Back when Darren Aronofsky stepped away from The Wolverine to direct Russell Crowe in the Biblical epic Noah, the emergence of James Mangold was something of a surprise. He’s an accomplished filmmaker, but his sweet spot is grounded characters with earthbound dilemmas in films from Walk The Line to Girl, Interrupted, Copland and 3:10 To Yuma. Just before he and Hugh Jackman unveiled a killer highlight reel as part of Fox’s Hall H panel, I sat down with Mangold to see why he related to Marvel Comics’ perennially pissed-off protagonist.
DEADLINE: You’ve directed actors like Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Angelina Jolie and Sylvester Stallone to career performances, but with the possible exception of Knight & Day, your movies have always been very grounded in character and reality. What made you take the leap into the fantastical genre of superheroes?
JAMES MANGOLD: Several things appealed to me. The studio and the star were ready to do something different. This didn’t have to serve other films, we were operating off some perception of disappointment for the first film. To follow an act that tripped in some way gave us a lot of freedom. As for my own sensibility as a filmmaker, the opportunity I sensed was a chance to make a movie more like the comic books I’ve read and less like what I call comic book event movies. I’ve been a comic book fan since I was a kid, and they weren’t always about the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Every week, it was not about how a city, a continent or a universe will be destroyed if X doesn’t happen. That is unsustainable for the comic book writers. I think what is missing from a lot of comic book films reliant on peak battles is the angst, the character work, the things that as young people we related to. It was not infantile, but incredibly mature themes about life, death, betrayal, revenge, friendship, loyalty, parents, genetics, who we are and accepting ourselves for who we are. Those are themes in the comic books but the movies dabble in that but become about defeating a villain who’s intent on destroying the X that will occur unless Y happens to stop them. I was really interested in the idea of making a superhero film that purposely avoided putting the audience at risk. It seems all too often that comic book movies convey situations to the audience that, if the superhero doesn’t succeed, we’re all dead. I was trying to make a film that operated as a real drama, a real thriller, noir, Western or a real samurai film. Where you become invested in the heroes of the film worried about their interests, their needs, their safety, and not yours. (more…)