It's natural for a director to put his stamp on a character in his movie, and James Mangold's priority with Logan in "The Wolverine" effectively boiled down to removing the stamps of his predecessors. Talking in front of an audience following a screening of "The Wolverine: Unleashed Extended Edition" about the super-heroic stakes of the character's previous cinematic adventures, Mangold indicated that his goal had been to tell a Wolverine story that was, quite frankly, a little less over the top than those in the X-Men films, or, more pointedly, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."
"We tried to get away from that," Mangold said in a Q&A about the special edition release, which adds some 12 minutes of footage to his original theatrical cut. "I mean, we weren't denying it, but the sense -- and I don't think that this hurt the first Wolverine film at all -- but when he leaps up and brings down a helicopter, to me, that's too much."
In comparison to the world-saving stakes of the character's earlier adventures, Mangold's film focuses more narrowly on the character, filtering his own journey back from the brink of nihilism through the a story inspired by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's take on the hero, whose comic book miniseries turned an intriguing character into a truly iconic one. Mangold said he felt as though Gavin Hood's 2009 "X-Men Origins" pushed the character's invincibility, not to mention his abilities, too far.
"It's getting into Superman territory," he said. "He doesn't have frog legs. He shouldn't be able to jump that high. My own idea of him is that there's tremendous strength, but that somehow, he's still bound by physics in some way. We certainly pushed to the max, too, but not that. It just turns into a video game, watching characters flip through the air in any which way."
Many of the changes Mangold implemented were cosmetic -- altering his hair and his claws, for example -- which transformed Logan from a comic book character brought to life into a full-fledged, three-dimensional person who happened to originate in comics. "They were all part of a general strategy I had to make the kind of movie I'd want to see," Mangold observed. "I looked at images of Hugh [Jackman] in the previous movies and I felt like he looked like he was wearing a wig, frankly. He was, so that's why it looked like it.
You're always trying to walk that line between some kind of relationship to the existing comic book art and at the same time having to physically make it work on human flesh," he continued. "So there's my own barometer of what I'll reject, and I didn't want Wolverine to look like A Flock of Seagulls."
Mangold admitted that Fox, the film's distributor, challenged some of his choices. "When there's been [six] movies that have had his hair like that, and they're like, 'Why can't we do that?' You're like, 'Because I think it looks like shit, and I'd like to try and do it differently.'
"It was very much in keeping with the idea of trying also, given that the previous 'Origins' film had not been extremely well-received, to try and kind of say let's rethink some things about how we're doing this," he continued. "We were very conscious, even at the scripting phase, of giving ourselves room to do it."
Mangold insists that these changes were not just a matter of him imposing his will, or forcing the character to fit his impression of him, but ways that he could help Jackman be more comfortable in the character's skin, even after six prior outings. "I think anytime you can allow your actor, within their own skin and their own scalp, to be their character and not be separated by layers of [make-up] -- wearing a wig feel like wearing a hat, everything that separates you from authenticity -- that's what I was after," he said. "And that relates to the claws, as well, where I felt like some things got over-designed. I mean, I literally just pulled a page from Marvel Comics where -- I think it was Weapon X, right on the cover, and I said, 'Make these.' I think that the claws had looked so fake, frankly, in some other shots and movies.
"All the principal characters are either lifted or have evolved from what was in Claremont/Miller's [material]," he continued. "I think the trick you have when you come on a movie like this is, it somehow has to relate to the other things that exist. You can't kind of pretend those movies didn't happen, so you try and take the story, and at the same time, plug it into this larger universe."
Eventually, Mangold settled on a theme that wasn't merely unique but almost revolutionary for a film of "The Wolverine's" scale. "It occurred to me that he's running from the fact that anyone he cares for dies, either from the curse, the dark side of immortality which is that you are forced to ride this very slow train in which you're watching everyone you care about die or the most aggressive version which is that people who want to get at him kill the people he loves.
"So when I came on the movie I wrote on the back of the script very early, 'Everyone I love will die,'" he recalled. "And then I thought, 'Well, how do I make a movie, a tent-pole movie about death?'"
"The Wolverine" arrives on Blu-ray Dec. 3, in not one, but two versions, with the Extended Edition restoring several action scenes excised for the theatrical cut. But in any form, Mangold's ultimate priority was not just to thrill, but to make audiences actually pay attention and care about the characters and their story. "When I read the comics, I didn't feel like they were a non-stop barrage -- and obviously this movie is very loud and it's got a lot of shit going on," he admitted. "But there are some breaks -- and I think that's important to me.
"It's what keeps me connected and it's also what makes me feel like we're not making a video game -- if when the orchestra comes down and the dust settles, you feel like there's actually characters there who you might give a shit about."
"The Wolverine: Unleashed Extended Edition" arrives on Blu-ray Dec. 3