ENTERTAINMENT
07/22/2013 07:53 am ET Updated Jul 22, 2013

James Mangold, 'The Wolverine' Director, On Making An Intimate Superhero Movie And The Legacy Of 'Cop Land'

Fox

"The Wolverine" is not "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Unfortunately, the trailers for the film don't really convey that, something director James Mangold isn't thrilled with. "The Wolverine" is not a kids movie, even though those trailers kind of make it look like a kids movie. (For instance, a lot of the film is in Japanese with English subtitles.) It also doesn't feature a rampaging enemy causing city-wide destruction -- which is a rare thing this summer. Then again, this should not come as too big of a surprise considering that Mangold is the guy who brought us "Cop Land."

Unlike it's stand-alone Wolverine predecessor, "The Wolverine" picks up after "X-Men: The Last Stand." The film finds Logan (Hugh Jackman) living alone on the woods, still mourning the loss of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Soon, he gets an odd request to visit a dying friend in Japan, sending Wolverine on what ends up being a gritty, more intimate adventure. Ahead, Mangold explains why he purposely kept "The Wolverine" as a small film (in comparison, at least, to other superhero films) and looks back on the legacy of "Cop Land."

I wasn't expecting to hear a song by Cracker in a Wolverine movie.
I love Cracker. Golden age Cracker. I think I got it off of the "Empire Records" soundtrack -- it was a great soundtrack. Everything on that soundtrack is pretty damn good actually.

I like the soundtrack better than the movie.
Oh, I don't necessarily want to go on record trashing people's movies, but I think the soundtrack is the part that lives. That was also, right after Liv Tyler made "Heavy," she made that movie.

I have to admit, I've always liked your movies, but I was a little gun-shy about a new Wolverine movie after that last one. A lot of people didn't like the first one.
I also think the marketing -- the trailers and stuff -- are selling it straight, in a way. My own theory -- I don't think it's bad or good because the movie is the movie -- is that the trailers scare everyone a little in kind of your world. Because they're selling to 14 year olds.

After the screening, a few of us were discussing how the trailers are not representative of the movie.
I don't think they're after you [laughs].

Fair enough.
I do what I can from my end, but they're not quite giving away the fact that almost half of it is in Japanese with subtitles, are they? That's a little secret!

It's a much more intimate story than I was expecting. It's like the opposite of "Man of Steel."
I haven't seen it.

In other words: There's no huge city-wide action destruction sequence.
Well, that's intentional. Not in reaction to anything coming out this summer because I had no idea what anyone was doing -- but it was my own reaction to feeling like (A) we didn't have as much money as those movies and (B), to use the money and metaphor a little bit: I didn't feel like I could afford or have the interest to enter a kind of CG arms race. And I felt that I'd lose, essentially, as a smaller nation. And as you know from my filmography, I don't come from a sensibility where more is more.

There's a quiet scene in which Wolverine has been shot with about a dozen arrows. That is much more powerful than "17 buildings just fell down."
That's good. That's nice. Yeah, the idea for me was to capture what I think all of us who read comic books all of our lives know. For me, it's a kind of energy that is both pulpy -- kind of a fever dream -- but, also, feels real. When I read comics as a kid, whether they were in an alternate universe or not, they didn't feel in an alternate universe. They felt like they were my world. What I've always loved about Wolverine is that his powers are essentially limited -- he's not Spider-Man or Superman.

Though, he's kind of Superman in the fact that he can't be killed.
And we took that away.

Do you think Wolverine is a more interesting character when he can be killed?
Yes. I mean, I think one of the first things I struggled with when I came on the project was I felt like the saga in Japan needed thematic pulling together. A movie has to be about something. It doesn't have to have a message, but it needs to be about an idea. And when I read all of the materials, the first thing that I wrote down that I shared with Hugh and the studio, I wrote five words: "Anyone I love will die." I always wanted to make a movie of "The Bicentennial Man," which, obviously, was a movie -- not my favorite and I don't think fulfilled the promise of the story. So all of these things were in my head about "being eternal" and the pain of eternity. And that seemed to me something we could plug in ... and also place the movie at the end of the "X-Men" films. They had no sense when they sent it to me where this took place ...

Originally I thought it was supposed to take place after "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and before the first "X-Men."
Correct.

