The Wolverine chains
The first five words I wrote on the script were “Everyone I love will die.” This is a movie about that. (James Mangold)

Talking to James Mangold, director of The Wolverine, you get a sense this guy gets it. Not only has he directed films in almost every genre, and made Oscar-winners of several of his stars, he believes a great superhero movie needs more than a title and some explosions. “Calling something ‘comic book’ has a danger,” he said. “It’s too easy to take a brand and shovel a movie out where it doesn’t all add up, but people are going to show up anyways, because it is a comic book and a brand. My whole thing is take it seriously. Take it seriously like you were making a western or another kind of film of classic lineage.”

In April, 20th Century Fox invited /Film to speak with the director and see the first 20 minutes of The Wolverine. After watching the footage, it’s pretty obvious Mangold is being incredibly serious. The first reel of the film has some big set pieces, but also sets up what may be a surprisingly complex movie dealing with topics like immortality and genocide. It’s a film he hopes will redeem the character from X-Men Origins: Wolverine and maybe even set the stage for the bigger Fox Marvel Universe, even though it’s very much a standalone story.

Below, watch a non-spoiler video blog discussing the first 20 minutes of the film and read a bit more about Mangold’s intentions with The Wolverine from our in-depth interview.

Here’s me and Ben Pearson from FirstShowing discussing the first 20 minutes of The Wolverine, an experience I quite enjoyed and which upped my anticipation for the film considerably. We don’t talk about any plot points.

After five X-films, including the poorly received X-Men Origins: Wolverine, James Mangold felt liberated coming onto The Wolverine. ”The advantage I have on [The Wolverine] is my two hours are entirely devoted to characters and adventure and not having to set everything up,” he said. “So much has been set in place with this character already, it afforded me a chance [to do something different] and I don’t think many films like these hero films, go inside [the hero] and just explore him.”

To do that, Mangold searched for the crux of Wolverine. What makes him tick. And what he settled on was how Logan’s powers have frightening emotional consequences. “It was this idea of what it is to be immortal,” Mangold said. “In a way Logan is cursed. What happens if you come upon a hero like this? A dark hero like this who has lost any real purpose for being and perhaps even lost some of his interest in trying to help mankind?”

We know from the trailers that his journey takes Logan to Japan in a story loosely based on the classic Frank Miller/Chris Claremont story published as a limited series in 1982. However, while Mangold didn’t have to explain where Wolverine came from, he did have to justify moving away from the setting of the previous five films. “In a way I had to do the origin story of his relationship with Japan,” the director said. But once that happens, Mangold began to craft the film in a very specific way. “The movie itself is kind of a labyrinth,” he explained. “Everyone’s got secrets and everyone’s got surprises.”

The Wolverine doorway

That serious, narrative-driven approach is something Mangold took from classic genres, from westerns to film noir. In fact, he feels like The Wolverine is more akin to those films than any comic book movie. “There’s a reason that Seven Samurai became Magnificent Seven so easily,” Mangold said. “The reality is these forms are very related to one another. The dressing is radically different, but the way of the structure and the way that characters relate isn’t. I felt more like I was making a western in Japan, with Hugh Jackman and without horses.”

To do that, Mangold had to ground the film in a very specific way. “I don’t want Logan reaching up and pulling aircraft out of the air,” he said. “I want it to exist in a more physical reality where he isn’t Spider-Man or Superman. He is a man – with a crazy strong skeleton and incredible strength and an ability to heal – but he can’t leap over buildings in a single bound. So we push at the edges, but live within the realm of that.”

However, while the film lives within the bounds of genre, it was unclear just how it lives in the bounds of the Fox Marvel Universe. Mangold said he was allowed to do whatever he wanted and didn’t feel like he had to leave the film in any specific place for another film to pick up. However the film does, very specifically, take place after the other X-Men movies. As for what’s next, Mangold said ”there’s always room in the future.”

The Wolverine garden

Check back tomorrow for our full interview with Mangold where he discusses some specific characters, how much he used the work of Darren Aronofsky and Christopher McQuarrie, Hugh Jackman’s views on the film and much, much more.

The Wolverine will be released July 26.

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