Logan is revered among fans as one of the best films to feature a super hero since the boom began with Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man movies and the X-Men saga launched simultaneously. Hugh Jackman's storied tenure as Wolverine came to an end in the R-rated masterpiece but it focused less on serving a franchise and more on telling its own unique story. It's a testament to James Mangold's style as a storyteller, constantly trying and often succeeding to find the soul of a story and put character at the forefront. With Logan, he did just that without any constraints from a handful of previous appearances by its titular character in other movies.
Mangold will be joining ComicBook.com's Quarantine Watch Party of Logan on Wednesday night. Those looking to attend the event simply press play on their own copy of the film at 9pm ET and tweet along using #QuarantineWatchParty. The director will be sharing "thoughts and images from behind the scenes, honestly answering some questions and willfully avoiding others," he said on Twitter.
He said much more than that, though, in an interview with ComicBook.com ahead of the Quarantine Watch Party. Mangold opened about his work on Logan and a bit of what's to come from him in the exclusive interview below!
ComicBook.com: What was your first shred of an idea for this movie, and why Logan?
James Mangold: Well, in many ways it was about the freedom that Wolverine bought me. The desire for the studio to make another Wolverine movie, Hugh's own resolve to make a final Wolverine movie, not thinking of, if there was going to be one more it would be his last. And my own feeling that I really didn't want to do a movie like that again, if I didn't have a greater sense of freedom to do what felt like I was missing when I saw these films. When I saw what had become its own genre as it were, of superhero or comic book movies, as they're called. I don't really think of it as a genre. I think it's, but to the degree that we've had a lot of those movies the last couple decades, I've felt like a lot of them are doing the same thing over and over again. And it was not interesting to me to do that.
It seemed to me that the only films of this ilk that did interest me, that I did admire, or to use Chris Nolan's movies as an example, the ones that have really moved me beyond just the spectacle. There was a very clear decision to apply a film genre to the material, if that makes any sense. The reason I'm always pointing out the so called superhero movie, and I keep pointing out that I don't think it's the genre. Is that from a creative perspective, in terms of making a movie, there are as many kinds of superhero movies as there are movie genre.
And what I mean by that is that you could make a Greek myth, warriors and gods superhero movie, like a Hercules story. You can make a Bible story as a superhero story, which has been done, a Christ parable. You could make a Western as a superior story. As Chris did, you can make a noir film as a superhero story. We've seen comedies. We've seen buddy pictures. We've seen all of the most successful ones, to me in my personal opinion, don't just say to themselves, "I'm making a superhero movie." They take it somewhere specific, and I think that was true to the comic books. I don't think the comic book artists were satisfied with just making in a sense straight "superhero" stories. They were always adding a prism through which to view this particular story. At least the most memorable comic books sagas I know, had a narrative position in terms of what they were trying to do with these characters.
And that was very much what I set out for. When the opportunity arose, I realized I'd have freedom and I even traded budget for more freedom. Meaning, I told the studio I'd do it if it could be rated R, and that for me, the decision to go R was less about just wanting more violence. Although, that would certainly be part of it. But it was also as you've probably heard me say in interviews past, maybe even with you guys, is that when you make a rated R film, the film is no longer marketed to nine-year-olds. And when the film is no longer marketed to nine or 10 year old kids, there's other changes that happen behind the scenes. The studio no longer anticipates that the film will play for families. Because the studio no longer anticipates the film will play as a family film, there are narrative burdens that are no longer upon the movie that are far different than just whether there's language or sexuality or violence.
They also relate to the reading level of the movie, which can go up. The scene lengths can be longer. The pauses can be greater. The themes can be more complex and adult, because you are no longer servicing. You're not making a happy meal anymore. You're making a grownup meal, and that changes everything. And that in many ways, my respect for what comic books I grew up with was that they always resonated. Part of what was attractive to me about it as a young man was that they weren't childish. They resonated with themes of romance, sexuality, revenge, grief, haunted childhoods, psychological damage. All these ideas were really interesting and they were more complicated in the comic books than they were, and that was part of the attraction of them. There was stuff that there's going on that wasn't in children's television or in our cartoons. There was something racy going on, in the same way that even when you watch a Bugs Bunny cartoon now, you realize... The reason I love them so much is there was something racy going on in those.
CB: I was really curious about what the process of convincing the studio to let you do an R rated movie is. Is that a difficult thing to do when working within a major franchise?
JM: Well, the process of convincing them, is telling them it'll cost them less. The process of convincing them is really a nuts and bolts of them saying to you, "If the movie is rated R it's going to make 30% to 40% less money." And then you going, "Okay, it'll cost 30% to 40% less money to shoot. So I hear you and I'll meet you." And certainly my gambit had gained fuel with the success of Deadpool, specifically for Fox. And in a wider world with the sense that I think everyone at all of the studios was feeling like the task of making comic book adaptations of superhero films had gotten creatively stale. And that therefore some changes, even the corporations, even the companies in all their conservativeness, in all their resistance to change, knew that the formula as it was, was no longer working. The same economic graphs could show that the movies, without adding some new idea, were no longer grossing as well as they had, at that moment in time.
CB: A theme that comes with the added complexity and the R rating I think is death. You certainly didn't shy away from offing some iconic characters. Going in, you know this is Hugh's last movie. Who all is involved in that conversation to kill his character, though? How do you decide this is how we're going to say goodbye to Logan?
