By Ryan Penagos & Marc Strom
“The Wolverine” claws its way into theaters this weekend, marking Hugh Jackman’s sixth appearance as Logan on the big screen since 1999’s original “X-Men” film. And this time around, director James Mangold steps behind the camera to tell the next story in Wolverine’s cinematic saga.
Mangold’s career has spanned a variety of genres since “Heavy,” his feature debut in 1995, with films including “Cop Land,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Girl, Interrupted” and “Kate and Leopold,” which also paired him with Jackman.
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Now the director can add super hero movies to his resume of genres, but what originally attracted him to “The Wolverine” lay in the ways in which the story twisted the genre.
“When I read this script, what struck me was that the product was so different than anything else out there,” recalls Mangold. “Not because it was a Wolverine picture, but because of where Wolverine was going. The setting that Wolverine was being plunged into and the fact that we’re basically making a kind of international picture, maybe the only one you’ve really seen where you’ve got [one of the] super mainstream, pantheon comic book heroes who is, in the movie sense, kind of in a completely foreign setting.”
Aside from the potential Mangold saw in the film’s story, he also felt a great connection to Logan’s character and the inner crisis he faces in his latest cinematic adventure.
“He’s a real mythological hero,” relates the director. “What I mean by that is that there’s such resonance to his struggle, to his sense of immortality, to his sense of pain, to the world-weariness to keep having to help us with our screw ups and our hurting ourselves, and also having to say goodbye to so many people. One of the first things I said to Hugh and one of the first things I brought to Fox about it was just that, that everyone I love will die. I thought that tone, the idea for Wolverine that everyone he’s loved has died, [worked as an entry point] into the [Chris] Claremont [story and] the saga that exists. My whole feeling was just to be really sure that we understand that we’re landing with him at the tail end of the sagas we’ve seen in which he’s lost everyone and everything.”
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“The Wolverine” also allows Mangold to dabble in a type of film he’s long held affection for due to the Japanese themes and settings.
“I think the thing that really drew me into the script when I read it is I’m a huge fan of Japanese film. My very first film, ‘Heavy,’ which is a pretty minimalist drama, was hugely influenced by the films of Yasujirō Ozu, who I had studied, [and] who I think is one of the incredibly under-appreciated Japanese directors, I mean, compared to [Akira] Kurosawa or [Kenji] Mizoguchi. But I’m a fan of all Japanese cinema and the idea of [having] a chance to kind of land in an environment and inhabit a form, I felt like this was a real opportunity here that I wasn’t going to get every day.
“And it isn’t the same to make a film in Newark and to make it Japanese style as doing a film in Japan Japanese style,” continues Mangold. “I tried that. In my film “Cop Land” I tried to make a Western modern day, and there’s a lot of interesting things that happen, but there are a lot of challenges. For instance, people have cell phones in modern day New Jersey. They don’t have cell phones in Westerns. Some of the beauty of the Western is the isolation of the hero, [and] some of the beauty of the Japanese films are the shoji screens, the way the houses are built, the tight corridors, the cramped spaces, the sense of intensity to the Japanese character, the sense of driven-ness or intensity. The huge, prevailing sense of honor and code of ethics, codes of fighting that have almost disappeared from the Western world but still very much exist in this world, are such a unique and wonderful contrast to Wolverine’s own sense of fighting style, his own sense of rage, his own sense of very Western lack of boundaries. What a wonderful contrast for this character.”
For this movie, the filmmakers looked to the original Wolverine limited series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller for the basis of their story. Using that tale as his launch pad, Mangold set out to create a new, fresh take on the character.
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“I think everything has always been guided and inspired by Miller and Claremont,” elaborates the director. “And I think that all we’re ever trying to do is make the most kick-ass film that actually maintains suspense, that enlivens and inhabits all the characters and is completely loyal to the underpinnings of this universe, and at the same time not turning into an endless libretto where every character arrives stating twelve pages of backstory. For me, the real thing was to make a great film. The goal was always to make a great film. I’m a real genre-hopper, and I feel like I learn from each genre and try to bring whatever I’ve learned from one genre to the next. I learned a lot on ‘Walk the Line’ that really helped on ‘3:10 to Yuma.’ And so there’s a lot you can keep learning from how to regenerate it.”
With the film finally in theaters, fans can now see Mangold and Jackman’s new tale after their long wait…and once the credits roll, the director hopes the audience will walk away feeling the resonance he found in the character.
“I’m hoping that this feels like a film of vision, a film that has something to say, a film that this character has something to say in, but also delivers on the reasons I read comics when I was 13, which is that I wanted the action, the intensity. I wanted to understand my world and my struggles through the mythical struggles of these people with incredible powers.”
Get set for Hugh Jackman's return and purchase your tickets for "The Wolverine," in theaters now!