The first trailer debuted today for James Mangold’s Logan, the third solo outing for the X-Men’s most popular cinematic character and the final appearance (we’re told) of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Since this promises a very different take on the character, we called James Mangold and asked him to talk us through his approach as he locks the edit and continues work on the film’s score, sound and effects. Here’s what he had to say – with some wild speculation from us…
As the trailer begins, you’ll hear the instantly-recognisable strains of Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt. Mangold, of course, directed the Cash biopic Walk The Line, so he has form. But why use it here? “Obviously I have a connection and a fondness for Johnny Cash, and his tone and his message and his music. But the real driver in all these decisions is trying to separate ourselves, in an accurate way, from the other superhero movies. We think we’re going to deliver something a little different and we want to make sure we’re selling audiences on the difference. Sometimes even when a movie’s a little different, the studio’s trying to market the movie just like all the others. [Cash’s] music, in a way, separates us from the standard, bombastic, brooding orchestral, swish-bang, doors opening and slamming, explosions kind of methodology of some of these movies.”
A new hope
“Hugh and I have been talking about what we would do since we were working on the last one, and for both of us it was this requirement that, to be even interested in doing it, we had to free ourselves from some assumptions that had existed in the past, and be able to change the tone a bit. Not merely to change for change’s sake, but also to make something that’s speaking to the culture now, that’s not just the same style — how many times can they save the world in one way or another? How can we construct a story that’s built more on character and character issues, in a way as if it almost wasn’t a superhero movie, yet it features their powers and struggles and themes?”
Death at a funeral
Mangold won’t say whose funeral this is. Logan’s leaning against a tree and drinking; it’s reminiscent of quite a few comic-book funerals, where one character broods in the foreground while the ceremony takes place further off. “I don’t so much think about comic-book framings but I think about film noir framings and classic Hollywood filmmaking styles, German expressionist filmmaking style of the early part of the last century, which has a lot in common with comic-book art. Strong foregrounds, playing things in depth: you have to make an image say more within that one image. In modern filmmaking everything’s in close-up, so every scene there’s 150 cuts to keep track of what’s going on with every element. I’m trying on this film to set frames that are, in some way, descriptive and yes, are kind of evocative of comic-book panels and also for me classical filmmaking.”
How come Logan, he of the unparalleled healing factor and stunning powers of regeneration, has shaking hands and a back covered in scars? Turns out that’s the way Mangold wants it. “One of the things we all thought about as we worked on this film is, well, we don’t want to rebuild everything. We want to have some questions. In order to make a different Logan, and a different tone of a Wolverine movie, we felt like we couldn’t hold on to every tradition established in all the movies religiously, or we’d be trapped by the decisions made before us. So we questioned whether Logan’s healing factor causes him to heal without even a scar. We imagined that it may have when he was younger, but with age, he’s getting older and ailing. Perhaps his healing factor no longer produces baby-soft skin. So we imagined he heals quickly, still, but it leaves a scar. The simple idea was that his body would start to get a little more ravaged with a kind of tattooing of past battles, lacerations that remain of previous conflicts.”
X marks the liver spots
“We are in the future, we have passed the point of the epilogue of Days Of Future Past,” is all that Mangold will admit about the timing of this film. But clearly a good couple of decades have reduced Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier to a shadow of his former self, with the effects of ageing evident on his face. “We’re finding all these characters in circumstances that are a little more real. The questions of ageing, of loneliness, of where I belong. Am I still useful to the world? I saw it as an opportunity. We’ve seen these characters in action, saving the universe. But what happens when you’re in retirement and that career is over? The really interesting thing to me, or a place to dig that hadn’t been dug, was the idea of mutants when they’re no longer useful to the world, or even sure if they can do what they used to do. Their powers are diminished like all of ours are by age.”
At this picture, Mangold clams up completely. “I think I will just let speculation run rampant about that. I think what this film is about in many ways is family. From there out I’d let everyone figure out what we’re up to on their own, at least at this early stage.” We do know that that’s actress Dafne Keane, but her character name — and in particular the question of whether she’s Laura/X23, the female clone of Logan who’s been rumoured for an appearance in this film, is completely open at this point. “I’m not here today to confirm or deny anything. I think it’s great that everyone’s speculating and I think it reveals how smart the audience is, many of the fans, about these characters. I don’t think they’re on the wrong track.”
Pierced through the heart
Similarly, Mangold won’t confirm whether Boyd Holbrook here is playing, as rumoured, the mutant-hating cyborg Donald Pierce – though the metal hand certainly doesn’t rule that out. But what led him to cast Holbrook in particular? “He’s a fabulous actor. He’s also, to me, in terms of playing an antagonist, he’s got humour.”
The man with no name?
There’s a shot of Stephen Merchant’s character on James Mangold’s Twitter feed, and his bald pate and lily-white skin suggest that he’s the Morlock mutant Caliban, who also appeared played by Tómas Lemarquis in this summer’s X-Men: Apocalypse. If we were guessing, we’d say that this heavily-wrapped figure is also Caliban, who grew up underground and doesn’t do well in sunshine. “I’m always interested to find the thing that looks most interesting on the actors. Stephen is a huge man. One of the things that is so wonderful filming with him for a character like this is that he’s a good six inches taller than Logan, and huge over Patrick. The little kid in the movie would come up to basically his knee. So there’s a wonderful sense of scale – but he has heart too. So that was a wonderful energy to enter the movie, and someone who instead of turning things into their own energy kind of joined ours.”
Asleep at the wheel
This unusually vulnerable vignette suggests the human relationships that Mangold has alluded to. “I think this movie is about family, and sticking together, and about making connections in a world in which our characters might feel very alone.” But he still isn’t giving anything away about Keane’s character.
This is a startling moment of violence in the film, which hints again at a different tone than we’ve seen before. “ [This represents] to me the kind of aggressive, classical Wolverine action that we want in the movie – more of something that fans have been asking for, for a really long time. We’ve been limited in one way or another from giving it to them, but I think we’ve got the go-ahead to really go for it on this picture. So we’re really trying to deliver what folks have always imagined those kind of battles would look like. There is a lot of high-octane action in the movie. We’re just trying to do it very differently and very viscerally.”
A grave man
Finally, another intriguing shot, which suggests that that funeral at the beginning of the trailer may not be our own brush with mortality. Logan and his young companion both look sombre, and he’s holding what appears to be a shovel. Is he digging a grave? “I don’t know what’s in his hand,” claims Mangold. “It could be a walking stick.” We’re pretty sure that is not a walking stick.
Logan is out on 3 March, 2017. Watch the first trailer here.