A few weeks ago HeyUGuys along with a few other international journalists were invited to the 20th Century Fox lot to sit down with Director James Mangold and screen 18 minutes of footage from the forthcoming release “The Wolverine”. There are mild spoilers below.
Showcasing mainly the first act of the film, the footage establishes Mangold’s unique take on the Wolverine character by removing the titular character from the larger world of mutants and focusing instead on the internal pathos of a man who can never die. Wolverine’s mutant power is shown not so much a gift but rather a curse, resembling most similarly to the depiction of Logan seen in Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film. The question of Logan’s near immortality and his pain plays heavily into the majority of the film’s plot and tone.
While the trailers highlight the action beats of the film, the footage shown goes out of its way to set up how detached from society Logan has become, and how his tortured existence has led him to become a complete outcast yet again. Logan flashes back to hallucinations of his lost love Jean Grey and finds that nearly everything he holds dear eventually dies. As Logan sinks into what can only really be called a serious depression, a mysterious Japanese woman named Yukio pulls him back into the world with an offer from a long forgotten acquaintance.
While the cut of the film was still in a very early stage with temp music, plates and effects, it was clear that this is not X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2. This is a more grounded, intimate look at Marvel’s Canucklehead and is less about the fantastic over the top silliness of the last entry. By all accounts The Wolverine looks to be making all the right decisions leading up to it’s release later this month and should be a respectable entry into Fox’s X-Men franchise.
After the footage was screened, Director James Mangold sat down with us for nearly a half hour and discussed everything relating to the movie, the character of Logan, the use of 3D and his take on the Superhero Genre in general. The following transcript includes questions asked by other journalists in the roundtable, HUG questions highlighted in bold:
HeyUGuys: Unlike other X Men movies that have dealt with Logan’s amnesia, this film seems to focus heavily on what he remembers and how that adds up over his lifetime.
Yeah, I kinda felt like there is only so many stories we can play. And certainly I don’t think amnesia was really a huge function part of the [Frank] Miller storyline…when you make one of these movies you’ve got what the movies have set in place, and what we were adapting in the Frank Miller story. So you got kind of this double whammy and you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to follow and how you can tell a nice story. For me, the personal place where we find Logan, what worked best with this saga, was one in which Logan COULD remember. So that he had the pain of memory. I also feel like …if I had to watch anyone else piecing their life together from photos or newspaper articles I think I might just collapse. But that seemed to be done and done and done.
Are we going to see any costume this time? Like the Brown and yellow, etc.
I could not comment one way or another on that. You saw the first reel and there was no costume in that.
Is this movie going to connect to any other movies?
I think the question is, if I were delivering on this and I told you, I would be an idiot. If I weren’t delivering on this and I told you, I’d be an idiot. So… I’m not an idiot. Otherwise I’d be the guy who likes to give away surprises.
What attracted you to this film, what did you want to achieve?
[At] first I wasn’t attracted to it. I was hesitant to enter this world. This is a world in which, with some great exceptions, there’s a bit of an arms race. The look & feel of these tent pole movies and what they are all doing. I really was not interested in just doing another one. Another movie that’s just trying to out-gun, out-cut, out-loud, out-IMAX, out-3D. What I’m most interested in is character. Yet at the same time, I love movies like this when they’re done WITH character. For me what really intrigued me despite my hesitance was the studio’s and Hugh’s interest in making something different. I also felt like I had a certain guarantee. As long as they were adapting this particular saga from the comic world they were going to be boxed in a little bit. There was no way to turn this suddenly into a movie that’s taking place in Cleveland, when it’s in Japan. The idea of dropping Logan into this new world gave me as much of a fresh start as I felt like I needed in terms of creating its own tone, and making the movie feel both connected to, but also autonomous from the other pictures.
HeyUGuys: Is that perhaps part of the reason that there is no “X-Men” in the title of this film?
To me honestly that’s like breakfast cereal. That’s [about] marketing that’s not storytelling. That’s something you put on a doll. It’s more about figurines and it’s not about [the movie]. I like making a movie that is contained, that works in it of itself. It’s not “number 6 in a hardy boys series” it’s a movie. …when I felt like that was what they wanted to do, that’s when it became interesting to me.
