With films such as “Cop Land,” “3:10 to Yuma” and “Walk the Line,” director James Mangold has delivered gritty portraits of flawed heroes struggling to overcome their baser natures.
He’s at it again with his next film, only this time the good guy isn’t a police officer, an old West lawman or Johnny Cash — he’s an immortal mutant with adamantium claws and a bad attitude.
Opening July 26, “The Wolverine” features Hugh Jackman returning to his famed “X-Men” role in a more contemplative fashion. In the movie, Logan travels to Japan to bid farewell to a dying acquaintance only to find himself protecting the life of an heiress, even as he struggles to come to terms with the tragic events of his past.
“What’s very much at play is this sense of a guy who’s figuring himself out and who’s wrestling with his own sense of violence and his own anger and his own loss and at the same time thrown into the kaleidoscopic world of Japanese culture,” Mangold said.
Mangold joined the project after the 2011 departure of the film’s original director, Darren Aronofsky. He said he was intrigued by the license afforded by the story line, adapted from the famed early ’80s “X-Men” graphic novel miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.
With “The Wolverine” functioning neither as an origin story nor a tale of a hero defeating a super-villain out to destroy the world, the director could break away from the creatively limiting dictates of standard comic book movie convention.
“You don’t show how Dirty Harry became Dirty Harry, he just is,” Mangold said. “I can just start and find Logan where he is. I don’t have to explain who he is, where he is, how he got his claws, what adamantium is. I’m just kind of dispensing with all that, and letting you either know it or pick it up along the way. That’s a huge sea change.”
So too is the largely Asian supporting cast and the Japanese locations the Sydney, Australia-based production visited. Mangold said the cast and crew spent about five weeks shooting in Tokyo, Onishima and Tomonoura, among other more pastoral locales.
Of course, it’s still Logan at the center of the story, with an impossibly brawny (and often shirtless) Jackman called upon to channel his inner mutant tough guy for the sixth time — if you count all of his appearances in every “X-Men” film and his starring turn in 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
Mangold insists, though, that movie fans will find something new and different this time around.
“This is more about the fate of Logan hanging in the balance,” he said. “I’m just looking to make what I’d really like to see, which is a strong character study about a really interesting tormented hero and bringing what I’ve learned making other kinds of noir-ish films or even westerns, certainly, into this.”