"The Wolverine."
"The Wolverine."

On the eve of "The Wolverine" Comic-Con presentation this week in San Diego, James Mangold tells us what it was like to tackle the most popular X-Men superhero. After all, what was the acclaimed director of "Walk the Line, "3:10 to Yuma," "Girl Interrupted," and "Cop Land" doing messing around with an expensive franchise?

Turns out that Mangold is a comic book geek from way back and approached "The Wolverine" as if it were "The Outlaw Josey Wales" or "The French Connection." Because, for him, whatever the genre, it's all about conveying inner conflict and creating intimacy with the viewer. And so he seized the chance to get inside the head of Hugh Jackman's Logan/Wolverine and explore his death wish.

"After I read the script that Hugh gave me, I scribbled a note on the back: 'Everyone he loves will die.' He's immortal, he's cursed, he feels pain. I took it that seriously," Mangold recalls. "Why aren't we dealing with that? All the X-Men are dead, the professor is dead and obviously the women he's loved are all dead, one of them [Jean Grey] by his own hand."

Of course, Mangold admits that Christopher Nolan already paved the way with "The Dark Knight" trilogy for grounding the superhero genre in gritty crime drama. And it also helped having the power and influence of Jackman behind him (they previously worked together on the "Kate & Leopold" rom-com) when approaching Fox with his vision of Wolverine as a tragic figure, a god who doesn't want to be a god anymore -- a Christ with claws (and a great segue for the actor after "Les Miserables").

"I thought there was an opportunity with this story to reverse engineer it and instead of engaging in the arms race of bigger and bigger visual effects to get deeper into it. Not to say there isn't intense action in the film. But if you go back and watch 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind,' it's a tentpole film but a deeply intimate movie. There's a kind of bifurcation of the movie business that's happened where directors get branded as horror guy, action guy, indie guy that is not healthy.

"And it's not healthy for me. Instead of writing songs, everyone's doing guitar solos. And so the challenge for me is always to combine that primal interest to get intimate with the characters with these other elements. The key always is to remember what your job is: You are the north star for your crew and your cast. If you remember what the movie's about every day, then you don't get seduced by some piece of technology."