The Wolverine: Director Admits Where Things Went Wrong

Director James Mangold tells us about his original, "Japanese noir" intentions for his previous X-Men spin-off, 2013's The Wolverine...

Logan may be Hugh Jackman’s last outing as the Wolverine, but most will agree that it sends the X-Men star out on a high note.

It certainly means that Jackman’s X-Men spin-offs have enjoyed an upward trajectory, from 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine (disappointing) via 2013’s The Wolverine (pretty good), to this year’s Logan (excellent).

If you’re of the same mind as us, you may have thought that The Wolverine, which saw Logan slash his way through Japan, might have been better served had it concentrated more on the grittier Wolverine-versus-Yakuza stuff and less on the CGI action in the third act.

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James Mangold, who directed The Wolverine as well as Logan, recently spoke to Den of Geek UK about superhero movies and the realities of making them. While The Wolverine was a PG-13, Mangold, with the help of Hugh Jackman, pushed to have Logan rated R – not just so we could finally see Wolverine “jam a claw through someone’s skull,” as the director puts it, but also so that the movie could dodge the conventions of a typical superhero blockbuster.

“I knew that if Hugh and I could get an R, then we’ll have the freedom to make an adult film,” Mangold told us. “Because the second the marketing arm of a studio realizes it cannot market to children, five or six creative things happen. The scenes can go deeper, and can be written for adults. Not just language, not just [violence], as you’re saying, but the themes can be more interesting, the words you’re using can be more complicated. The ideas can be more complicated.”

He then added that making an R-rated movie means that merchandising becomes less of an issue – which in turn means there’s less pressure to pack the story with the kinds of things that sell action figures.

“Also, the film comes under no pressure to be a platform for the sale of toys,” Mangold said. “Because there’s going to be no kids to see it.”

Now, this sounded as though the director was talking from experience here, so we asked whether this was what happened on The Wolverine – whether the CGI fights of the final third were added at the behest of the studio. To our surprise, Mr Mangold admitted that this was indeed the case:

“I think I wasn’t quite as sharp-elbowed in a couple of cases as I should’ve been, so yes is the answer.”

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Mangold then briefly described his initial vision for The Wolverine as a kind of Hong Kong crime movie” or “Japanese noir.”

The problem was, according to Mangold, that a number of rival superhero movies were also out in 2013 – Man Of Steel, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World – and Fox was keen to compete with them on their own, CGI-driven terms.

“…what was really weird was that the studio was really concerned that we have big, CG action to stay afloat against the other films we were up against,” Mangold said. “But by the time we got to market, the very thing people were most tired of was the thing the studio wanted to make sure we had enough of. The thing the studio was most worried about – which was this kind of Hong Kong crime movie, this kind of Japanese noir I was making, was almost our best asset.”

With Logan, on the other hand, Mangold and co-writer Scott Frank were given a much freer hand – hence the much grittier, R-rated take on Wolverine we have now.  The huge success of last year’s similarly violent Deadpool probably helped Logan‘s case, but Mangold suggests that the release of both movies was thanks in large part to a changing of the guard among Fox’s top brass.

“I do think there was a bit of a regime change at Fox, between the two movies,” Mangold said. “The people running Fox now have a clearer understanding that their audiences have changed. I don’t think, when I made The Wolverine, have gone as far as I have on this film. I think times have changed now.”

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So while Mangold didn’t quite get to make the Japanese noir thriller he wanted to with The Wolverine, at least Logan – stark, bloody but also pleasingly contemplative – has emerged as it was always intended. Snikt, indeed.