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– by Joseph Jammer Medina

wolverine-fb4When you become the director to a sequel part ofa monstrous comic book movie franchise, there’s no way one wouldn’t feel the amount of pressure that’s thrust upon them from day one. The eyes of fans around the world are watching, observing, combing over every little scene that peeks out from the trailers. The question on their minds is whether or not this filmmaker, this movie, will be a sequel far greater than the one before (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”).

Fortunately James Mangold is the kind of filmmaker who’s always ready for a challenge, even if there’s a legion of comic book movie fans watching and possibly criticizing his movie-making decisions. The seasoned director may not be the first filmmaker to find himself handling “The Wolverine,” but ever since day one he’s been determined to make the best possible sequel that will entertain the fans and regular movie-goers alike. We got the opportunity to sit down and talk with the accomplished filmmaker about his approach to “The Wolverine,” picking up where other directors left off and his absolute love for the comics.

So obviously you know that the last Wolverine film wasn’t well received. What was your approach knowing that you had a damaged legacy to deal with?

James Mangold: I think for me there were a lot of opportunities in the movie. It was less about the fact that [the story of Wolverine] was a Japanese saga as well. It allowed the chance to do the version you would like to see. One of its advantages for me and I think a tougher thing for the first one; you’re unburdened by the origin story. I mean the origin story is awesome but it’s very hard [to pull off]. The advantage I have on “The Wolverine” is my two hours are entirely devoted to characters and adventure and not having to set everything up. There’s a joy to setting up origin story, I’m not putting it down but I think that when you have a movie where you’re trying to do both it’s an extra challenge. For me, because so much has been set in place with this character already it afforded me a chance to do something different and I don’t think many films like these hero films, go inside the hero and just explore him. The movie doesn’t revolve around any gigantic villain out to destroy the planet, the earth, the continent…football stadium…the movie is built on interpersonal relationships. It sounds more obvious than you’d think there really aren’t many of these movies that are built on that.

When it comes to the original story line in the Chris Claremont written comics, there’s only so much in there to pick off of. Did you enjoy taking advantage of expanding on his story?

James Mangold: One of the things I thought was really interesting about when I came on the project is that it wasn’t entirely clear where this took place in the timeline of the movies and other things that existed.  For me what was the opportunity was to place this after everything the existed so that in a way I could take advantage of what I wanted to take advantage of without having to do a hand off to a preexisting movie or end in a certain place. But also there were themes I wanted [to explore]. I knew Hugh [Jackman] a long time, I’ve watched these movies. I’ve been a comic book fan both Marvel and DC for my whole life particularly in my younger years. For me there were things I saw the opportunity to explore that were touched upon in the saga but because honestly the comics are never ending. You can explore these themes in a kind of expansive, horizontal way and in the end I have to somehow construct something that has a middle, beginning and end in a two hour period.

In a way I had to do the origin story of his relationship with Japan. Like if there was something I had to introduce it was so that you’re not only falling into a new point in his own life but you’re falling into a place where he’s already made a host of new connections and you don’t know how any of them came to pass. So there’s very simple redirection like that that wemade. My own feeling about putting it after everything which for me was a huge opportunity yet another idea that was less acutely explored in Claremont-Miller but I thought would fuse with it very well was this idea—when I first saw the first script that they had developed for it the thing that I wrote down was ‘everyone I love will die.’ It was this idea to me of what it is to be immortal and in a way Logan is cursed. So that you have a sense that, in the story lines of the existing films what served me was that everyone you love is gone. Everyone, your mentors are gone, your sense of belonging to any kind of fraternal organization whether you dismissed it or not was gone. People you loved are dead, either at your own hand or because of who you are or because of people who hate you.  That’s a really charged emotional place to find a character especially one who is condemned to live forever.  So that you kind of go that’s really interesting, what happens if you come upon a hero like this. A dark hero like this who has lost any real purpose for being and perhaps even lost some of his interest in trying to help mankind in anyway.

I know this is a story Mr. Jackman has been wanting to tell for a long time can you describe your relationship with him and how maybe both of you came to this project in the beginning in your early conversations and how the project evolved?

James Mangold: These kinds of movies are never something I thought about in the forefront of my own brain making and obviously there was another filmmaker working on this for a while and it’s been in development without any filmmaker for a while. Hugh and I had a long term friendship and have kept in touch with each other and obviously we made a movie together over a decade ago. What happened to me was this kind of funny nexus of when the project fell apart with the people that were making it and it came upon my doorstep my first reaction was like, ‘No.’ But honestly because of all things that I came to realize when I spoke to Hugh I hadn’t read Claremont-Miller since it had come out. So when I took a look at it, it dawned on me that the apprehensions I had about getting involved in a film particularly one with preexisting characters and what could be the burden of feeling like you’re making the 5th episode of a television show I was freed from. I saw a fresh start and I saw…maybe this in some way addresses your question without putting down other films but I saw the opportunity of unexplored avenues for this character. Miraculously given how many times Hugh has done this role in movies that there are aspects of this character have gone unexplored. I think that’s mostly a function of when you make an X-Men film it’s kind of a round robin and when you really get down to it there’s two hours and six or seven heroes and even if you give each one eight minutes you’re out of time. So the fact is that there’s this huge ability to focus in on one character and watch him exist, be, do things and not feel under this continuant pressure to keep having it have the to turn the plot around.

We haven’t seen much about the Viper character. Can you tell us anything about her or her allegiances?

