The Films of Bryan Singer
The Usual Suspects
X-Men (April 28/09)
Though quite entertaining from start to finish, X-Men ultimately feels as though it exists primarily to lay the groundwork for its subsequent installments - as screenwriter David Hayter spends a far-from-insignificant amount of time establishing the various characters and the off-kilter universe in which they reside. And while this does ensure that the movie isn't entirely successful as a stand-alone endeavor, there's little doubt that Bryan Singer's unusually strong directorial choices and the uniformly compelling performances prove instrumental in elevating the material to a level above and beyond that of Hayter's exposition-heavy screenplay. The film primarily follows Hugh Jackman's Wolverine as his solitary existence is thrown for a loop after he learns about (and reluctantly joins) the X-Men, with the remainder of the proceedings detailing the title heroes' (including Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier, Famke Janssen's Jean Grey, and James Marsden's Cyclops) collective efforts at preventing arch-villain Magneto (Ian McKellen) from successfully executing a predictably diabolical plan. It's a relatively simple storyline that's been festooned with a whole host of subplots and periphery characters, which - despite Singer's best efforts at balancing the screenplay's various elements - results in a noticeably erratic structure that ultimately impedes the movie's efforts at consistently sustaining the viewer's interest (ie some interludes are far more engrossing than others). That being said, X-Men's myriad of positive attributes generally compensate for its less-than-enthralling stretches - with Jackman's stellar work as Wolverine, as well as solid turns from Stewart, Marsden, and McKellen, cementing the film's place as a solid (if uneven) introduction to the series.
X2: X-Men United (May 2/03)
As far as summer entertainment goes, X2: X-Men United is about as good as it gets. Chock full of special effects and over-the-top stuntwork, the film also boasts characters worth caring about (played by better-than-expected actors) and a storyline that doesn't exist merely to kill time between action sequences. X2 - which follows the various X-Men as they're forced to battle a variety of nefarious villains - is directed by Bryan Singer, a talented filmmaker who knows exactly how to craft a big-budget extravaganza. The myriad of above-average action interludes ultimately play a substantial role in the movie's success, although there's little doubt that it's the actors that ultimately ensure that X2 remains a cut above its action-heavy brethren. Leading the stellar cast is, of course, Hugh Jackman. His Wolverine was the most intriguing character in the first film, and that's also true here. Obviously, it doesn't hurt that he receives the most screen time out of all the X-Men, but it's likely he's again received the lion's share of the script's attention because he's the most complex character. Jackman gives a performance that's completely captivating, and not just during the admittedly amazing action sequences (ie he's just as compelling during the film's quieter moments). Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are expectedly great in their respective roles of Charles Xavier and Magneto, but smaller characters like Iceman and Pyro have been filled by surprisingly effective actors. As Pyro, Aaron Stanford brings an appropriate amount of confusion and restlessness to his character - while Shawn Ashmore is just about perfect as Iceman. As the villainous Col. Stryker, Brian Cox proves that he's one of the most talented actors out there by turning what could have been a one-dimensional character into a complex and intriguing bad guy. But the film does suffer from the too-much-of-a-good-thing syndrome by going on much longer than it needs to. At a running time of around 130 minutes, X2 could've used some tightening. Still, it's hard to complain considering how entertaining and well-made X2 is. Let's hope that Singer is involved when X3 invariably goes into production...
Though once again plagued by an overlong running time, Superman Returns is nevertheless the most effective and flat-out entertaining installment in this ongoing series. Director Bryan Singer captures the feel of Richard Donner's original without sacrificing his own distinctive sense of style, while star Brandon Routh does a nice job of stepping into Christopher Reeve's iconic shoes. The story revolves around Superman's return to Earth after a five-year stint exploring the ruins of Krypton, during which time Lois (Kate Bosworth) has given birth to a son and gotten engaged to a coworker. Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), meanwhile, has been using the time to concoct his most diabolical scheme yet (involving, of course, the acquisition of land). Thanks to the various advances in computer-generated imagery, Superman Returns finally places the Man of Steel in an appropriately impressive context (ie we finally do believe a man can fly). Singer - along with screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris - infuses the movie with just the right balance of action and drama, peppering the storyline with the sort of larger-than-life set-pieces viewers have come to expect from these films. But as engaging as much of Superman Returns is, the inclusion of several needless or overlong sequences ( ie did we really need another Superman/Lois nighttime flight?) ultimately prevents it from becoming the riveting superhero flick one might've hoped for. That being said, Routh delivers a surprisingly solid performance, while Spacey wisely avoids the temptation to channel Gene Hackman's flamboyant take on Lex and instead transforms the character into a far more evil and psychotic figure (Luthor's penchant for absurd wigs remains, however). In the end, Superman Returns is a solid piece of summer entertainment - which is fine, certainly, but it's hard not to wish the film had lived up to its promise.