JM: The process is a lot less of a committee than you'd think. It was really Hugh and I at first. It seemed logical, that if it were going to be his last film, that he's either going to ride off onto the horizon or die. That you need to have some kind of curtain on his story, that's a logical assumption, right? So you either have the Shane ending where he rides off on the mountain to parts unknown, which had largely been the way his character was resolved in every proceeding movie. Or you'd kill him. But the reason the choice was at our feet was because you needed the sense of closure. You needed some sense of an ending if you were going to end, if you were dealing with the legacy of Hugh's many performances and many films, and trying to set this part in some definitive way.
Frankly, even the studio didn't even have nervousness about it, because it felt like an event. It gave the movie, on a simple level, the reality that while it may not feature as flamboyant or expensive action as some other movies. That the must see of the movie was going to be because it would be the end of a legend.
CB: Fans often say they want to see more of this character, some want to see Hugh Jackman play Wolverine for Marvel Studios, despite such a great finale. What do you think of that conversation that is always going to be going on until someone else inevitably plays this character?
JM: I'd be startled that Hugh was strapping it on again. The thing that I always want to know when I hear this is obviously, on the web, everyone trades in rumors. So the nugget or the headline becomes the clickbait in the trade so that it would be, Downey's back or Jackman's back would be the headline, which people would then debate. What I'd be curious about if any one of these things happened would be, what are they doing with it? Meaning, I would have no qualm about it if someone had a good idea. If it's basically, I ran out of money and I needed a big paycheck, and I'm doing an empty film that cheapens the quality of the previous. Well, that would be its own sadness.
But the reality is that, if you have a good idea for a character, then there's nothing wrong with doing anything. I don't make these rules. For me, I'm always just asking that someone do something imaginative that doesn't just seem like you're taking all these assets and throwing them on a screen again, just to make dough. That seems to me to be, or to satiate a kind of hunger people have to see more, when the hunger they have to see more is what a movie supposed to leave you with. Meaning that you're supposed to love the characters and that just like a good meal, there is such a thing as too much. Just because it tastes good, if I keep filling your plate, at some point you're going to be like that guy in the restaurant in the Monty Python movie. There's just a limit.
CB: When you shot the scenes that had essentially two Wolverines, two Hugh Jackmans, did your team have to develop any new filmmaking tech for that? Was that the most challenging part of this film?
JM: I think that from a technical point of view, it was challenging, but it was also very logically shot. Meaning for instance, on Tuesday night, we shot Hugh's side where he played Logan, of the fight. And on Wednesday night, he replaced his double on the other side of himself, and we shot the reverse angles of him fighting his double from the other side. Obviously, there were shots where both are visible, which involved either combining two shots with Hugh in them, or face replacement for a moment on one side. Or an invisible splice between two shots that we did on successive nights. But the real challenge for me, was actually making sure that the two felt different, most important to me, emotionally. Meaning that it wasn't just a battle between two Logan's, but that what was most significant to me was that it was in a sense of battle between Logan and Weapon X. So he was in a sense battling his own dark past. He was killing or trying to kill or be killed by his own dark history.
CB: In of all your films you find a way to, even in the most epic action sequences, find that emotional core that really gets you invested. It could be a car driving on a racetrack.
JM: The key I think, if you don't find the thematic relevance of the action, it's just money. You might as well just take thousand dollar bills and throw them out a window and shoot it, because it's just the expenditure of dough. If there isn't something that makes the action meaningful on an emotional level to the audience, then you're also on a never ending arms race where you have to keep upping the level. The sound level and the spectacle level to hold the audience, because they're not being held by their feelings.
The Quarantine Watch Party
CB: I'm super excited to have you join the Quarantine Watch Party. What are you most excited about in rewatching or sharing with people? What are you most excited about in sharing this experience with people online?
JM: Well, the thing that when I see the movie again, or catch it flipping over the dial watching television, the thing that I'm always struck by is the caliber of the performances. And the thing I have the most pride in is that the actors are doing such sterling work. I think that's partly why, and such brave work, meaning that each case there's a lack of vanity. Whether it's Patrick Stewart playing a decaying, degrading Charles Xavier, or it's Hugh playing a Logan who's lost his moral compass and his even desire to live. To me, the idea was to take these characters to some place profound in their lives. A turning point in their lives where all they had done and all they had been might have seemed pointless, and all that mattered was what they were going to do now. That all that had come before was history, but it was distant history and that their present was what was going to be everything for them.
The Indiana Jones Movie
CB: Before I let you go, the word came that you're taking over the new Indiana Jones movie. We've seen your filmmaking style. You've talked a lot about it today. With Indiana Jones 5, what can we expect from you?
JM: I can't comment on anything like that.0comments
But like in all my work, I'm always trying to find an emotional center to operate from. I think the most important thing is, in an age when franchises have become a commodity, that serving the same thing again. At least for me, in the dances I've had with any franchises, serving the same thing again, the same way, usually just produces a longing for the first time you ate it. Meaning, it makes an audience wish that they just had the first one over again. So you have to push something to someplace new, while also remembering the core reasons why everyone was gathered. And to use Logan as an example of that, when you're dealing in a world of a very pressured franchise.
For all of the things, and there were many that I freed myself from in the canon, in the baggage, to try and make the best story. The core values of Logan, of Wolverine, and Charles Xavier and the X-Men, were something that I felt we never abandoned. The core ideas of their honor, their sense of duty, and the uniqueness of this particular set of characters that they were outcasts, oddities. Beings that had no home in this world, and yet we're trying to do good. Were trying to do something right and find their way. Those core issues were at the heart of the movie. And in any franchise I take in, I'd always be trying to capture and make sure that we preserve those core ideas that are at the center, because that's why these stories are more than franchises. They're the fairy tales of our contemporary culture.