Calling all humans 

X2's a character-driven drama? Who knew?

Director Bryan Singer reunites all the usual suspects in the sequel to his hit film from a few years back -- but before you start speculating about the intriguing possibilities of a follow-up to the story of the notorious Keyser Soze, be advised that these said suspects have nothing at all to do with his critically acclaimed 1995 Oscar winner The Usual Suspects.

Instead, they include the comic-book characters of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry) and Magneto (Ian McKellen). In X2: X-Men United (opening May 2), the obligatory continuation of Singer's commercially lucrative 2000 movie X-Men, the battles between humans and mutants rages on.

Creative Loafing: How would you respond to those who think you're slumming or selling out by forgoing your success with The Usual Suspects for a more commercial endeavor such as X-Men, and now X2?

Bryan Singer: Well, like The Usual Suspects, I find this to be a very character-driven drama, X2 even more so than the first X-Men. The Usual Suspects was very plot- and circumstance-driven. A lot of it was fantastical, and it ended with this charade of a kind. In X2, these characters have real romances and conflicts. I find the movie much more character-driven, in spite of the fact there are over 1,000 visual-effects shots, not to mention all the stunts and pyrotechnics.

What are some of the challenges of working on a bigger scale like this?

The visual effects, first and foremost, but also constructing the story, developing and balancing all of the characters, and the physical stamina required for shooting a picture like this. I mean, we had a relentless 110-day shooting schedule, but on top of that, after these incredibly long days on the set, there were also intense editing-room sessions every other night, and we were working on script rewrites every weekend. All of that was followed by a really complex post-production schedule, with all the effects shots, the music, the sound.

And what are the rewards?

This is definitely the movie I would've / should've / could've made the first time around. Certainly, there was a learning curve involved the first time, for myself and for the actors. In the process, there were also financial and scheduling limitations. At the same time, though, I couldn't have made X2 without having made the first X-Men.

Do you have any theories about why we're seeing so many comic book-inspired movies lately?

Gee, I don't know ... because X-Men made half a billion dollars? There's a lot you can read into the struggle between mutants and humans in this story. There are universal themes about alienation and tolerance. You have to remember, the comic was written in the early '60s, at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement, and it commented on everything from adolescent angst to sociopolitical unrest. I think that's what makes these Marvel universes so appealing. Between Spider-Man and the Hulk, they're dealing with a lot of reluctant superheroes. In our world, there are literally dozens of them.

At what point is enough enough, though? DareDevil came out a month or two ago. The Hulk is due out in another month or two. Can there be too much of a supposedly good thing?

I don't think about that or look at it that way. I think our film stands alone. It's very much in its own universe. One film excites the other. It's all about getting people out to the movies, providing a nice escape this summer from everything we've been watching on CNN or the Fox News Channel.

Fans of the X-Men comics often complain, because this character or that subplot has been left out of the film.

It's all about choosing your battles carefully and figuring out what best serves the story. It's not about including characters or subplots just for the sake of having those characters and subplots. If I learned one thing from making The Usual Suspects, it was telling a story about an ensemble of characters that kept its focus. Individual characters can have their own arcs, but if it's ultimately tangential, then it needs to go.

With talk of a third X-Men already circulating, it sounds like it may be a while before you get back to something of a more intimate, or at least less grandiose, nature.

We'll see. I'm driven by great stories and by the opportunity to tell a great story utilizing new and different filmmaking styles. I'll take that as it comes. Ever since my father took me to see The Day the Earth Stood Still, I've been obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy. When done properly, it enables me to tell ordinary human stories from a rather extraordinary perspective. I mean, growing up I learned more about right and wrong, about myth and religion and love, from watching every episode of "Star Trek" than from practically anything else, you know?

Would you agree action-oriented movies like this require more physical agility than acting skill from the cast?

No. I think just the opposite is true. I think movies like this require greater acting. Very often, an adult audience will be forgiving of a bad performance, but with a younger audience, and particularly among younger sci-fi and fantasy fans, if a performance is compromised in any way, then the fabric of the whole universe disintegrates, because the audience stops believing that they're there. What I've found very effective is casting actors like Ian McKellen or Hugh Jackman or Alan Cumming or Brian Cox, actors with the chops to actually embody these hyper-mythic characters. There's some really wonderful dialogue in the movie, but we're also having to get through a lot of exposition in these stories that could come off as dangerously corny. I think you'll find the same choices in Lord of the Rings or Star Wars with regard to casting actors who know how to take dialogue and turn it to their advantage by making it fun.

Is there an audience for X2 apart from fans of the comic books or fans of the first movie?

Do you mean, what's the target audience?

Yes.

Human beings.

bert.osborne@creativeloafing.com

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