Playback: James Mangold on a Hard-R ‘Logan’ and Wolverine’s Western DNA

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast.

On today’s season finale, Jenelle Riley and I try to make sense of one of the wildest closes to an Oscars ceremony in history. The Academy had plenty of surprises up its sleeve throughout the crafts categories, and the apparent runaway train for “La La Land” wasn’t a runaway train at all as “Moonlight” made monumental history with the best picture victory. We chew on the fallout with another Oscar season in the books.

Later on (22:02) I’m talking to “Logan” director James Mangold, whose fresh but somber spin on the popular Wolverine character hits theaters tomorrow with a bloody rage.

For more, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” below. Please keep in mind there are SPOILERS from the film in the conversation. “Playback” will be taking a break for a few weeks, but be sure to check back after the hiatus for a new episode.

Mangold took a bold approach to “Logan,” from a hard R rating (the film is viciously violent and filled with, let’s say, colorful language) to a title that doesn’t immediately connect with the overriding IP of Wolverine or the X-Men universe. Mangold and star Hugh Jackman were on the same page with the subject matter — telling a story with violence that has emotional consequences — but interestingly, it was the title choice that he had to spend a lot of time defending.

“That was the biggest negotiation of the entire picture,” Mangold says. “The title was something I had to push very hard. Ultimately Stacey [Snider] made the call and backed me on the idea of separating us. However counter-intuitive it was to actually divorce yourself from the known brand, being Wolverine, or the X-Men.We were in a bit of a quandary because what do you call this? A lot of it has to do with holding the movies together, some kind of unifying branding, which for whatever perverse reasons I am extremely resistant to. My job is not to make a platform for selling the next movie or connecting to other movies. My job is to tell a good story within the confines of the Fox logo and the end credits.”

But regarding the violence, it was crucial to the narrative of a character born out of great pain essentially to be a killing machine. In fact, Mangold makes great use of Alan Ladd’s “there’s no living with a killing” monologue from the classic western “Shane” to illustrate this point in the film. If indeed — SPOILERS — Wolverine, or at least this Wolverine, was going to take his exit from the franchise.

“[Violence is] central to the entire story of this character,” Mangold says. “One thing has been essentially true about Logan through his comic book and movie history, which is that he is carrying a ton of shame on his back about dark deeds he did when he was younger, when he was a drug-pumped killer. In the metaphor to the western, he was a gunslinger. A lot of people were hurt and they weren’t all guilty. It wasn’t always the justified death. I think that’s something that has been played with throughout comic book history, but the idea for me of this character coming to terms with his life in a final film seemed necessary, to go deeper into his odd relationship with violence.”

Hear all about that and a whole lot more via the streaming link above, including thoughts on the 20th anniversary of “Copland,” how studio decisions set the (ahem, greatly underrated) 2010 Tom Cruise vehicle “Knight and Day” up to fail, and a touching story about Johnny Cash, “Frankenstein” and a connection therein to Logan himself.

Again, “Playback” will be taking a bit of a break. But we’ll be back before you know it with more discussions with Hollywood’s top talents.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

“Logan” director James Mangold photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety
“Logan” director James Mangold photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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