How would you describe the character of Wolverine and how did you prepare for the film?
I’ve been a comic book fan since I was a kid so the world wasn’t new to me. Although a lot of cool things have happened including Old Man Logan and this saga that I was happily catching up on over the years. But I mean what is Wolverine to me? Or what was attractive to me? To me Wolverine can’t fly, he can’t stop [and] pull down aircraft. There is something tangibly human about him, that there’s something tangibly pained about him. …That unlike a lot of the other heroes in the other pictures, a lot of which I enjoy, he’s decidedly a damaged figure. Who doesn’t even want the burden that has been thrust upon him. In some ways he’s like a pound dog, he’s been abused. That’s all really interesting to me as a starting point for a character.
You know people divide movies into different categories: Westerns, Noir films, Japanese movies, Superhero movies etc. Really in reality when you make them they are not all divided along these lines. Westerns work just like superhero films or noir films. Just no one in a noir films wears a cape and no one in a western has claws that come out of their fists. The reality is that a lot of the rules and ideas, struggles with morality, black and white, good guys vs. bad guys are really similar. If anything the reductive nature of the non superhero movies force them to work on a character level because you don’t have all that CG razzle dazzle that you can distract everyone with the fact that there is actually no reason for the character to be sitting there. I was just trying to carry some the qualities of the more reductive form into one of these movies. ..that doesn’t mean you don’t have action, but it means somehow it’s based upon more than just a never ending escalating war between a hero and some super villain who has some secret new neutron X-DYZ-BXT-UBX box of death that is going to blow up the city, the world, the planet, the galaxy.. whatever. Because for me that has been done.
This is a movie where the people at stake here are the people you care about in the film. There aren’t thousands who are going to die if this or that happens. So that the movie lives or dies on the basis of how much you care about the people in it, and not about some kind of ambiguous threat to a horde of innocent millions. ..A lot of what has fascinated me my entire life is sort of damaged heroes in different ways, and I think Logan very much qualifies. I think also Hugh and I were really ambitious to try something deeper. That isn’t necessarily knocking the other films I’m just saying when you make a “team” movie, add it up. These movies tend to be about 2 hours long. Subtract the opening action sequence and the ending action sequence you now have about 90 minutes left. Now divide that among five characters and each one is getting 11 minutes MAX. The fact is that when you make a movie about one, it’s just different. Also I was freed from the burden of telling an origin story, I feel like everybody knows this who guy is on a basic level. You know when Dirty Harry starts you don’t explain how he was born. You just start. In that sense I found that interesting to me.
There’s a lot of levels to Logan. You know, reluctant guys. I love Isaac Asimov’s story the Bicentennial Man which is about a robot that lives forever, falls in love with a mortal woman, raises her from childhood, falls in love with her as a woman and then buries her. Then has to live forever after that. The Idea of the pain you must endure, when the dream of immortality and healing is actually extended to you and that it’s not really such a gift, as much as it can also be a curse that you are on this Earth forever with the burden of your power. That’s really interesting to me.
For the first time in his life Logan is shown to be venerable. He has to make a very difficult choice, how did you decide to adapt it?
It just occurred to us that first of all you have the natural narrative trap that if nothing can hurt him, and you’re not holding millions hostage, what is the movie going to be about? Also, I don’t know how to make a movie about a guy who can’t get hurt. It’s like making a movie about a 2 x 4. [like] the success of Dark Knight, the success of the original Superman, these movies usually work it’s because the hero is not just Teflon, but actually what is most interesting is their flaws in RELATION to their power.
Can you talk a bit about the use of 3D in the film. Was it done all in post?
I get this question all the time and it’s kind of a Vinyl vs CD question. Obviously we have been working on the 3D and consulting on it since we started but it actually doesn’t work that way. It’s easy to ask “is it organically 3D or not” and I don’t think you want me to waste a lot of your time explaining why it doesn’t work that way. But for instance, what is Avatar? Well the whole world is bullsh*t. it’s all made up. So was it organically 3D or “fake” 3D? It was all “fake” 3D. Meaning this whole idea that there is such a thing as “real 3D” is slightly wrong.
