Movies

James Mangold On ‘How He Got Away With’ Making The R-Rated ‘Logan’

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Getty Image / Fox

In 2013, James Mangold had a daunting task: to take the ruins of what’s considered one of the most maligned superhero movie made to date, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and make a sequel out that mess of a film. Mangold’s strategy was to pretty much forget the first film ever happened and go small, sending Logan (Hugh Jackman) to Japan in a superhero story that was a rarity: the world wasn’t at stake.

Even back then, Mangold was already teasing the fact he wanted to do an R-rated Wolverine story. This has been something a lot of filmmakers have talked about: taking an A-list superhero and putting them in a gritty, R-rated atmosphere. James Gunn kind of did this with Super, but those were original characters, not a Marvel property. Then 2015’s R-rated Deadpool came along, made a quarter of a billion dollars, and all of a sudden the idea of am R-rated Wolverine movie didn’t seem so far-fetched.

With Logan, we find Wolverine (Jackman) and an aging Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) living in Mexico as two of only a handful of mutants left alive. It’s 2029 and no one seems really happy. One day a young girl (Dafne Keen), with powers a lot like Logan’s, enters their lives – which sends them on a desperate trip to North Dakota to find a fabled haven for mutants. Logan is gory, depressing and exactly the movie Mangold has been wanting to make for years.

Ahead, Mangold takes us through the process of getting an R-rated Wolverine movie made – and how he used comic books as a plot device to try to tie Logan in with the other films and that maybe what we saw before were tall tales – something from the comics that Logan now finds annoying. It’s an interesting storytelling technique for a superhero movie unlike really anything we’ve seen before.

You seem excited.

I’m excited. I just am generally excited. I’m always excited after I finish a movie because I’m breathing. I’m alive and these things are such monumental efforts – that when you get to the point of putting it out, you’re just so happy.

The gritty, rated-R, superhero movie with a big superhero in it is kind of a Holy Grail and you just pulled it off. There’s Deadpool, but that’s almost a comedy…

I have to tell you that I think I agree. I don’t know about “Holy Grail”…

I’m saying in that people have talked about this a long time…

I love you saying it.

But people in your position have been trying to do this for awhile.

Myself and my collaborators – particularly in the cutting room; a lot of the people I’ve worked with for many movies – we all sat watching this movie in the last stages of the cut and said we can’t believe we got away with this. So we do know what you mean – meaning all of us recognize that the movie feels, to us, very personal, very intimate, very handcrafted. I mean, let’s put it another way, which was quite intentional: I was not coming back, nor was Hugh Jackman, to make a kind of artifact that exists to both continue a kind of DVD suite that they sell every year in a package. To move toys and t-shirts, and to kind of just facilitate the further marketing of a franchise.

There aren’t even any superhero costumes in this.

No. That’s why I thought it was so hilarious when this whole Mister Sinister rumor came up.

Right, or that Deadpool’s going to show up, “Hey, how about some jokes?”

That’s why I was so…

You were very angry on Twitter that day.

I was. Well, it was less angry and more it’s very important that people are prepared for what this movie is.

Right. And if you think Mister Sinister or Deadpool are showing up, you’re in for a very different experience.

When I made Cop Land many years ago, I had the disappointment of feeling like we made this very serious film, but the fact that Sly was the lead – I think he’s amazing in the movie, but it had this very interesting effect on people.

People were expecting Daylight.

Yes.

Which I think came out around that time.

And the people who would have wanted to see Cop Land didn’t see it till it came out on home video – meaning because they were repelled by Stallone at that point, who was Daylight and Judge Dredd. So, the crowd that would actually appreciate you making this kind of Sidney Lumet movie fused with a Western fused with this kind of mythological fictional town? So, my biggest fear is that, in some ways, people anticipate just another movie, and then they’re suddenly shocked.

Speaking of Cop Land, “Stolen Car” by Bruce Springsteen could very much be in Logan.

Oh, of course. Yes.

It would fit the tone.

When I came on The Wolverine, there were several things that really spoke to me that made me excited to work on it. One was I’m a huge fan of Japanese cinema and Japanese culture.

And in that movie a good portion is in a foreign language with subtitles. People weren’t expecting that.

Yes, and that it gave me some freedom from the main X-Men saga by taking him into this circumscribed universe. And that, in many ways – even the idea of including the Silver Samurai, of doing a kind of fever dream – was all appealing to me. But after that movie, this movie existed as a complete blank when we finished The Wolverine. No one knew where we were going next or even whether we were going to make another one. And so, for me, the idea of kind of taking this from Old Man Logan and this from Craig Kyle and the X-23 comics. And then from my own imagination – this idea that you have Charles and Logan existing in this kind of twilight with Charles having a degenerative brain disease – all that seemed really exciting. And I just wrote it all out in about 50 pages and brought it to the studio and to Hugh, and everyone was excited.

So when you told the studio, “This is going to be very gory and we’re going to cuss a lot,” they were into that at first?

Yeah. I think. Though, I said I wanted it R. First of all, the studios are not stupid, and they recognize that they’ve been making… I’m not naming names and I don’t think it’s true universally, but there’s a lot of bloated $200 million movies that have come out.

Where the world’s at stake every time.

Yeah, but something more important than that, which is that I think they know that we’re bored. There’s a core fan audience that goes rabid every time and they show up every time and pay their 12 bucks. But the fact is that they sense that the curve for that product, that the arms race of adding more characters.

That’s a good way to put it, “arms race.”

Yeah, adding more characters. Bigger and better, more characters. This time, these heroes will be in it. This time, these characters. Now you’ll see this one with this one, fighting with this one, against that one. And it’s all exciting, but at some point it’s just it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world. It’s only about excess. So what I was getting to was just that the studios have recognized that you’ve got to do something different or this curve is going to go south on them.

I’ve never seen a superhero in a superhero movie movie reading his own comic book before.

Scott Frank and I were writing here in New York, at the Ace Hotel, and we were kind of encamped, working on the script. And the idea suddenly occurred to us: Well, how does the X-Men mythology exist in the world? And why doesn’t it exist in the form that we know it? Meaning as kind of comic books and action figures.

That makes sense. In our real world they made World War II comics.

Sure. So it seemed to me this idea of being a faded hero, kind of on the downside of your fame slope, kind of living this slightly – oh, what’s the terrific film about the two ladies on Long Island? Old ladies living in like abandoned house on Long Island? Grey Gardens. And living in this kind of disheveled twilight on the fringe of the world. But that they were once somebodies. And this idea that these aging comic books are kind of both a celebration and annoying.

I mean, obviously, it was also our attempt to tie into everything that exists, which is to say that you can’t live in the tone of this current film and imagine that everything is exactly as it was, but that maybe everything previous was a bit of a dream or a bit of an exaggeration? Or, you know, it’s like a Santa Claus story – like taking reality and just heightening it. And this movie is what if you took reality and you don’t heighten it? You kind of just let it be what it really is. You’re just, “I am a hero. It hurts to piss. It hurts to put my shirt on in the morning.”

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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