a way to really get inside Logan.
Chris Claremont and Frank Miller had written a saga decades ago about this Japanese adventure of Logan. It was never clear to me where it fit into the time line in relation to the existing movies, but it occurred to me that we could move this and have it taking place after the existing X-Men movies. The comic book saga opens with him in the Yukon, in some kind of alienated state in the woods there. It seemed very logical to me to me to make a film about him having lost the X-Men, having lost Jean Grey, having lost Professor X, and being in a kind of reclusive state.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO MAKE LOGAN MORE VULNERABLE?
James Mangold: It was very important to me - that we find Logan in a place of emotional desolation. It seemed advantageous to start in a place where he was cut off. They weren’t sure where to locate this saga in relation to the existing movies. The first reaction I had when I read the material was an assumption that it took place after the X-Men films. So, in a way this was X-Men 4 almost more than it was Wolverine 2 in the sense of the time line. And that seemed really interesting to me because Claremont - Miller’s saga opens with him in The Yukon estranged.
The tricky thing then is if you’re trying to help the fan-boys out a little and say ‘OK, I’m going to start in the Yukon, just like the original’, the question is why is he there? Why now? Is he on vacation? Or is he hiding?
So, now you have to answer that question. So, instantly you’re in the zone of danger with every fan-boy in town because it’s not in the material and you’ve hardly begun.
So, my theory was that he’s there because everyone he’s ever loved is dead. I think there’s also a reason why so many of the superhero films keep generating galactic threats to mankind’s existence because we live in a time where it’s very hard to identify evil. It’s all around us… is it the corporation? Is it the government? Is it another country? Who is it? What is it? And so when evil is hard to identify it’s very hard for a caped crusader to fly off and punch it in the nose. It’s easy when it’s someone landing on Earth to destroy us like ants. So, what does a superhero do when everyone he’s ever loved is dead, when the enemy isn’t clear, when the mission isn’t clear and when he’d like off this Earth but he can’t even get off this Earth because he lasts forever. And that seemed like a hugely potent place to start and to drop him into The Yukon from there.
WITH THE FIRST WOLVERINE FILM SLIGHTLY UNDER APPRECIATED - DID YOU FEEL THERE WAS A LOT OF PRESSURE ON YOU TO REINVIGORATE THE FRANCHISE OR WAS THE PRESSURE OFF YOU - BECAUSE EXPECTATIONS WEREN’T AS HIGH?
James Mangold: Definitely the latter, honestly. If you’re coming on after an act that’s limping, you kind of feel like you’re in a better position than if you’re coming on after a monstrous hit. So while the movie made a lot of money, there was enough cross talk about it - this is the honest answer - of course you feel a little more space, also to experiment.
For me, at this point having made a bunch of pictures, you feel so vulnerable every time you make a movie in terms of the way it’s going to be perceived - the way box office is going to happen, the way box office will be analysed, the way critics are going to respond. You develop callouses to most of that, but what you are interested in because it’s what you live with, is the experience of making a film and the experience long after the hoopla passes, and whether you’re proud of the film.
I do think that the less than fully enthusiastic reception of the first movie allowed me the space and the freedom to do something different - that to me is more important. Meaning it keeps me interested and keeps me knowing – that success or failure of any kind, there was a reason behind what I was doing.
I was on my own journey in some relation to this material that was honest, and not if you will, just an effort to make a piece of merchandising. I think the danger with these type of films and think it was inherent in the title of the first one. You just look at the title, and see that there’s like nine marketing intentions. It’s X-Men, and it’s Wolverine, and it’s an origin, it’s like, ‘Would you like pepperoni with that?’ The fact is that we didn’t have that, pressure. I don’t know how to make a movie that’s actually more about selling lunch boxes than about being a movie. The only thing I know how to do really is to make a movie, good or bad. So this for me definitely presented the opportunity to make something different.
HUGH JACKMAN HAS PLAYED THIS CHARACTER IN FOUR MOVIES. WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH SOMEONE WHO PRESUMABLY HAS SUCH A CLOSE AND INTENSE RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS PARTICULAR CHARACTER?
