When James Mangold decided to make “Logan,” he knew that this would be a superhero film unlike any other before it. “Logan” was always going to be the final Wolverine film, and with that in mind, the story didn’t have to set up any future films or fall into any fixed continuity. According to Mangold, films that are beholden to continuity and setting up future films (i.e. every film from Marvel Studios) are glorified “two-hour trailers,” and the director has zero interest in making a film like that. And the problem, he feels, starts with the unending press cycle for the films in these connected universes.
“Everyone is doing press so often, they can’t say what they feel and they are just selling, but the fact is the unspoken feeling is that this is a very weird trajectory we’re on. Spending more and more. Less is coming back in a kind of relative basis and the movies aren’t as good. I think Marvel is part of it and I’m not just talking about Fox mimicking it. If I’m going to insult movies, I’m going to do it with a big broom. This is endemic, if you’re just going to use Marvel’s grosses and somehow make their movies free of this kind of criticism, that’s not fair,” said Mangold in an interview with KCRW.
“Tentpole movies in general…they are not movies, generally. They are bloated exercises in two-hour trailers for another movie they are going to sell you in two years. There are so many characters that each character gets an arc of about six-and-a-half minutes at best, and I’m not exaggerating. You take 120 minutes, you take 45 of it for action, what are you left with, divide it by six characters, you have the character arc of Elmer Fudd in a Warner Brothers cartoon. That formula is empty for me,” he stated.
Still, Mangold isn’t dismissive of all superhero movies, but the ones that work are rare and share one particular quality. “There have been some wonderful movies made in the last 10 years — ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy,’ the first ‘Iron Man.’ But they each had a personality of a filmmaker, but the collective world they’ve spawned is a little repetitive,“ he explained.
There’s no denying that many superhero films nowadays are made with future films in mind. Some drop hints at potential spin-offs and sequels in a subtle way; some films, like “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice,” aren’t so elegant and feature a character literally opening an email with actual teasers for future films attached. However, it’s still a little harsh calling these films “two-hour trailers.”
Whether the filmmaker likes them or not, these films draw huge business at the box office and some even score well with critics. Sure, a 92% for “Logan” on Rotten Tomatoes is pretty impressive, but so is the 90% that “Captain America: Civil War” received, and that film is pretty much the epitome of what Mangold was speaking out about. These “tentpole” films, especially superhero films, are born from a serialized medium. No one complains that their monthly comic book is a “trailer” for the next comic book in the series. It’s just the nature of the beast.
However, it’s not just the business of these movies that’s wearing down Mangold, but even the aesthetics.
“There’s shit blowing up and exploding and soundtrack and Dolby Atmos up the wazoo and my eyes are rolling up in my head,” he told The Director’s Cut. “I kinda feel like Malcolm McDowell in ‘[A] Clockwork Orange,’ or I feel like I don’t know what’s going on, but I do not care and my system is shutting down. Remember you went over to a friend’s house when you were younger and they thought this album was so great and they played it really loud and it’s terrible and you’re listening and they want it really loud and so it is, but there’s nothing speaking to you.”
If there’s any takeaway from Mangold’s comments, it’s that audiences shouldn’t expect the director to take another stab at a superhero film anytime soon. And while he did get to make the movie he wanted to with “Logan,” he reveals that Fox, supportive as they were, still wanted lots of slam-bang action.
“…the thing that the studio thought would be the most appealing to fans, [that third act,] you felt was the thing that was most disengaging. And the first 2/3rds of the movie that the studio was most worried about — I thought I was making a Wong Kar-Wai movie with Wolverine — they were thinking, ‘When is this thing going to get on track and we’ll have a big giant robot?’ And [those 2/3rds] was what was playing [best] to the audiences,” he shared with KCRW.
It shows that there is another way of doing things, and Mangold embraced that challenge, not just for Wolverine, but for the young mutant, X23. “I did not want the X23 from the comics who was 18-25…mostly because I felt like it would feel like one of those CW show with all the young, beautiful people as superheroes. I wanted a daughter, like in ‘Paper Moon’ or ‘The Bad News Bears.’ I did not want the hot, sassy young thing, plus the outfits she wears in later years are ludicrous,” he said.
Listen to both conversations and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.