When you do shoot with two cameras in “real 3D” you still adjust the parallax, which is done in post, with computers, with digital simulations, and frame additions and paintings… et al. Plus the whole world of the movie that is paintings or set extensions is of course, just like in Avatar, completely 100% made up. Meaning not photographed.
When you make the decision to shoot in “organic” 3D or not is not based on whether you’re cheap or whether you want to do a sh*tty job or a good job. Both versions can come out good or bad. ..in my case I wanted to make a very intimate film. Shooting modern 3D with two cameras is like shooting the old Technicolor Camera. ..It’s a really cumbersome thing to make an intimate film with. It’s one thing to make sweeping and dancing [shots] look fantastic, but when you’re actually trying to get into someone’s head? And you have two lenses pointed at them? It’s not necessarily conducive to making an intimate film. I was coming from a place that’s similar to your question when I first started exploring these things, it’s just not that simple.
It’s not as simple as all those other people would like it to be. In every case they are adjusting the 3D in post. In some cases they are taking in the information in production with one camera and supplemental cameras gathering parallax information. In other situations like Baz’s with Gatsby they’re shooting with two actual cameras mounted on each other. ..Sometimes they can’t even get the rig in one of these places. And that’s as technical an answer as I can give you but it’s a non issue. It’s a kind of issue that I find the press likes to talk about because it’s almost like “why did you do it the sh*tty way?” it’s actually not true. There is no sh*tty way. The sh*tty way is what makes a sh*tty movie. You try to pick the best way to do it that actually gets the emotions on the screen you are looking for. But we’ve been working and planning on doing it 3D from the beginning.
I’m not clairvoyant but I don’t think this idea of 3D is going away. And to me people from the beginning have always bitched about the arrival of color, the arrival of sound, the arrival of widescreen, so that every one of these things is something to learn about how to use, and how to use better, so that you have somehow have control over it. So that’s a lot of the reason I’m interested in exploring it. Obviously this is a story that is going to look good in 3D. I’m NOT interested in flying things at the audience, or making you acutely aware of 3D to the degree where it pushes you out. I find that annoying.
So you’re not a big fan of special effects in general?
No no no. I’m not a big fan of anything that takes you out of the movie. I’m a fan of special effects when you didn’t feel like it was a special effect. To me every movie needs special effects. What I mean by that is I don’t think about it as where I bought it, a vendor or Joaquin Phoenix’s face, one way or another you need unbelievable moments. You need moments that you go “how did they do that?” that could still be “How did they get that emotion in his eyes?” or it could be “How did they build that world?” but every movie, EVERY MOVIE needs that wonder. It could be reductive, it could be small, it could be the smallest Sundance movie, but if it’s really great, there’s moments where you say “I don’t know how the f*ck they did that” You know they didn’t have ILM, but somehow still you don’t know how the hell they did that. And that’s why you came! That’s why you spent two hours of your life, you’ll die someday and you’ll go “Where did I spend those two hours?” you went there because they did SOMETHING worth being there for. Which is to ME a special effect. And that’s the way I look at that.
When was the last time that happened to you?
Let me ponder that…(long pause).I honestly think I was watching an episode of Game of Thrones not long ago and there was a piece of acting in it. It was an episode directed by David Benioff I thought was so surprising. It was the episode where they cut off Jamie’s hand. It shocked me.. but it wasn’t the physical effect, it the absolute shock of what it was going to mean for this character. Also I’m friends with the director and guy who created the show and I was just really proud and blown away.
Is there any superhero as a child you would want to be?
I loved The Flash. When I was a boy of about 12 or 13 I was an avid Flash collector. No one has ever managed to make a movie, and the suit is pretty challenging but I always loved him. I was both DC and a Marvel guy. If there was one a movie I haven’t seen and wondered why, because speed is such a filmic thing. The Idea of speed is so filmic.
The first time you worked with Hugh Jackman it was a romantic comedy, now it is a totally different production. Did the way you work together change?
