James Mangold on the politics and particularities of Logan
At the start of December, the 20th Century Fox Showcase impressed entertainment reporters by revealing clips of War for the Planet of the Apes and Alien: Covenant, as well as the first 35 minutes of Gore Verbinski’s upcoming psychological thriller A Cure For Wellness. But the biggest reactions and awe was reserved for Logan, James Mangold’s much-anticipated follow-up to The Wolverine, and his reunion with action star Hugh Jackman.
ComingSoon.net was there to witness the first-ever reveal of Logan‘s first act. The latest installment in the X-Men franchise is set in not-so-distant future where mutants are largely forgotten. A new mutant hasn’t been born in 25 years, and the X-Men have fallen off the scene. To preserve the viewing experience for you, the following plot description is light on spoilers.
Lying low as a limo driver who carts around drunken American teens and wild brides-to-be, Logan slips daily across the Mexican border to a decrepit warehouse where he hides an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is cared for by ornery albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant). What’s become of the rest of the mutants goes unspoken in the first chunk of the film. All we know is Logan is scraping by to save up an escape boat for himself and the Professor. But his plans to stay under the radar are foiled when a Mexican woman begs his help in rescuing her daughter Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen) from a band of dangerous bounty hunters led by a self-proclaimed Wolverine fanboy named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Concerned foremost with the Professor’s safety, Logan wants nothing to do with this drama. But when Laura’s powers are revealed — in a gonzo action sequence that boasts dizzying gore, hand-to-hand fighting, and a pulse-racing chase scene — Logan’s in for the long haul.
When the first act concluded and cut to black, I was cheering full-throated. Just like that Logan had leapt from a movie I was curious about to one of my most anticipated of 2017. This was a superhero movie with a fresh edge and a daring individuality that had me drooling to see more from its first gritty and very violent moments.
In the post-screening Q&A, Mangold explained he had no interest in the “level of gloss, and a kind of CG-arms race” he feels superhero movies lean toward. He didn’t want to make a star-crowded ensemble effort “where each character gets about eight minutes to have a kind of quick personal arc.” Instead, he wanted to create a “primal” spin on Little Miss Sunshine. Yes, the indie dramedy about a family fighting on their way to a child beauty pageant.
Sure, it sounds absurd, but having seen the first half hour of Logan, I could see the ties in the road trip aspect, and the way the story is deeply focused on its characters, though they are caught up in a bizarre adventure. “What would happen if you made one of these movies where the imperative was somehow on a huge arc for this superhero character?” Mangold mused before the audience, “And that if anything you were kind of just trying to make a movie pretending you weren’t making a movie about a Marvel character and see what happens.”
“What happens when a legend is living under the weight of all of the bullsh*t and hyperbole and what happens?” The acclaimed helmer inquired, referencing the inclusion of a Wolverine comic — with the titular hero in his signature canary yellow suit — in the first act. “Who is the Real Paul Bunyan, and did he really have Babe the Blue Ox? Or was it really just a large ox, and it got exaggerated? And so the idea for us was this idea that they live in a world in which the legend of them exists, but it’s not really what happened, completely. Or is it?”
He continued, “The movie goes deeper and deeper into these characters wrestling with their own legacy. And how much of it is true. And how much of it even they believe anymore, and is that a function of what is true or not? Or is that a function of whether they have lost belief in themselves? But the idea of these characters existing as celebrities in the world is something I hadn’t seen explored enough and it didn’t seem realistic to me, that you had people flying around in all of these specialized vehicles, and with specialized outfits, and they wouldn’t be dealing with the kind of very real problems of celebrity.” But social commentary isn’t all Mangold offers in Logan‘s action-packed first act.
As outsiders, the X-Men have a rich tradition of standing in for marginalized people. In the Bryan Singer movies, they are most often believed to represent LGBTQ+ people, with nods like casting out performers (Ian McKellen and Alan Cumming) and Bobby’s coming-out scene in X2. But in Logan, Mangold seems to be tie the mutants to immigrants, employing elements like border guards, covert border crossings, and Logan’s own status as an outsider, both as a mutant and as a Canadian. So this X-Men film will inherently be tied to the controversial “build the wall” promises of Donald Trump. Asked about the film’s political reading, Mangold said he couldn’t have predicted how the presidential election would shake out. But he noted, “I think we’ve all felt what’s going on in the country right now, for several years… I’ve felt it for a long time.”
To make his film fit “a contemporary moment,” Mangold “started imagining America little further forward. “A lot of the world looks pretty much the same (in Logan), with some styling changes. But the undercurrents of stress that you’re feeling? I just imagined everything we were feeling now. I didn’t quite imagine what was going to happen over the next 18 months. But that I imagined it, percolating.”
Mangold insists Logan will be the last Wolverine movie. So, he and Jackman, “We wanted to go out with a bang. But the thing is, once cities and planets have been destroyed, you have to find you have to earn your bang, as opposed to just get louder.”
The following day, I had a chance to sit down with Mangold, and dig deeper into his thoughts on superhero movies, his aims for Logan, and what he feels the responsibility of a filmmaker is in a time as politically divisive as ours.
20th Century Fox will release Logan on March 3, 2017.