I feel this works much better.
I felt like it seemed weird to me on some level. Although Logan is ageless, Hugh has an age. I have an age. By logic -- by my own very weak male brain logic -- this should go after everything.

And it's not like I'm thinking, "Oh, Wolverine might die" ...
But, again, [in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"] they go back in time.

Right. But if it takes place before the first "X-Men," then I know that for sure. In this one, after "The Last Stand," I don't know for sure.
Well, I also think that stakes don't occur in a movie intellectually. I think the kind of experience that you're talking about where you sit in a movie and go, "He's not going to die because I know they need him for a sequel," is an intellectual exercise. The truth is, to say that to yourself, means you had a moment of doubt or a twinge of anxiety before you intellectualize it. And that's all you're after in a movie. To me, to have a hero who is literally impervious to everything, you only have one card to play over and over again, which is "people he cares about are in jeopardy." So, that gets tired fast. So you then say, "What if he's wishing for death and can't have it? Have I seen a movie about a suicidal immortal?" Now I feel like something is almost interesting -- here's a predicament where you want out and you can't get out. And that's interesting to me.

Entertainment Weekly called "The Wolverine" "the movie summer forgot." I think after the nonstop hype of over-the-top summer movies, that might be a good thing.
What you're saying is that we're a little off of the radar. Yeah. And I think that our timing is good, given the kind of movie we are. Meaning that because the movie is more dramatic -- and it does have action -- but it's not trying to even compete on the level of global destruction of the movie that came immediately before. I think that we're a relief. I think we are.

"Relief" is a good word.
To me, that was the goal. If I bring what I think I can do reasonably well, it's not doing that. The reality is that I love to do the action, but I don't want to do a movie that exists in a crescendo from beginning to end. The problem is, what you find yourself doing when you enter that vortex is you just have to keep making shit faster and louder. Because everyone gets desensitized and you've got to at some point pull out. The whole movie just can't be in a dive. So, you've got to pull up the throttle at some point ... we actually dare to go quiet. We dare to be intimate.

I am curious as to what you think the legacy of "Cop Land" is today? I'm surprised it's not talked about more than it is.
I don't know what the reason may be, but I'm very proud of the film as a writer as well as a director. It was a startling movie because, when I wrote it, I didn't expect what was going to happen in terms of the cast.

And nobody is phoning it in.
[Laughs] No. And after "Heavy" -- after a $300,000 movie -- I'm suddenly surrounded by the kind of hit parade of what was either soon to become "The Sopranos" cast or Scorsese all-stars. It was an amazing experience.

I think a lot of people wished that Sylvester Stallone continued on the path that you were redefining for him. He's great in "Cop Land."
He is great in it. He's a great actor and remains a friend. I think it's hard to make-- those kind of decisions are impossible to look back on and figure out. I think that he was always taking what was there for him. And I think the immediate critical reception to "Cop Land" was mixed and I think that that in a large part was marketing. I think the Weinsteins sold it as a kind of action picture with Stallone. There was such suspicion and there was such a drum beat like it was going to be "Pulp Fiction." The thing is, I'm a huge admirer of Quentin's, but I couldn't be more different. He's so post-modern and I'm so earnest. We're the opposite wings -- I don't do air quotes in my movies. I wasn't making some sort of pop fever dream kind of meditation on pulp culture. I was trying to make a cop movie.

And the cast was so huge, that I think that one of the things -- with time, I think the movie has gained a luster. Because the stardom has actually diminished as the cast ages. Stallone isn't as huge as he was. Suddenly you can see the movie as a bunch of people, as opposed to this kind of-- I think when we came out, we almost had "The Poseidon Adventure" effect. You know, like the little squares at the bottom of the poster, there was just so much cast. And people expected us to be huge. We got in the main competition at Cannes and Harvey wouldn't let us go.

Why not?
He wanted it shorter. It was the whole thing about he wanted a hit movie. And I had a movie where everyone but Stallone pretty much is dead -- and he's deaf at the end. So, it's very hard to construct that kind of feel-good experience.

And you used Springsteen's "Stolen Car," which is one of my favorite songs.
As a huge fan of his, that song is a lesson in writing. "I met a little girl and we settled down in a little house out on the edge of town. We got married and swore we'd never part, but little by little we drifted from each other's heart." How many times is the word "little" in that first paragraph? Seven. It's incredible. It's incredible.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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