James Mangold must feel satisfied as he watches the box office receipts flow into the gleeful, open arms of Fox thanks to Logan, a stirring, nuanced and refreshingly unique take on Wolverine. You'd think, then, that the director only has positive things to say about superhero movies. Well, you'd be wrong.
In a refreshingly candid interview with KCRW, Mangold has revealed his borderline loathing of big budget, tentpole superhero movies. And in many ways, it's hard to disagree with him. Speaking of the popularity of overstuffed ensembles, he released a not-so-subtle hint of rage that #Wolverine would be proud of:
"Tentpole movies in general, they are not movies, generally. They are bloated exercises in two-hour trailers for another movie they are going to sell you in two years."
Ouch. Not only does he reduce superhero team-ups to mere advertisements — a list of films including Captain American: Civil War, Batman v Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse — he also claims they are "not movies." He expanded on the reason why he feels this way:
"There are so many characters that each character gets an arc of about six and a half minutes at best, and I'm not exaggerating.
"You take 120 minutes, you take 45 of it for action, what are you left with, divide it by six characters, you have the character arc of Elmer Fudd in a Warner Brothers cartoon. That formula is empty for me."
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The Growing Excess Of Superhero Tentpoles
It's safe to say Mangold won't be directing a superhero ensemble in the future, as he's hardly sitting on the fence. It's hard to disagree with what he says; in the big Avengers, DC or X-Men collaborations, the number of characters vying for the audience's attention leaves little time for real development, and shows not sign of slowing down — the next big #MCU production, #InfinityWar, includes an claustrophobic 67 characters.
Mangold has walked the walk, having hit the jackpot with #Logan, a film that is the antithesis of the structure of movies in question. The 53-year-old intentionally prioritized delving into the depths of Wolverine's psyche, ahead of the inclusion of more well-known #XMen, a strategy that has reaped rewards and helped produce one of the defining movies of the genre.
Is Mangold's Criticism Justified?
While Logan proves the less-is-more mantra is correct, it's also worth remembering that there's room for both. There's room for in-depth character development and volume-centric Avengers to co-exist — it is, after all, one of the victories of the golden age of superheroes.
Plus, to put it bluntly, many fans don't turn up to tentpole movies with that expectation. The reward of seeing a whole collection of their favourite names join together is worth the entry fee alone, and something the MCU model has mastered by allocating the solo movies for development, leaving ensembles free to go all-out spectacle.
Ultimately, the upward trend will turn-off a section of fans, of which Mangold belongs to. But the comparison between Logan and tentpole ensembles is like comparing a Michelin star main course with an oven-cooked Gü chocolate fudge cake — there's a time for carefully crafted restraint that is full of flavour but lacking in substance, and a time for the sweet sugar hit of excess.
Is Mangold right? Are tentpole superhero movies just two-hour trailers?