It’s not that different. I mean it’s not like I change, or he changes. I mean we’re both 12 years older, but the reality is that while he was always brilliant I believe that he has gotten much stronger as an actor. And I would like to think I’ve learned a couple things since then. Obviously you’re making a different movie. The tone is different. But I don’t think it changes the tone you bring to the set. I want people to be playful, I want people to have fun, we don’t have people in a constant state of depression. But you do adjust your goal. We had very specific ideas of what we wanted this to be. When you’re making a movie of this scale you have to be clear with the studio, when they look at dailies they’re hoping to see the pieces of what you described to assemble. I think to a large degree I made the movie they expected me to make.
Do you fear or are happy to see the reaction of the fans? Like on Twitter?
Most people are writing in and saying “awesome trailer” so I’m writing “Thanks” 99 times a day. But the reality is that I’m also making a movie right now. Trying to find that balance for communicating with people. But the fans don’t scare me, they’re incredibly smart. You WANT people to be excited about what you’re making, you really do. The only part that’s ever contradictory is to the degree that people want to know stuff in advance and then are angry with what they find out. It’s kind of like kids who want to open their presents before Christmas and then do and then wish they got the bike instead of the skateboard. It’s like “I’m sorry, you asked both” But I think that’s more a reveal about a person’s innate personality. People who are just forever unhappy. They’re gonna see the glass half empty and there’s other people who will see the glass half full. People have favorite filmmakers and whatever that filmmaker does it could be a turd in a cup they’ll think it’s cool.
There are going to be people who think I suck and who think I ruined this thing no matter what I do. So you also adjust to the fact that you get philosophical about it. In the end you just [ask yourself] “Am I working hard? Am I trying to make the best film I can? Am I trying to service not just marketing goals or merely commercial goals? but some idea about telling a story about life, love something more than just wholesale destruction? Yes.” part of my job is to bring something to it, and by bringing something to it it’s deciding to not do something else. And that’s a function of my job, and not only in superhero movies. You can make a Johnny Cash movie you’ll have a lot of opinions about what you left out or what you did or what you kept.
HeyUGuys: Would you ever come back to the superhero genre again? or have you said all you need to say about this type of film and this character?
I think that each genre informs the other. You make a funny film you learn things about timing, about blocking and you bring that to a more serious film. You know the movie I made before Walk the Line was Identity. They couldn’t be more different in many ways. And before Identity was Kate & Leopold and that experience of moving back and forth, you learn a lot. I feel really blessed. I think when I first started directing it was very challenging to me because I didn’t encourage or allow myself, and I don’t know why to be honest, to be branded as “this kind” of filmmaker or “that kind” of filmmaker. I kind of moved around enough right from the beginning. I think that gives the press and even I think the world of financing movies and studios a hard time to get a fix on what you are. Everyone else is by their second picture the reigning king of horror, or they anoint the next king of Los Angeles.
Everyone gets anointed very quickly but if you haven’t branded yourself, it makes it very hard for anyone to get a handle on you. But I’m really grateful, 10, 11 movies in now that i have a kind of freedom that I’m really feel grateful for. I can move, I would certainly do a movie like this again, as I would love to do a western, as I would love do a musical. I could spend my life moving and cycling through these genres and really I hope I get the chance to.
Curious to know about the editing process how much do you enjoy that part of the filmmaking process.
It’s joyful, it’s everything, I mean I do love shooting, but the act of shooting is trying to make these moments happen and then capture them, and then make the next one happen and then put them in your bag. Editing is this opportunity to sort of dump all the seashells on the table and sort the crap away and the really good ones and say “what was I thinking when I picked that one up?” it’s glorious. and it’s also restful. When I shoot night scenes I’m up all night. I can drop my kids off at school I can come to the place with all my friends, we can look at all these pieces, we can put them together, we can think, we can go to bed, wake up the next day, there’s a process.
Luckily the post in this movie, I mean we are in a race against time, and i think that makes a big difference on these films. so often the financing comes together so that everything is last minute. So it affects the quality of the cutting, the quality of the effects, the quality of the narrative. We need time for the thing to live a little bit and to live with it. Every time I watch that stuff I have new ideas, I have thoughts about how we’re scoring it and where the color balance needs to be, should I try another take here? That opportunity to live with it? it’s fantastic. It makes a better product. A piece of art…hopefully.
Thanks to James Mangold and 20th Century Fox for their time.
The Wolverine is released on the 25th of July.