This March 3, Hugh Jackman straps on those adamantium claws one last time (or so he says) for the actor's final outing as the X-Men character Wolverine in Logan. This will be Jackman's ninth time portraying Logan, aka Wolverine, in a film (including cameos), and his tenure as the clawed antihero dates all the way back to that first X-Men movie in 2000. While Jackman has played Wolverine for the past 17 years, early buzz around Logan signals that it may be his best and more ferocious outing yet.
Fandango recently had a chance to watch the first 40 minutes of Logan before having an extensive conversation with its director, James Mangold, returning for his second go-round with the character (he also directed 2013's The Wolverine). The footage we watched was unlike anything we've seen from Wolverine or an X-Men movie yet. It was gutsy and dusty, and wore its R rating like a badge of honor.
When we sat down with Mangold, we asked how much of Logan's R-rated edge was inspired by the success of Deadpool, as well as what the freedom of that rating affords him as a filmmaker. We also get into some of the film's inspirations (both Paper Moon and the graphic novel Watchmen among them), and, perhaps most importantly, what it's going to take for the superhero movie to continue to thrive for years to come.
Fandango: Based on what we’ve seen, this could be the Wolverine movie fans have been waiting to see for a long time.
James Mangold: I hope so. Ya know, I can’t please everybody because there are so many aspirations people want for these movies. But I think the one that I share and that is universal is the desire to see the intensity, the darkness and the adult nature of the Wolverine character. Much of the Marvel library is full of adult characters with adult themes that don’t always get to be explored because they’re making four-box movies for children as well. I think we’re making it very clear that we’re making a grown-up movie.
Fandango: What affected that decision – to go R rated and make a Wolverine movie for adults. Did the success of Deadpool play a big factor?
Mangold: I was already writing this movie before Deadpool came out, but I will say that what Deadpool did is it made the studio feel a lot better about taking the risk I was asking them to take. They saw there was a marketplace reward for being different.
Fandango: A lot of fans right now are hot on seeing Deadpool and Wolverine in a movie together. Is that something you’d consider directing?
Mangold: [Laughs] I got other movies to make, and other stories to tell. And same with Hugh – Hugh Jackman has other people to play.
Fandango: When they say, sure, you can go balls to the wall with this movie, what is the first image that pops into your mind? What is the one thing you’ve always wanted to do in a Wolverine movie that now you can do?
Mangold: I wanted to see the claws in action. I wanted to see what people have always wanted to see, which were bitchin’ knife fights where you weren’t looking away at the very moment you wanted to be looking.
Fandango: Because of all the violence, do you feel like there might be an unrated version of Logan at some point?
Mangold: I guess… thing is, we haven’t gotten through the ratings board yet. What you’ve seen might be the unrated version! That’s a good question that we’ll have to uncover. It’s uncomfortable to talk about ratings only to the degree that we’re not supposed to talk about ratings. Not because we’re clearly making a hard film, but because we’re not supposed to say what the rating should be since that’s the job of the MPAA and we don’t want to make them angry.
Fandango: Hugh Jackman has said this is his final film playing Wolverine, so do you feel like this is a conclusion to his story?
Mangold: There’s always a way to tell more stories, but the fact is we worked very hard to craft a tale that makes you feel like like this is the end and that we’ve said what needs to be said.
Fandango: How much universe building do you do in this film? Is this a torch-passing movie with the inclusion of a character like X-23? Do you feel like you’re passing the Wolverine torch, so to speak, to her?
Mangold: I always feel like I’m making a one-off movie every time. My feeling is that if you can make a good film, it’s naturally going to lend itself to people wanting to see sequels because it’s good and the characters are rich. I really wasn’t thinking about [passing the torch] – and I know the studio wasn’t because they didn’t even know who X-23 was when I brought it up.
We weren’t thinking about merchandising or starting a new line of movies – what we were thinking about was the interesting themes in this film. What we have going for us are great cross-generational relationships between Charles and Logan; this great father-son relationship there, with a son caring for his ailing father, in this case someone with degenerate brain diseases in the world’s most powerful brain. And in the case of Logan and Laura, a father-daughter relationship, with a father who’s very loathed to have intimacy or an emotional connection with almost anyone. There’s a lot of drama and a lot of interpersonal drama that truly drives the feature.
Fandango: What do you think Laura (Dafne Keen) brings to the table that maybe we haven’t seen yet in a movie like this? First of all, do you call her X-23?