 James Mangold: The reason that I hesitate is that I don’t want to give away the surprise, but more to that the movie is a mystery. The movie itself is kind of a labyrinth. There’s so many kinds of ways to tell a story. If you don’t just kind of have a very clear bad guy who, as I said, has an agenda to destroy x, then your story operates more from ground level with Logan figuring out what’s going on. And so very much, whether you’re talking about Viper or Mariko or Yukio or Yashida or Shingen or Noburo, you’re trying to figure out where they all stand. Everyone’s got secrets and everyone’s got surprises, not just Viper. The joy of the film to me is trying to figure out, like Logan is, you land in this Oz, you don’t really have your feet planted on the ground, you don’t know the way things operate here and you don’t know the language. So there’s a level where the interesting quality of the movie is watching him with us unpeel what the hell is going on.

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From seeing the footage we’re getting a darker Wolverine. It’s funny how it fits in the themes with recent summer movies this season, between this, “Man of Steel” and “Iron Man 3,” superhero movies in general are starting to take a darker, more serious tone. 

James Mangold: Well the audience in a way is the generation that grew up on these series of films, all of them, I just don’t mean ours, are getting older. The people who saw the first Iron Man, the kids who saw the first X-Men, in a way there is a natural. It makes sense to me. I feel like the bar, in a funny way, is being raised in unique ways on cable and other places where the sophistication of films is demanding that… I think the idea of just spending a whole lot of money on a whole lot of sound and images isn’t enough. I think that’s a really good thing, a really healthy thing for movies. It isn’t just that easy that you can just string two hours of anything loud and fast moving together and know you’re going to get your money back. I think that’s an opportunity for filmmakers because that means actually that you better be delivering something of actual story value.

You talked about seeing this as a genre piece, but it ultimately still is a comic book movie. How much do you play with that? Obviously we’ve seen the bullet train scene that works. Do we see that all the way through, the sort of comic book-ness of it?

James Mangold: I mean I don’t recognize these lines. If I had a record store I wouldn’t have country and rock, and where does this one go? I don’t know what comic book movie means. Does it mean Batman as it was on TV with Adam West, or do you mean Batman as done by Christopher Nolan? There’s a huge spectrum when you say that, and I don’t… why is Josey Wales not a comic book? Because he wasn’t a comic book? Why isn’t the Seven Samurai not a comic book? Because it wasn’t a comic book. Is it really that different? Is there a story, is there a legend, is there how they came to be, are there secrets, are there special tools in their special belts? Yes. So I don’t actually recognize if they’re actually that different. I think, to me, what’s dangerous is in the world of studios, calling something “comic book” has a danger of being a way of making it do anything and they’ll eat anything, meaning that it doesn’t have to make sense, it’s a comic book. I think the reality is that it does have to make sense and the comic books did make sense. Sometimes it’s too easy to take a brand and shovel a movie out where it doesn’t all add up but people are going to show up anyways because it is a comic book and a brand. So the point is, my whole thing is take it seriously. Take it seriously like you were making a western or another kind of film of classic lineage, in less pulpy lineage, because in a way that’s what I think Chris[topher Nolan] and others have done, which is take it very very seriously. I don’t think the first thing Chris thinks about in making those movies is a comic book. I think he thinks about the story.

This project existed before you came onto it. Darren Aronofsky, Chris McQuarrie, how much of their stuff did you use? I know you said ‘This is my movie’ and put your stamp on it.

James Mangold: It doesn’t actually work that way. It’s not like I comein and piss on something. These are smart people and they have good ideas and you’re kind of getting…I’m not taking offense, I’m just trying to say I have a lot of respect for both those guys. The reality is there’s always books and things friends have been working on and we also all talk to each other. I can’t tell you on other projects how many great ideas I’ve gotten from a friend who isn’t even credited with anything on the movie but just gave me a tip or something that occurred to them watching it. So you’re always sharing and you’re always passing things off. I spoke to Darren before I came on. But it was more that I was just in when I came on I was just trying to make it make sense for me. The whole thing kind of pulled together and make sense for me. But certainly there’s work of Chris’s script, there’s stuff in the movie. It’s not like we tossed stuff away. We just kept developing the movie. The real thing was I see my job and as a write myself, I mean I worked on the script as well. What you are always trying to do is you’re kind of setting down just an idea. I try and evangelize, like I did with you guys, like the first 5 words I wrote on the script was “Everyone I love will die.” This is a movie about that. So now what do I do? How do I follow my journey through the Claremont/Miller saga and touch upon that? Are there other people wrestling with issues of immortality? Are there other characters who wish they were dead but are mortal? Wish they could live forever but are mortal? Or are immortal and want to live forever and don’t have the same abilities? How many permutations of this idea can I populate this story with in which you suddenly get something really rich because, to me, that’s the best of what comic book films have done is to both exist in a pulpy universe but at the same time deal with deep themes. I mean Shakespeare played to the groundlings he didn’t just play to the royals. So who knows what makes a comic book a comic book? You know what I mean. The reality is just you just kind of sit down and its not so much I’m trying to get rid of someone’s work or enhance someone else’s work, I go ‘How can we set sail toward this theme? What is on this theme? What is a different theme and therefore taking me in the wrong direction? What’s going to carry me this way?

Check out two more exclusive posters from “The Wolverine” below. Click on the link here to check out the first half of the edit bay set visit where I describe and briefly review the footage I saw so far.

“The Wolverine” will be out in theaters everywhere on July 26th.

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.