Bryan Singer's first non-superhero movie since 1998's Apt Pupil, Valkyrie follows WWII German soldier Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) as he leads a rebellion designed to remove power from Adolf Hitler's regime. Despite the obviousness of the movie's outcome, Singer generally does a nice job of infusing Valkyrie with bursts of palpable suspense - although it's hard to deny that the almost egregiously talky opening 45 minutes will test the patience of certain viewers. It's consequently not surprising to note that one's enjoyment of the film is directly related to one's inherent interest in the subject matter, with the initial influx of expository dialogue exacerbated by a pace best described as deliberate. Singer's expectedly solid visual choices - coupled with the supporting cast's superb work - plays an instrumental role at nevertheless drawing even the most abecedarian viewer into the storyline, and there ultimately does reach a point at which Valkyrie essentially morphs from a slow-moving historical drama into a relatively brisk thriller. The sequence wherein von Stauffenberg attempts to surreptitiously leave a briefcase filled with explosives by Hitler's feet stands as an obvious highlight, yet - to the credit of screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander - the latter half of the film has likewise been suffused with a number of tense, genuinely enthralling set pieces that effectively carry the proceedings through to its inevitable conclusion. Despite the film's myriad of positive attributes, however, Valkyrie finally can't help but come off as something of a minor disappointment - as the talent on both sides of the camera and the intrinsically fascinating premise seem to promise a more consistently electrifying piece of work than the final product is able to deliver.
Jack the Giant Slayer
X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 28/14)
Bryan Singer returns to the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past, which follows Hugh Jackman's Wolverine as he travels back in time to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from triggering a global apocalypse. There's little doubt that X-Men: Days of Future Past takes its time luring the viewer into the proceedings, as the movie, scripted by Simon Kinberg, kicks off with a fairly confusing opening stretch that features little in the way of exposition or logic. (In addition to the baffling post-apocalyptic setting, the film's future landscape boasts the presence of at least one character that died in a previous installment.) It's clear, then, that the film picks up considerably once its focus shifts to Wolverine's escapades in the past, with the appealing time-traveling storyline heightened by the ongoing inclusion of better-than-expected action set-pieces - including a seriously entertaining bit involving younger Magneto's (Michael Fassbender) escape from a top-secret government facility. But at a running time of 131 minutes, X-Men: Days of Future Past is clearly much, much longer than it needs (or has any right) to be - with the padded-out feel especially noticeable once the movie passes the one-hour mark (ie it's hard to deny that the narrative begins to demonstrably drag in its second half). The climax, however, fares better than most contemporary blockbusters' over-the-top and hopelessly frenetic third acts, with the above-average vibe perpetuated by an ending that's just about perfect - which ultimately does confirm X-Men: Days of Future Past's place as an erratic yet rewarding entry within this ongoing series.
An obvious low point in the otherwise solid X-Men series, X-Men: Apocalypse follows the title characters as they band together to stop a seemingly omnipotent villain (Oscar Isaac's Apocalypse) from destroying the world. There's certainly a lot going on within X-Men: Apocalypse and yet very little of it manages to engross, as director Bryan Singer and scripter Simon Kinberg suffuse the proceedings with a host of subpar subplots - with the less-than-captivating atmosphere compounded by a handful of generic, one-note performances. (Actors like Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, and even Jennifer Lawrence, as competent as they may be, are simply unable to infuse their now-iconic characters with the presence and gravitas one might've expected, although, in a rare exception, Michael Fassbender is typically excellent as the tortured Magneto.) It's worth noting, however, that the movie does boast a handful of standout sequences, with the best and most obvious example of this a completely riveting interlude involving Quicksilver's (Evan Peters) slow-motion rescue of several characters from a burning building. The needlessly overlong running time ensures that X-Men: Apocalypse pumps the breaks when it should be ramping up, as the film progresses into a meandering, wheel-spinning midsection that wreaks havoc on the already-tenuous momentum - with, in a far more problematic and disastrous turn of events, the narrative ultimately progressing to an overblown, CGI-heavy climax that could hardly be any less compelling/interesting (ie it just seems to go on and on and on). It's ultimately rather disheartening to note that the X-Men series has finally succumbed to many of the problems that plague most comic-book adaptations (eg relentless action, incoherent special effects, etc), and it is, in the end, clear that the time has come to scrap the existing continuity in favor of something different and less frenetic.