Expectations are a terrible thing to have, because they inevitably end up disappointing the person idealistic enough to imagine that anything might be good, ever. I'm being a little sardonic, but it's triply true for the foolish of us paying attention to comic book movies before they come out, when the primordial soup of possibility allows our inner fanboy to foresee wild, desperate highs of creative adaptation and post-Nolan brilliance.
Obviously, this never happens. Expect Terry Gilliam's "Watchmen," and end up with Zack Snyder scoring slo-mo sex with "Hallelujah"; expect Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, and end up with a mute, fleshy surgery victim in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Expect Darren Aronofsky's take on Logan's lonely sojourn to Japan, and end up with the director of "Kate and Leopold."
But there's tangible proof for optimism to rear its head, rather than remaining a dreamy projection of what could be. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, "The Wolverine" director James Mangold said just about all the right things in building confidence for Logan's second solo movies, which is set to come out this summer. Some of the things Mangold revealed to get my blood going:
1. His references are awesome. As I'll mention time and time again, it's not like we're recreating Godard when heading to the theater to watch a CGI-powered mutant stab some dudes in the face. That said, Mangold copped to drawing from iconic directors like Clint Eastwood in finding a synergy between gravitas and action. "One of the models I used working on the film was 'The Outlaw Josey Wales,'" he said. "You find Logan and his love is gone, his mentors are gone, many of his friends are gone, his own sense of purpose – what am I doing, why do I bother – and his exhaustion is high. He has lived a long time, and he’s tired. He’s tired of the pain." Anyone who's seen "Wales" — one of the highlights in Eastwood's long career of portraying beatdown loners — should be excited for the parallels, given how effectively Logan was used as a Western analogue in Mark Millar's "Old Man Logan" comic, which famously cribbed from Eastwood's "Unforgiven." He also mentions Wim Wenders's "Wings of Desire" as another point of reference, which is surely a first in comic book film history.
2. No Will.i.am. Without being too indelicate, Mangold asserts that previous Wolverine film appearances haven't done much to showcase his dramatic interior. That includes "Origins," which ignobly spent too much time with the rest of Logan's unmemorable Team X crew. "The liberty I have making a film like this is I can find him," Mangold said. "I’m not cutting away to catch you up on any of the Thunderbird team members. It’s his emotional experience, his trajectory, his sense of loss, and his own ambivalence about his powers and talents." More Hugh Jackman, and less dude from "Lost"? Yeah, we'll take it.
3. He's taking on a big challenge. Given his rich backstory, it would've been easier to set another Wolverine solo movie in the past. But it was surprising when "The Wolverine" was announced to take place in a post-"X-Men" world, given the uncertain territory on which the previous trilogy ended. That leaves a less defined Logan to work with, but one he seems excited to flesh out. "I felt it was really important to find Logan at a moment where he was stripped clean of his duties to the X-Men, his other allegiances, and even stripped clean of his own sense of purpose," he said. "I was fascinated with the idea of portraying Logan as a ronin – the definition of which is a samurai without a master, without a purpose. Kind of a soldier who is cut loose. War is over. What does he do? What does he face? What does he believe anymore? Who are his friends? What is his reason for being here anymore?" That's a lot of questions for a superhero movie, but it's nice that someone is thinking about them.
4. He doesn't care about the past. Too often, superhero movies are burdened by the need to get the audience up to speed about who and what this character is, which is often done awkward. (Shout out to anyone who stayed awake during the first half of "Green Lantern.") As he doesn't come from the superhero world, Mangold doesn't seem to care about such procedural details. "For me, watching this decade of superhero films and having not participated while I was making other movies, what was interesting to me – and it had not been done, with a few exceptions – was to be free to tell a real story of an immortal character," he said. "Too often these films are burdened with origin stories that produce a very unwieldy script, because you spend half the film creating the character and then you only have half the film to then tell a story about the character." Since most of the set-up has already been done for him, Mangold is free to tell a standalone story without being expected to linger about in Logan's childhood or some other boring period.
5. He's not just focused on the action. "What makes them hard to sit through is that the modern-day tentpole film has become a lot of fast cutting and an incredible amount of money spent generating effects," he said. "What are we left with? We’re left with what we see – a kind of inundation, a head-banging barrage in which they keep turning the volume up on the mix, and flying things at you faster in the hope that it keeps you in your seat. For me, the idea of making a film with hardcore action, with physical action like I grew up reading in the comic books, but also with a heart – and this character has great heart – to me, it’s no different from making a western. Or a cop film." Say no more, James. I think you've sold more than enough people on the idea that you know what you're doing.
This Mutant Life explores all corners of the cinematic X-verse, from the kids of "First Class" to the berserker rage of "The Wolverine." Suggest topics for future columns in the comments or on Twitter!
Previously on This Mutant Life: