30 April 2003

X appeal: Bryan Singer broods mutant

BRING ON THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS.

Trumping the multi-character concoction of "The Usual Suspects," in "X2" (also known as "X2: X-Men United"), is a lineup of fourteen principal super-powered characters and a mix of tones that ranges from delicate comedy to sly sociopolitical commentary, in which Bryan Singer challenges his "reputation as a dark, brooding filmmaker" in what he describes as "a coming-out scene that goes, very, very, very, very, very, very wrong."

Working on a larger scale than the more austere, $75 million original--reportedly $120 million, 800 special-effects shots and 200 enhanced shots--"X2" manages to be cheeky, serious and idealistic at the same time. Despite being based on a long-lived series of comics, its emotions seem more of the real world than most studio features, a blockbuster with a conscience. "Whether you're coming out and you're gay, or you just feel completely alone in the world and reveal who you are and what your interests are, it's tough," the 37-year-old director says. "Adolescents struggle with this sense of aloneness." To describe every character would fill a column, as well as give away much of the plot's smorgasbord of eye candy. The actors include the "pent-up amnesiac rage" of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, sporting 1970s Clint Eastwood muttonchops and the dueling velveteens of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen ("What have you done now, Charrrrrrrrrrles?" McKellen gets to purr, as well as levitate and symbolically walk on water). Brian Cox, Halle Berry, Famke Jansen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn -Stamos, Alan Cumming, Anna Paquin, Kelly Hu and Aaron Stanford also join in the melee. Does it make sense? Actually, it plays like many mini-movies, exuberant in individual scenes but dizzying overall.

"The men are unusually castrated in this picture, I started to realize," Singer says with some kind of wonder in his voice. "Xavier and Cyclops are imprisoned; Wolverine is relegated to being a babysitter. It's kind of fun that way." He adds, "It's also the first time a woman [Berry] in a movie, or so I am told, has been put behind the seat of an F-16 fighter."

There's other gender bending at work. There's a comic scene with Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, where, without giving too much away, he seems to bed several characters, and not only females. "That actually came from an idea my attorney had, my extremely heterosexual attorney, David Feldman," Singer says, grinning. He had the idea "that Hugh Jackman should sleep with Halle Barry. By any means necessary. I said, `It's not going to happen.' And he said, `Can he sleep with Rebecca Stamos?' And I'm like, `No, no, no.' I started thinking... Her Mystique character can be anybody. That scene evolved, it became very exciting, and also very expensive." In shooting the scene, an extra bit was filmed for the gag reel with Singer. "Yes, I got a big wet kiss from Hugh Jackman. Women, be jealous! And some men, for that matter. It's really sick, because I'm dressed in Jean's outfit. I'm supposed to be in the position to illustrate a bit we were doing, then Hugh just grabbed me and gave me a big, wet kiss. I was very disoriented and couldn't fully appreciate the moment."

The opening scene is essentially a terrorist attack on the Oval Office. Singer says that the story was conceived before 9/11. "Names have changed, jungles have turned to deserts, but the conflicts have remained the same and they will continue to as long as people of different races and nationalities and religious groups exist on this earth. To comment on it, particularly with the X-Men universe, which was born at the height of the Civil Rights movement, is inevitable and unavoidable."

There's a love scene between two characters who've held back until the middle of this second installment that plays like a riff on one of the most famous scenes in "The Empire Strikes Back." "I love `The Empire Strikes Back.' It's very much an inspiration to this, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," Singer claims. Like "Empire," he defined his challenge as "making a second film that was more rich in character and with a larger landscape, and perhaps darker, but with humor and more romance. But when I shot that scene, I decided they would kiss on the set that morning. I shut down for about an hour, feeling that in the scene, they were talking about their relationship, not acting on it. After sitting in a field for an hour, it was like, `Ah! They should kiss!' I turned to the camera crew, I said, `You look like a bunch of heterosexual males. How many of you think these two characters should kiss? I got eleven yeses, and one, "Can they do more?" One night toward the end of the shoot, I sat down with some of my friends and watched `Empire,' which I hadn't watched in years. And there's this damn scene where Princess Leia's helping fix the Millennium Falcon and this guy comes up, he's not as roguish as he thinks..." He trails off, having described his own scene in "X2." "I'm very proud of that moment, it was spontaneous and necessary to further that journey. Thank God I'm friends with George Lucas."