Mangold: We’re avoiding calling her that right now for reasons I can’t explain other than I think they’re trying to keep that from breaking, but I don’t give a s**t. The reality is, yes, we call her everything you would call her, although no one is going to refer to a child as a letter and two numbers very often.
Fandango: And what do you like about her? What does she bring to the film?
Mangold: I think the relationship she has with Hugh [Jackman] is dynamic. So many of the times when we see characters or “superheroes” young, we meet them at 15 or 18, as attractive young adults. Kinda the CW version of these characters. I was not into going there. I wanted, if you will, the Paper Moon version of the father-daughter relationship. I wanted to know what it was like to be 11 years old with adamantium claws. What is it to be raised kind of like a pitbull in a cage, and then to finally find yourself out in the world? Also, for Logan, seeing her and seeing a reflection of his own lack of impulse control and rage, and his own level of violence.
Fandango: Was there anything you wanted to put in this movie that you couldn’t? Any of the other X-Men or stuff like that?
Mangold: No. I think the most interesting thing we’re doing in relation to the X-Men – and when you see the whole movie, it’s very provocative – is the idea that these characters live with their own legends in the movie. What I mean by that is that the X-Men comic books exist in this movie. X-Men action figures exist in the movie. These characters are all aging celebrities, and all these stories that have been written down and told exist as part of the universe in the movie.
Part of the burden for Logan as he tries to move on with his life is that the celebrity and notoriety of his past haunt him. That to me was a very interesting dynamic to try to play, and it ends up playing an integral role in what happens in the movie. I think it’s very provocative, and more like life. When you’re a famous movie star or hero or politician or sports star, you coexist with your publicity, with your legend, and probably with your own feelings of inadequacy in relation to that legend. That’s something interesting we get to explore.
Fandango: Seems very Watchmen-esque…
Mangold: Yes, it’s got that to it.
Fandango: Was Watchmen an influence for you on Logan?
Mangold: The comic book, yes. I don’t think the movie got to come quite full circle on it, but I think that’s a great concept in Watchmen, yes.
Fandango: How do you think this Wolverine movie changes the game as far as superhero movies go?
Mangold: Making an adult film, trying not to please everyone with one movie. Making a film that invests itself first in drama. Making a film where it isn’t about whether the villain will destroy the world. I am so over that. I do not want to go to every movie and wonder whether my world is going to exist. It’s just about the characters.
Somehow people made dramas for many years without the sum total of stakes being will the Earth be destroyed. There is a way where you can keep raising stakes and keep spending more on computer graphics, but in a weird way we’re getting number. It’s like an arms race, where people keep trying to climb higher and raise the bar, but they’ve already raised it so far and frankly the graphics are so good on video games now that really they’re not doing anything that we can’t do at home on our own sets. The one thing movies can still do that no other medium can do is move us; is reach inside us. Make us feel. It’s the power of a great performance. That was our number-one goal [with Logan] and what sets us apart – and what we felt was a befitting tribute to the character and his nine appearances in movies – is something that moved us. Something that left us with a memory but was also full of feeling.
Fandango: You’re absolutely right. In order for the genre to evolve you need to change the ingredients in these films.
Mangold: But the other question I ask is whether this is a genre. Are comic book movies a genre? Because as many wonderful films as I can think of – like Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are like noir pictures, and you can call [Logan] and other movies Westerns. You can say Guardians of the Galaxy is like a romp or an adventure in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Each one of these movies exist within another genre, and it’s almost like the key to success with these movies is to figure out what kind of genre you’re making. Comic book movies only describes its origin.
It’d be like saying “novel movie” because it came from a novel. That doesn’t tell you much because there are as many comic books as there are novels. It’s not specific. It only really says that the characters probably have some kind of superpowers, but it doesn’t tell you what kind of story you’re telling. You could make a horror film about superheroes. To me, that’s where the originality happens. And where the originality fails is when people go, oh, it’s based on a comic book, so that’s the only genre I need. For the most part the movies that live in that form tend to be the weakest.
Fandango: What do you want to see from future comic book movies?
Mangold: It’s an interesting question because I believe there was a time in the middle ‘50s where people were like enough with the Westerns, I’ve seen enough Westerns. There was Gunsmoke and Bonanza on television, and nothing but John Wayne, Clint Eastwood in theaters. I’m sure people saw way more bad Westerns than they did good ones. But now, 30 years later, we look back and the good Westerns live and the bad Westerns are out of distribution. I imagine the same thing will happen with comic book movies, where in 30 years when we look back it’ll be the movies that touched us that live. It’ll be the movies with heart that live.
Logan hits theaters on March 3.