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Immersed in Movies Comic-Con EXCLUSIVE: Director James Mangold Previews 'The Wolverine'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood July 15, 2013 at 12:26PM

On the eve of "The Wolverine" Comic-Con presentation this week in San Diego, James Mangold discussed what it was like tackling 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?
The Wolverine

Even with super-charged VFX enhancing the action (done mostly by Weta), Mangold's mandate was to make it look real. For instance, the exciting fight atop a bullet train in Tokyo was shot as if the cameras were clamped to the sides. Not only that but Logan, who loses his self-healing power, shows real struggle, despite the extraordinary acrobatics on display. It's like a dangerous limbo dance through underpasses and overpasses connected to cables and wires moving at the speed of deadly knives.

And shooting in modern Japan with Logan as a Samurai without a cause (forced to fight Ninja and Yakuza) only enriched the story. "You have old Japan vs. new Japan and then you have both of those cultures vs. a misanthrope like Logan," Mangold explains. "So you have the wonderful disconnect of a guy who's used to venting his rage or hiding and a culture that doesn't always say what they're thinking and has a lot of traditions, even in their fighting.

"So now I have one guy who fights like he's in an alley fight, and another culture that tends to fight in a more organized and formalized way. It's a lot of wonderful contrasts. And you're also fighting against the gravitational pull of all these cliches in depicting Japan in the movies. At the same time, you're telling a fish out of water story."

Mangold is proud that there's a significant portion of the movie in Japanese with subtitles. It will make many feel adrift in a foreign culture like Logan. But he's proudest of significant character beats unique to this genre with Logan haunted by ghosts of the past while trying to rediscover a sense of love and purpose to his tortured existence.

In other words, why can't you inject a little Sidney Lumet, Sydney Pollack, or Martin Ritt, who are among the director's filmmaking idols?

"It's different but I think the fan base will be pleased," Mangold contends."It's not about destroying the world or saving the world, which goes all the way back to Noah. Superhero spectacle has gotten too big. He's isolated from the other Mutants. Hugh and I both wanted to take it to a new emotional place, to make the Wolverine story we've all been waiting for."

Find out more in Hall H of the SDCC at 7:15 pm on Saturday.

This article is related to: Comic-Con, Hugh Jackman, Immersed In Movies

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.