James Mangold: Well, I also have a close relationship with Hugh. I made another picture with him. What was interesting about it, and it is an interesting question, was simply that Hugh wanted something he hadn’t got yet from the pictures. He wanted the chance to do something he felt he hadn’t done and he wanted the chance to deliver to the fans who had come to him wanting to see more of the darkness and more of the rage and more of the kind of fighting style. Wolverine’s fighting style comes off weird in the face of other Mutants, because if you have characters who can bring clouds open up, and another guy who can make aircraft carriers rise – Snikt! [raising imaginary adamantium claws] doesn’t seem so intense. So, if you get him on his own, away from that, then suddenly he’s much more bad-ass and his physicality isn’t out-scaled every 3 seconds by these weather, global changing, magnet making - universes around him.
WAS THERE EVER ANY PRESSURE TO CLONE THE JOI DE VOI TONE OF THE EXISTING AND VERY SUCCESSFUL MARVEL FILMS?
James Mangold: No! Joie de voi is not something that occurs to me when I think of The Wolverine so I was steering him very much away from that. The whole point would be let Robert Downey Jr. have that, you (Hugh) have something else and that is the whole wonderful menu of movies – they can be different.
THERE SEEMS TO BE QUITE A LOT OF JAPANESE CINEMA DNA IN THE WOLVERINE INCLUDING A VERY FORCEFUL THRONE OF BLOOD REFERENCE. HOW MUCH OF THAT DID YOU BRING TO THE WOLVERINE AND HOW MUCH JAPANESE INFLUENCE WAS IN THE SCRIPT?
James Mangold: I’d love to hear the Throne of Blood reference, because it’s not intentional!
When Logan is shot full of arrows
|The Wolverine James Mangold's Ninja battle The Wolverine Hugh Jackman|
|Chris Claremont & Frank Miller's The Wolverine Volume 1 Comic 3 Ninja Fight|
Japanese cinema’s been huge to me all my life and tied to the Western genre, which is another great love of mine. The Western and the Samurai picture are intrinsically bound and I think one of the things we were trying to do was to make a Wolverine movie that was built more on the architecture of a Samurai or Western film and less so on the architecture of your standard - Will the world be saved from this super villain, or alien incursion? - which is usually the structure of the classic comic book movie of the last decade.
JAMES THERE ARE SOME SCENES IN JAPANESE, MY UNDERSTANDING IS THAT YOU CHOSE TO SHOOT SCENES IN BOTH JAPANESE AND ENGLISH. COULD YOU EXPLAIN THE LOGIC OF THAT, AS WELL AS HOW THAT AFFECTED THE WORK?
James Mangold: The logic was that I was terrified that if I sent dailies back to 20th Century Fox in Japanese they’d freak out! So I shot in Japanese and English, hoping all the time I’d cut the movie in Japanese and they wouldn’t have a problem with it later. When I showed them the film, I showed them the Japanese version, and they dug it.
The thing that always struck me when we were doing the scenes in English was that, it helped me because I could stage the scenes with the actors and direct them in English, they would play it in English. And then we could convert the scene back to its native language. So it helped me, because I don’t speak Japanese. Also it seems very dated and it’s always bugged me in some more modern films when you have Japanese characters who are alone with each other in Japan, speaking English. It seems like some very strange affectation now, and has annoyed me in other movies when I’ve seen it.
It’s a world cinema now and I think we’re all used to different languages being spoken, I think there’s a gigantic Asian market for movies. But I also think it makes it more of a movie you know that we're dropping Logan into a world where he can’t understand what everyone's saying, that forces the images to become more important. And I also like the idea of taking a major tentpole film and having that be a different quality in the film. And that audiences are being asked to lean in a little bit, and work a little bit harder, and not have everything handed to them on a spoon as it were.
THE LAST TIME I RECALL SEEING SOMEBODY OUTRUN A NUCLEAR BOMB WAS IN PREDATOR WITH SCHWARZENEGGER - WHICH DID NOT SEEM REMOTELY PLAUSIBLE. HOWEVER IN THE WOLVERINE IT DOES. I WONDERED HOW YOU BALANCED THE PLAUSIBILITY OF MAKING PEOPLE BELIEVE IN WHAT HE’S DOING, WITH HIS SUPERHERO POWERS WHICH ARE OBVIOUSLY NOT IN REALITY?
