Exclusive: James Mangold Talks The Wolverine Inspirations and Alternate Ending

Originally intended to be directed by Darren Arronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream), The Wolverine remained in development for a long time at Fox before director James Mangold stepped in and helped shepherd the project to fruition. Good thing he did too, because the film is now the second-highest grossing in the “X-Men” franchise with over $414 million at the worldwide box office. We spoke with Mangold this afternoon about the Blu-ray release of the film, which features an extended cut that should delight hardcore Wolverine fans the world over, and an alternate ending that features something fans have been waiting years to see.

SuperHeroHype: With the Blu-ray you’ve got a theatrical and unrated cut, when you’re in production were you planning on doing these separate cuts of the film or were you aiming for one and then decided on the other one?

James Mangold: No, but I think you’re on the right track. I think what I was trying to do was make the most intense film I could, and I knew with some things I was on the very edge of what would be rated R. But I wanted to play on the edge because I knew fans and I knew myself were interested in the most intense Wolverine film we could possibly make. So in a way the sandbox I was playing in was at the very edge of what I knew I could get away. So the extended cut is in some ways just the stuff that was trimmed and scenes that fell by the wayside as we were trying to get under the “limbo bar” of the MPAA.

SHH: You also spoke on the Blu-ray about different sources that you used as guiding points for when you’re developing a project. You mention both The Bicentennial Man and The Outlaw Josey Wales as things that helped you forming this story. How important is it to you to look at other things you enjoy to guide you along your path?
JM: Very important, I mean less so looking at the movies and more so thinking about the stories and their architecture. It very much located me on the idea of… Josey Wales is the perfect archetype of the kind of tone that I wanted The Wolverine to have so that meant a little less of the cigar chomping and the kind of cute quip every three seconds and a little more of the intensity and the darkness. Of course “Josey Wales” opens with the death of his family, which spoke to me when I was trying to figure out where we place this film in the timeline of all the other stories that we know exist, in movies particularly, for Wolverine and the X-Men, and it occurred to me what a powerful place to begin would be after the third “X-Men” ends when Professor X is gone, Jean Grey is gone, the other X-Men are gone, his life is gone. There’s nothing left for Logan, and it would almost feel to him that anyone he connects with, anyone he touches, anyone he becomes intimate with, almost as though he were cursed, would die as from a result that contact. To me that was a great place, a departure point and dark place, to begin with Logan.
SHH: Was that difficult due to you being brought on so much later in the development? Is what we have no much more different from what we have now than what was there when you were brought on?
JM:Yes, it is. We made a lot of changes. I don’t make them just to make them. If something is great and I get it and it speaks to me then I have no issue with it, but this theme and idea of loss and how Logan has kind of withdrawn from the world was something I brought to the film. Locating it in this place in the time line it then spoke to a lot of story threads that came about from it. Certainly Jean Grey being there, speaking to him from beyond the grave, was one of them. The other was that I wrote on the original material when I first came on, “Anyone I love will die,” and I wanted to make a film about, as you mentioned, “The Bicentennial Man,” about this unusual relationship that an immortal being has to mortals, and how death plays such a significant role in separating them, or the absence of death in their own lives separates them from everyone else. I think it’s been brilliantly divided in movies as diverse as, well with “Bicentennial Man.” I’m not talking about a movie, but Asimov’s story, but also movies like Wings of Desire comes to mind immediately, with what it’s like to be a person who exists forever. 

So when I structured the movie, one of the things I did was I went through the universe in the Claremont/Miller comic and I tried to, without radically changing the characters, make everyone of them have something to say and to offer the audience in the position toward death. So to give you an example you have Logan, who is a character that is immortal and wants to die. Then you have a character like Mariko, who is mortal and wants to die. So he wants out and he can’t get out, she wants out and can. Then you have a man like Mariko’s grandfather, Old Man Yashida, who is at death’s door and wants to be saved, he wants to live forever. Then you have a character like Yukio, played wonderfully by Rila Fukushima in the film, who is a mutant who actually sees death before it happens. Then you have Jean Grey who IS dead, a dead character speaking to him from the other side. So in a way one of the things I was implanting in the storyline was this giant contemplation on immortality, death and the role it plays in our lives. Ambitious, but also I feel like most comic books are ambitious in that way.
SHH: Oh definitely. Now before I let you go, I have to ask about that alternate ending where we see Wolverine’s classic costume (pictured below), was that your idea and why didn’t it make the final cut?
JM: It was my idea and it was something I tried, I improvised on the set. The box was actually empty on the set when shot the material with Hugh and Rila, but I tried it out because I was just curious. I had also felt the fans’ desire to see something like that, obviously the fans’ desire to see something more than that. The trick was that I felt like, and I think the studio felt strongly that I was kind of handing a hot potato to whatever films followed in the sense that it’s one they couldn’t fulfill or one that we didn’t know if they could fulfill since we hadn’t even scripted them yet. So this implication that he would be wearing them in the next film which I couldn’t guarantee since I didn’t even know where I or who or what would be making one, and I certainly didn’t want to burden Bryan (Singer, director of X-Men: Days of Future Past) with suddenly based upon the last six seconds of the film throwing a wrench in the works of what he was up to. But I also have to say, for Wolverine fans I felt it would be hugely rewarding, but when we screened it, and we did with that ending on, it was very interesting that 60% of the audience didn’t understand what was in the box. So you also have the fact that you’re going to be ending a movie with a moment where a huge majority of the audience was going to be going “Huh?” So that definitely wasn’t a feeling I wanted, but I was very torn about it and thought it worked. It also bumped a little when I went to Montreal and shot the credit scene that kicks you toward “Future Past,” it seemed to bump against that. You’re showing him open the box and have a costume in the end and then you’re coming from black and having him wearing street clothes. It just seemed like we were creating more questions than we were answering and maybe it wasn’t the most responsible thing to do.
The Wolverine is now available for digital download and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on December 3.