The work of the late, great Scottish-American director Alexander “Sandy” Mackendrick may not seem like an obvious antecedent to a summer blockbuster about a mutant superhero with nine-inch retractable steel claws.
Having studied under the Whisky Galore! helmer at film school, however, The Wolverine’s director James Mangold is adamant that the influence of his old mentor remains strong – even on this latest addition to the X-Men franchise.
“There were films that Sandy was making, such as A High Wind in Jamaica, that were certainly on a large scale,” says Mangold, whose own wide-ranging CV includes the likes of Copland, Kate & Leopold and the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line. “But with Sandy, his lessons about character and about showing, not telling, never stop applying.”
The latter certainly helped with The Wolverine. With the action relocating the X-Men’s most popular character (once again played by Hugh Jackman) to Japan, Mangold liked being forced to convey the essence of the story through the images rather than the dialogue, a lot of which ended up being in Japanese. “One of the real buried joys for me in making this movie was essentially creating a silent film for western viewers, which was a huge thing of Sandy’s,” explains the director. “He felt that if you turned off the sound, a movie should be at least 70 per cent comprehensible, and I think that’s true of this film.”
But why Japan? As comic book aficionados will already know, the film is based on an acclaimed Frank Miller/Chris Claremont Marvel Comics saga that imagined the character as a ronin – a lone samurai who has no master. It’s a setting that was hinted at when Logan ended up in Tokyo in the critically mauled prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but Mangold felt it made more sense to ditch that film’s continuity and set the action of The Wolverine after the existing X-Men movies. “It just seemed logical to make a film with him having lost Jean Gray and the X-Men and have him in this kind of lost state.”
Consequently, fans will notice an absence of Wolverine’s trademark glib humour, but Mangold – who shared Jackman’s desire to make “a darker, more intense film” – always saw the character more in terms of a steely Clint Eastwood figure than a cigar-chomping quip-merchant. “I wanted to make something in mode of The Outlaw Josey Wales,” he surmises of the film’s other unlikely influence, “but featuring a guy with claws.” The Wolverine is in cinemas from today.