James Mangold: That is an interesting technical question about storytelling. Plausibility in a movie doesn’t really have to do with scientific plausibility, obviously I don’t know if there was any scientific plausibility in what we staged. But by putting the bomb across the bay from the POW camp we gave ourselves a little window. I always think plausibility in action - for the audience - comes from the little logistical decisions and geographies.
That’s also the joy in action for me - when you can understand the geography of a sequence and it actually makes some kind of sense to you - also one of the toughest things to do. I think it’s why people appreciate Westerns and Samurai films so much often the action isn’t very complicated, but the geography is simple enough that you actually appreciate where everyone is - in relation to one another.
There’s a reason when we watch a sports game on television, they don’t cover all the players in close up. For some reason movie makers haven’t learned that lesson completely. It’s a good way to have it look like a lot’s going on, and yet we don’t know what the hell’s going on.
One thing I wanted the action in the film to do, was to allow you to follow it. That helps in the plausibility, because it helps believe that every action is because of a reaction, every thing a character’s doing is because of something the other character did.
I WONDER IF YOU COULD TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE CASTING. OBVIOUSLY THERE ARE SOME FAMOUS WESTERN FACES IN THERE, BUT MAYBE THE CASTING OF THE ASIAN ACTORS, WHO ARE OBVIOUSLY HUGELY IMPORTANT TO THE TONE OF THE WHOLE PIECE.
James Mangold: It was one of the great experiences of my life. Once we decided we were making this film, we wanted a real Japanese cast but we needed bilingual Japanese actors - a lot of them. I came here, I was in New York, Los Angeles and of course Tokyo, reading lots of people. It’s a pretty miraculous cast.
Hiro Sanada was someone I was after from the beginning he belongs in any films like this. The guy, I feel, is underutilised in this movie, I wish there was more to do with him. He’s a phenomenal actor. Even if I weren’t making an action film at all - he’s an absolutely phenomenal actor. On top of that he’s one of the biggest action stars in Japan, and was not only a great actor in the film but worked out every day in our training facility, working with the other actors and stunt people. He’s considered kind of a martial arts god in Japan, and justifiably from what I’ve seen. It was a great experience.
With Tao Okamoto, I ended up meeting in Los Angeles for the first time, is a pretty well-known Japanese model. And Rila Fukushima also was a Japanese model and was living in Tokyo at the time. Both of them had really unique looks, and very different.
I was really pleased with all the people who came into the cast, and it was such a pleasure directing a Japanese cast. First of all the universality of language - even when you can’t understand what they’re saying, you know when they’re good or not.
ONE OF THE GREAT TRIUMPHS OF THE FILM IS THAT YOU’VE MANAGED TO MAKE YOUR JAPANESE LOCATIONS FEEL LIKE A WHOLE OTHER WORLD ENTIRELY. COULD YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU’VE MADE IT SEEM SO OTHERWORLDLY IN PLACES?
James Mangold: In a way, my goal for the film was that advance toward a fever dream. It would start firmly in reality and keep notching its way, as night fell and the circumstances got bigger, toward more of a comic book kind of reality. But it was important to me that we start in a place that felt real. I feel like that’s what people were really craving to see Logan in, was the real world. When I read comics as a young man, I didn’t read them and feel like they took place in some kind of strange universe, I felt like they were in my world. I didn’t feel like everything was on another planet, when they were in a city I thought they were in my city. So I didn’t really want to see the action taking place in a movie landscape, I wanted to feel what it was like.
To that degree, we shot the action sequences and the chase through Tokyo on the streets of Tokyo. Some of it, when we couldn’t clear the streets or close them down, just because it’s hard in Japan to do that, I’d throw Hugh and Tao and our camera operator into a van and we were just running down the streets through crowds of regular folks. Some of whom are now in a major motion picture.
WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU DISCOVERED WHILE OUT IN JAPAN THAT YOU SAW ON LOCATION AND THOUGHT YOU HAD TO GET IN THE MOVIE, ALMOST SPONTANEOUSLY?
James Mangold: There was a lot - a lot came from our working process. As I was working on the script with my friend Scott Frank there was a point when we were going through the temple battle, I was like - We need a big thing on the train - he said - I’m so sick of things on trains. I said - Just put big thing on train there. And he wrote - Big thing on train. Then I went on a casting trip to Japan, and he kept writing and phoning me pages, and I was riding the bullet train to and from these different scouts in Japan, and I kept thinking about it.
I don’t know if you have been there or ridden the bullet train, but it’s pretty insane. You’re going nearly three hundred miles an hour, and you feel like you’re on an air plane on the ground. Yet there’s incredibly close objects to the skin of the train. There’s bullet trains going the opposite direction, going 270 miles an hour the other way, with like an eight inch tolerance between them and the other train. It causes this sonic boom as they pass. I kept thinking about it, while it’s a pretty well-worn trope of action pictures to have men boxing, or fighting on top of a train - as far back as Buster Keaton it’s been happening - I thought, never has it happened when you’d have the centrifugal and physical forces you’d have on board something at this speed. So I came back from this trip and we started pencilling out this crazy sequence. Thankfully, because it cost a fortune, Fox was really excited by what we came up with. There was a lot of money in those two and a half minutes, as you can imagine.
THE MARVEL UNIVERSE AND PARTICULARLY THE WOLVERINE HAS A LARGE FAN BASE - HOW MUCH FAN INPUT DID YOU TAKE ON BOARD?
James Mangold: Well, you listen to it and you let it rattle around in your head, you know you can’t make them all happy. You know there’s the guys who are like - Wolverine is short, Hugh Jackman is wrong for this role! Wolverine is squat and short - and you’re like, Ok! Sorry! And by the way, Johnny Cash was tall and Joaquin Phoenix is not tall. So, deal with it.
I’ve made movies based on other things that people hold dear and there is no way… you try to make people happy with the awareness that if people are looking at a drawn picture and want to see that moving up on the screen they should just never look up from the drawing because the reality is - we are converting it. There are flesh and blood people playing these roles, there’s decisions being made that cannot all be loyal to the picture you looked at when they were 14.
Even when you’re doing a movie of The Bible, you are going to upset people with the choices you make. The key is to be aware. The other thing that protects me in some sense, and makes me feel like I’m respecting those concerns, is just that I do care about the material. There’s not a calculated decision to somehow softening an edge or rounding a corner. I wanted a darker, more intense Wolverine. I knew that, like anything, that required giving up things as much as doing things.
You’ll notice there’s less quipping in this film - that’s intentional. I wanted the tone of a Clint Eastwood movie. Well, Clint Eastwood doesn’t exist in an episode of Friends. So he can't just can’t make a glib remark every time something happens. So in this movie Wolverine doesn’t. I know there will be some people who say “I wish it was funnier and said funny shit more often”. But if you wanted a darker film, you can’t also have a movie where he’s also making a joke every 3 seconds. It doesn’t work that way, to me.
Based on the celebrated comic book arc, this epic action-adventure takes Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the most iconic character of the X-Men universe, to modern day Japan. Out of his depth in an unknown world he faces his ultimate nemesis in a life-or-death battle that will leave him forever changed. Vulnerable for the first time and pushed to his physical and emotional limits, he confronts not only lethal samurai steel but also his inner struggle against his own immortality, emerging more powerful than we have ever seen him before.
Summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, Wolverine becomes embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.
Director: James Mangold
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee
The Establishing Shot: DIRECTOR JAMES MANGOLD TALKS THE WOLVERINE HE TELLS US WHY HE DIDN'T EXPLORE LOGAN'S PAST & SETS UP A DELETED SCENE FOR THE BLU-RAY RELEASE OF THE WOLVERINE - JAMES MANGOLD IN CONVERSATION
|Craig is a retired superhero, an obsessive hobbyist, comics fan, gadget lover & flâneur who knows an unhealthy amount about Ian Fleming's James Bond.|
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