by Jack Lilburn
This past Monday, HDD was one of a handful of sites invited to attend the first ever screening of 'The Wolverine Unleashed: Extended Edition' on the Fox lot. Director James Mangold was on hand to introduce the cut, which has 12 additional minutes compared to this past summer's theatrical release. Before the screening, guests were treated to traditional Japanese cuisine and given a glimpse of some of the props used in the film, including Wolverine's traditional gold and brown mask, which featured in an alternate ending available on the Blu-ray, which will be released December 3rd (look for our review shortly).
For those of you who have not seen the original film, it picks up in the wake of 'X3.' Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), returns to Japan for the first time since World War II, where he's pulled into a shadowy web of yakuza, ninjas and mutants. With his healing powers crippled, he must not only save the life of the beautiful Mariko (Tao Okomoto), but also team up with her sword-wielding stepsister Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to take on his greatest nemesis yet. I think it's one of the strongest Marvel titles around, neck and neck with 'Spider Man 2.' Mangold has brought a serious, moody sensibility to a flailing genre and the results are impressive to say the least.
One of the reasons Logan is such a refreshing and beloved character in the Marvel universe is because he's patently adult. Logan smokes, drinks, uses foul language and frequently stabs and slashes bad people with Adamantium claws. Making his character function within the PG-13 rating was a considerable challenge for Mangold. With this new unrated cut, the claws really come out.
Bear in mind that I have only my memory to help me in describing the differences between the theatrical and extended cuts, so please forgive me if I miss any minutia. As far as I can tell, here's what's new:
SPOILER ALERT - AVERT YOUR EYES IF NECESSARY
- f#%&! That's right. More f-bombs than you saw in theaters, plus an array of additional colorful language. Given Logan's gruffness, it just seems like a natural extension of the character.
- There's definitely a lot more blood, particularly during the ambush at Yashida's funeral. I'm not normally one to cheer violence, but if you're going to show a man stabbing several dozen Yakuza henchmen in an epic brawl, it's only right to depict it with fluid-based consequences.
- Remember the scene where Logan and Mariko hide in the love hotel? There's now an additional action sequence where Logan gets shot by a gunman, falls to the street, and is nearly stun-gunned to death by Yakuza thugs. Mariko ends up saving the day by hurling some knives. This feels like a well-done deleted scene, but you can understand why it didn't end up in theatres.
- The biggest change by far comes towards the start of the third act. Logan's fight with the Ninjas is MUCH longer. He squares off with a hell of a lot more swordsmen, and Yukio gets in on the action as well, leading to a particularly gruesome bit where she drives a snow-grinding tank through a crowd of ninjas, literally painting the town red. For kickers, Logan tosses a cigar into the gas tank to blow up even more ninjas. Was it necessary to the plot? Not really. Was it fun to watch? Absolutely.
Overall, is the extended cut superior to the theatrical release? It's tough to say. Tonally, the language and violence feels truer to the source material, though if they'd done a literal adaptation of Claremont/Miller's violence you'd be looking at Kill Bill Vol. 3. None of the scene extensions are bad; they just don't feel all that necessary. I was hoping we would have had more moments with Mariko, who despite a solid performance by Okomoto, lacks dimension. That being said, Kudos to Fox for allowing a director to expand his creative vision, particularly in a genre notorious for hiring directors to function less as auteurs and more as traffic cops.
After the screening, director James Mangold was on hand to field questions with some very candid answers. Mangold is an interesting pick for a comic book tentpole, particularly given the diversity of his filmography ('Cop Land,' 'Walk the Line,' '3:10 to Yuma'). As a director, he's never been affixed to a genre or theme, which may be why he continues to make such interesting decisions with his career. Here's some of what he had to say:
On Wolverine's new look in the film (shorter hair):
"For me, you're always trying to walk that line between some kind of existing relationship to the comic book art and at the same time you're having to physically make it work on human flesh. So my thing is, there's like my own barometer of just what I'll reject, and I didn't want Wolverine to look like Flock of Seagulls."
