I’ve never met James Mangold before. I had a great couple of meetings with his producing partner Cathy Woods back around 1995 and 1996, but nothing ever came of it. Mangold at that point was still establishing his voice, and what I’ve enjoyed about watching his career over the years is that he’s never really allowed himself to be pinned down to one thing, but he certainly doesn’t seem like an anonymous studio guy, either. That’s not easy to pull off.
When I sat down for our interview this past weekend, I was operating on no sleep and a weird case of jet lag, and I had just ridden in from the airport and showered quickly before we spoke. I barely knew where I was, and I thought it was very kind of Mangold to check out the way my shirt buttons were lined up and get up, walk over, and make sure I was camera-ready. He did it unconsciously, like he was setting up a shot, and it said so much about him, and especially in the way he introduced himself at the same time in a very disarming manner.
Made it easy to jump right in so we could talk about “The Wolverine,” which he directed, and he seems excited by the film he’s put together. I’m not sure when we’re allowed to review the film, but I think it’s clear from these conversations that I liked a lot of what they did. I think it tries harder than any of the “X-Men” films since the second one, and it works to give you a taste of what made the storyline so popular originally while also trying to make it fit into the film franchise that they’ve been building for the last five films. This is very much a sequel to “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and it contains images that also call back to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” two films that landed flat for many audiences. I like that Mangold finds a way to build new ideas on what those films did without having to go scorched earth and do a hard reboot of the entire franchise. If they pull off “Days Of Future Past” in a way that works for the mainstream audience, it will be because of the groundwork that Mangold and screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank laid with this movie.
I particularly like the way Mangold approached the issue of language in the film, and other filmmakers should take note of the way he won what is typically a very difficult battle at the studio level.
We’ll have more on this film before its release, and later today, I’ll have an interview with the sort-of-somewhat-back-from-the-dead Famke Jannsen.
“The Wolverine” arrives In theaters July 27.