With a near-$250 million global box office debut over the weekend and a waaaaaay overperforming $88 million of that gross coming domestically, 20th Century Fox’s blockbuster Logan starring Hugh Jackman and directed by James Mangold is, as they say, sitting pretty with cash and poised to cross $100 million today in North America. The fact that the star/director did it their way and succeeded both critically and commercially with what is essentially the tenth in a long line of X Men –related movies, as well as their second consecutive teaming on a Wolverine spin off, is pretty astounding in an era of bloated all-star comic book superhero movies.
Jackman and Mangold have been vocal also about intentionally making this effort very R-rated and, like last year’s Fox entry in the Marvel sweepstakes Deadpool have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. The success of these two highly original takes on their comic book origins will almost certainly mean a rush to the rating by others. You can just imagine the meetings at Warner Bros about bloodying up some of their previously announced ten-pack of DC comic book flicks, even though Suicide Squad, a seeming natural for R-treatment, still did quite well with the more traditional PG 13 in the genre and even picked up an Oscar last week for its makeup and hairstyling.
But Logan, R-rating aside, is a movie that succeeds because it manages to be wildly original in the face of expectations and a perfect ending for a character Jackman has now played so many times he has run out of fingers to count the films. I headlined my rave review of Logan as “the Marvel Comic Book Movie for People Who Hate Marvel Comic Book Movies”, and I think that’s correct except it turns out also to be one that fans of these films equally seem to be smitten with if you look at the A- CinemaScore rating. When I talked to Mangold late last week on the day of the film’s opening he seemed to like the sentiment.” Your headline made me smile when I saw it, and it was really gratifying in a way because the movie for me was just trying to find my own footing in the context of this world of comic book movies, and one in which you’re not just directing like an episode in a television series with looks and style and tone preset, but that you are actually doing what the comic books always did, which is allow different artists to come on board and interpret these worlds and characters in different ways that actually, kind of, excited the fans,” he said.
Mangold went on to clarify he loves all sorts of movies and that includes comic book films, but he takes exception with an emerging trend in the last decade where he sees many movies becoming platforms for the next one or the marketing of ancillary products. He calls it the natural “gravitational pull” of these large projects, making it harder to resist both corporate and fan pressure. His aversion to this even went to the point of not having a “bonus scene” after the end credits which is almost fait accompli for this genre. In fact I told him when I attended the press screening in Century City the audience, admittedly geeky, waited until the absolute last credit only to groan when the expected final scene didn’t appear. He is unfazed by that kind of expectation these days.” There’s for me just this kind of classical formalist sensibility that feels like when the curtain comes down, my movie should be over. Anything else is cheating actually, or marketing, because usually these things are added either, in my opinion, as nearly a trailer for another movie attached to the end of your movie, or embedded into it, or a course correction on an ending that wasn’t completely satisfying and correcting something that maybe fans or test screenings may reveal was falling flat. Both seem less than high-minded reasons to do it,” he said.
The film which is set in 2029 focuses on Logan aka Wolverine who now feels like a fading gunslinger in the old west with the waning days of the whole mutant mythology, also exemplified in the presence of the aging Charles played magnificently by Patrick Stewart, along with the emergence of a new character, a young girl named Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen) who it turns out has similar superpowers and claws as Wolverine. They embark on a road trip through the southwest to get her to a safer place in Canada and away from the evil forces who created her in pursuit. Mangold says he and Jackman only wanted to embark on this final edition if it could be truly different, if it touched upon the character’s humanity in a more pronounced way and if the tone felt more raw and unpolished.” It couldn’t feel like a product, but was actually a movie like I might make any other movie. That, and we wanted an R-rating,” he said. Those other movies he has made include the Oscar winning Walk The Line and Girl Interrupted to the western reboot 3:10 To Yuma, Knight And Day, and Copland in addition to the 2013 Wolverine as well as another outing with Jackman in 2001’s romantic comedy Kate & Leopold. He praises Fox, particularly Stacey Snider and Emma Watts and Executive Senior Vice President Steve Asbell for “protecting” the movie, calling the studio/filmmaker collaboration rare in this business, an extremely un-cynical sense of faith among all the principals involved. This is the first official writing credit he has had ( story by Mangold and co-written with Scott Frank and Michael Green) since 2005’s Walk the Line, he definitely says he had a hand in the writing on all his films whether, as he says, the “vicissitudes of the writing credits system” works for directors in this era or not.
As a huge fan of the great American Western, as well as his take on 3:10 to Yuma, I asked about the obvious parallels between Logan and a classic Western, particularly 1953’s Shane which is heavily referenced in the film, even to the point of having the characters watching it on TV.” That film is a magnificent example of Hollywood filmmaking at its zenith, and technically it’s so beautiful. The acting is masterful, the writing profound. Each of the characters are drawn in a beautiful shade of gray ” he said of the Alan Ladd-starring and George Stevens-directed film that won color Cinematography Oscar and was nominated for five others including Best Picture.” I was amazed they (Paramount) granted us the rights to use it, and obviously to me it was never just using, it was never just quoting the movie, but it was actually this idea we had to use those words for a little girl in the final sequence of this movie who was going to be in search of words. That she might have absorbed these words from a movie that Charles Xavier showed her earlier in the picture seemed a really wonderful way to give her a chance to address something very poignant about Wolverine,” he said. As for that mostly silent character of Laura that she plays, although there is no further Wolverine in the future for Jackman, there could be for Dafne Keen.” The journeys she takes and the colors she reveals are really startling…what a wonderful thing to see a child like that grow into something, and certainly I would be interested in exploring it, but I’m pretty determined not to make that my next movie.”
In fact Logan wasn’t even supposed to be his next movie when it came about. He was 14 days away from starting the Travis McGee film with Christian Bale when the star tore his ACL forcing a shutdown. He says it was the only time in his career he had a movie collapse at the last minute like that and it was devastating, but says he thinks a lot of the energy he was putting into that film got transferred into this one. And believe it or not that energy is still going. Mangold is developing a black and white version of Logan that will appear on the DVD. After dancing around the question he confirmed it.” It is something we are doing,” he said. The idea started because he thinks Jackman looks best with a kind of pretty harsh lighting and that transitions well into black and white. B&W photos he was taking during production were released and found their way on to the Internet.” I think it even surprised everyone to the degree that there is a kind of a running assumption that black and white is a turnoff for most people. It caused such an extreme reaction, and so much appreciation for these pictures, and then people immediately wondering if the film itself was going to be in black and white, and so we are giving it a whirl, and I think the Blu-ray will come out with a pass on it. I think it will be a very handsome black and white version of the picture,” he said. George Miller did something similar with his chrome version of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mangold isn’t sure now which new movie will be next on his plate. He says he literally finished Logan a little over three weeks ago, and that the whole process from script to release was just a year, remarkably short for this sort of thing. “When I know what I am doing next I’ll be glad to talk about it. I literally, honestly have no idea but I hope to in a few weeks,” he said. I told him he has a sort of Howard Hawks -style directing career, moving easily one genre to another.
“I feel really blessed about that. When I started I felt a little like I suffered in some ways because people, not only people in your shoes, but the studios themselves can put you in a box. When you move around a little, like you bring up Hawks, and other heroes of mine like Mike Nichols, Sydney Pollack, Alan Pakula, so when you move around (genres) a little in this day and age of the quick branding of people it becomes really hard for people to figure out what box to put you in,” he says. That is very evident from the filmography he has put together since making his first film, the offbeat romantic drama Heavy that came out 22 years ago. Mangold seems very confident of his own direction.
“I think I’ve gotten far enough now that I’m going to be OK,” he smiles.