On the overall scope and focus of the film:
"To me, this was a film that wasn't going to operate on the 'Will the world be saved?' question. So it's gonna live and die by just whether you're interested in [Logan] as a character. It may not seem gigantic from the outside, but from the inside it's an entirely different construction in the way there is no real central villain or villains."
On going with this as a sequel to 'X3' rather than 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine':
"All the principal characters are either lifted or are evolved from what was in [the Claremont/Miller Comic]. I think that was the Rubik's cube you have when you come on a project like this is - it somehow has to be related to the other things as they exist. Somehow you can't pretend those movies didn't happen. So you try to take this story and at the same time plug it into this larger universe."
On picking up after director Darren Aranofsky departed the project:
"Following Darren seemed like a suicide mission. I felt like anyone who would even attempt to make it would get slaughtered - and I say this as a great admirer of Darren - it'd be like following Springsteen or something. It'd be like - why would you bother? You're just gonna get slaughtered. Everyone is just going to imagine what could have been. But time went by. The project didn't get filled. I finished a pilot. I got back. I was working on other stuff and scripts and it kind of came up [after] more time."
On making a tentpole movie about death:
"When I came on the movie, I wrote on the back of the script very early "everyone I love will die". And I thought, how do I make a tentpole movie about death? And so you have Logan, an immortal, who wishes he could die - and he can't. You have Mariko, a mortal, who wishes she could die and can't. You have her grandfather, who is at the edge of death but doesn't want to die and wants what Logan doesn't want - which is immortality. And you have a character like Yukio, who can see death around corners. And then of course you have Jean Grey who is actually dead. It's not like I want you to get that as you're seeing the movie, but I always think if I follow that thought process, I always know something we can write because there's a lot of interesting ideas in there. The characters all have different things to say to each other about their conditions."
On Wolverine's fear of flying:
"The beauty of Wolverine is that it kind of separates him from the Batman "I'm indestructible because of my gadgets" or Superman "I'm indestructible because I'm indestructible". Wolverine's greatest enemy is that not only are people out to hurt him, but his own psyche, his own inability to kind of deal with the bullshit and that's whether it's what makes him nervous or [when] people insult his intelligence or just general assholes. The fact is that Logan is a wonderful character in that he's always struggling. So to me, the fact that he doesn't like to fly just fits in to me with the animalistic nature of him. 'I don't like to be contained. I don't wanna be in a tuna can. I don't wanna be under someone else's control.' "
On making the action more realistic:
"I don't think this hurt the first Wolverine film at all, but when he leaps up and brings down a helicopter, to me, that's too much. It's getting into Superman territory. He doesn't have frog legs. He shouldn't be able to jump that high. My own idea of him is that there's tremendous strength, but that it's somehow still bound by physics in some way that we certainly pushed to the max too, but not quite that far. [Otherwise] It turns into a video game watching characters flip through the air in any which way."
On the diversity of his filmography:
"I make a lot of different kinds of movies, but I think I bring the same sensibility to all of them. I don't try to become a different filmmaker with every movie I make. I feel like I'm always learning. I don't know quite how I got on that carousel, but I'm really grateful. Earlier in my career, I was jealous quite frankly of peak filmmakers who kind of branded themselves very quickly and then were annointed and the first on the list for whenever 'that' kind of movie came around. With time, I became glad I wasn't for the sake of being whoever I am - whatever that is - but also for the sake that the experience of making different kinds of movies - I can't tell you how much making 'Identity' helped me make 'Walk the Line.' I can't tell you how much making 'Kate & Leopold' helped me make '3:10 to Yuma,' but it did. The reality is that breaking out and applying your sensibility in different arenas can't hurt you."
Thanks so much to Fox home video for putting on a fantastic event. We look forward to the next! Be sure to pick up 'The Wolverine Unleashed: Extended Edition' December 3rd!