Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has finally hung up his claws. Logan arrived in cinemas around the world last week, to critical and commercial acclaim, in what has proved to be a fitting swansong for cinema’s longest-serving superhero. To mark the occasion, we spoke to the film’s director James Mangold for an Empire Podcast Spoiler Special (due up soon) – here’s what he had to say.
Massive spoilers from the start.
1. Christian Bale’s knee is indirectly responsible for Logan
“For my sake, it was an odd journey. After I finished The Wolverine, I was going to make a detective film called The Deep Blue Good-By with Christian Bale. I had spent the previous two years in Marvel mode and I was really looking forward to escape. Fourteen days before we started shooting, Christian tore the ACL in his knee and could not perform, so the movie got cancelled. That was a dark film and a journey into the abyss. I was broken-hearted over that film not happening, and I think I brought a lot of that inward ambition from that movie to this.”
2. The black-and-white version could still happen
“I have not discussed this with anyone at Fox yet. But I do get asked a lot. It could be interesting - who knows? There is one level where I am always thunderstruck why people need a version in black-and-white when they do have a colour button on their television...”
3. Those major character deaths were always in the script
“They were all in the original outline. I felt there was no end if you didn’t end [like that]. In the case of Wolverine, the guy has been alive for a long time, and I felt that exhaustion is one of the character’s attributes. In some way I felt I had a chance, if I got the alchemy right, for his death to actually be a rest: a release of some kind from this most soiled of worlds, and that it might not play as just a hammer to the head, for the audience but as something slightly more transformational.”
4. The final shot was influenced from a 1980s comic cover
“There’s a fabulous piece of artwork on the cover of an old X-Men comic with Wolverine pinned almost like Christ to an X aboard a mound of green skulls. So I can’t take credit for conflating the crucifix and the cross. I’m a filmmaker, so I want it to not be words. You’re looking for this gesture to exit, and we’ve done enough words at this point, and that’s as much as I can tell you where it came from.”
5. Movies shouldn’t talk down to their audience – less is more
We should not make films for the dumbest of us.
“I think interesting interpretations happen in movies with less information. In most modern films, we have successfully killed the act of allegory or metaphor or meaning or even the space to process the poetic meaning of the imagery because we don’t allow it to sit on scene without commentary for very long. A wide shot hardly ever exists anymore without fucking type underneath it telling you where you are and the sound of a teletype machine. We just can’t let an image sit for fear that one of our ADD audience members cannot possibly keep from looking at their phone during that shot. We should not make films for the dumbest of us. There is some level where you have to take a moment to go, 'What am I saying?' And it’s not just about violence or did I contradict the canon of this comic, but there’s bigger issues, what am I saying about life? And am I actually helping people stay anaesthetized and ignorant? Am I contributing to the problem?”
6. Logan’s greatest fear is love
“When I first sat down with a blank page, the first question that struck me was that, what is Logan frightened of? Because it clearly isn’t a villain, and it clearly isn’t the end of the world, and it isn’t death, so what could it be? It struck me that what he’s most frightened of is love. So it makes sense to me that he will be pushing away love in its purest form: in a family sense.”
7. The dinner scene almost mentioned Jean Grey
“I sketched out different conversations for that dinner scene and one of them went to a much darker place. Mrs Munson asks Logan if he’s married, and Charles says he was – but he killed her. Of course, he wasn’t really married, but what that then spawns is Charles waxing poetic about Jean Grey, and it’s a really cool moment. Both Hugh and Patrick were amazing. The problem was, it created an incredibly powerful lead brick in the middle of the only moment in the movie where there was a breather. Even I, with my taste for the dark, felt that it was one too many. Things go pretty shitty within seconds after that. I think [the deleted scene] will make it to the Blu-ray.”
8. The comic book canon is not gospel
“I had no priority in contradicting the canon. I had no priority in being slavish to it. There is an impulse from fans to have the comic books writ large in movie form with an unerring devotion to what was in the comic books. I say this with tremendous respect for those who feel this way, but there’s just a slight lack of practicality within that dream. First of all, the comic books contradict themselves. The comic book authors rebuilt the universes in each of these Marvel and DC universes several times: mirror earths, second comings, new generations, they reset this shit over and over again. Second of all, even when they didn’t, new artists came in and just shaded characters and forgot about others.
Film is too rich and artistic a medium to do something generic with it.
I think fans want great films, they want ambitious films, they want films that don’t feel like product placement or that they’re here to sell merchandise or to sell the next movie. If you’re upset by the quality of the comic book quote-unquote movies you see, then you should give the filmmakers a little more latitude. If the filmmaker can’t assert themselves in the same way the comic book authors do, then you’re basically just saying we’re a conductor of a piece in repertoire, we’re just doing a kind of rep company version, putting it on for historical purposes. Film is too rich and artistic a medium to do something generic with it.”
9. Superman’s occasional mundanity was a touchpoint
“I think it’s something Neil Gaiman played with so beautifully in the original Sandman: these are literally gods but they’re having fraternal squabbles. It’s like Hannah And Her Sisters, but with gods. I think that's humanising. Richard Donner’s Superman was extremely human to me – a different tone to Logan by far, but still. Those beautifully-written scenes by Robert Benton between him and Lois Lane on the terrace, the beautiful humanity and simplicity of those scenes, and the lyrical joy of being swept in the air by a god who also happens to have a crush on [her], the contradictions in all of that are beautiful to me.”
10. There are some similarities between Johnny Cash and Logan
“I think you could find tremendous similarity between Logan and Johnny Cash in terms of the nihilism. A couple of weeks before he died, I asked Johnny Cash what his favourite film was and he told me Frankenstein, the James Whale Frankenstein. He saw it as a 9-year-old boy. Everyone in the theatre was terrified of this monster, but he had the odd sensation of identifying with him. I remember when John told this to me, it was very moving: that feeling as a boy that like Frankenstein, he was made up of bad parts. I think Logan lives with a similar feeling of being some kind of monster... a tender man living in a cursed body.”
11. The future of the X-Men franchise remains open
“I gave them many escape valves. We take place in 2029, and X-Men Apocalypse ends in 2024. There’s five blank years there that are wide open to seeing how things got from here to there. Or else you could do what I would advocate, which is imagine a different world and create a new movie, and you don’t need the permission of the other movies.”
Logan is in cinemas now.