It’s kind of crazy to think that Bryan Singer is still making superhero movies. Not that he shouldn’t be, or that he couldn’t do anything else. But Singer is one of the godfathers of the current superhero movie genre, paving the way for films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, and years later as the genre bursts at the seams with new and varied franchises, Singer is still working in direct competition with folks at Marvel Studios and Warner Bros., spearheading one of the franchises that started it all: X-Men.
Singer shares the “godfather” honor with Sam Raimi, whose Spider-Man worked in tandem with X-Men to jumpstart this whole modern superhero craze to begin with. But with 2000’s X-Men, Singer made a statement. Superhero movies weren’t only just for colorful suits and predictable plots, they were stories that transcended the silly costumes and sci-fi powers to relate to us as human beings, and the struggles we face day to day.
With the X-Men, a group of mutants who are maligned just for being different, Singer found a relatable piece of material that he aimed to tell in a serious manner, going so far as to open the film with a sequence set in Auschwitz. It was an incredibly risky move, but one that paved the way for serious storytelling to persist within the superhero genre with films like Batman Begins and Man of Steel.
So when I had the pleasure of visiting the Montreal set of the new X-Men film, X-Men: Apocalypse, last summer along with a group of other journalists, I couldn’t help but ask Singer to reflect on the evolution of the genre as a whole from the point of view of someone who’s been smack dab in the middle of it for 15 years. He began by discussing the climate at the time he was making the first X-Men:
“There was no concept. There was no template for it. Comic book movies had died, there was no concept of one as anything but camp. I took it on because I saw the thematics of it were interesting to me. I saw Xavier and Magneto as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X characters. I’m gay or bisexual, whatever, so that probably factored into it a bit because mutancy is discovered at that age in puberty when you’re different from your whole neighborhood and your family and you feel very isolated. So that probably factored into my decision to do it to some degree at least, and I wanted to get involved in action-adventure and this was an avenue to do it.”
He continued by saying that 20th Century Fox had an existing script when he signed on, but he quickly found an “in” through the character of Wolverine:
“The studio had always wanted to make an X-Men movie. Andrew Kevin Walker wrote a script, there’s a number of scripts that had been written, but after I met with Stan Lee who was wonderful and lovely, I just started to research the characters and I found them so compelling and their relationships with each other were so interesting that I thought ‘I can make this universe really cool, and I can see it through Wolverine’s eyes because he kind of doesn’t buy it.’”
Singer admitted that he wasn’t a huge comic book fan growing up, but that worked to his advantage in using Wolverine as an audience surrogate to this fantastical world of mutants and superpowers:
“For me I was very cynical about it, like ‘They call themselves Cyclops, Storm, Sabertooth,’ but with Wolverine, I said ‘I can be Logan and by the end of the movie I can embrace this universe,’ so I can tell this story. Through him I can make this movie and I can make it like a film that happens to be based on a comic book, that happens to have action sequences in it, but it’s still to me a film. It’s not just genre. It’s a film. Like Usual Suspects or Apt Pupil or the other films I had made at the time.”
Singer would go on to direct the excellent X2, but left the franchise when Warner Bros. offered him the opportunity to helm Superman Returns. He came back to X-Men in a producorial capacity with X-Men: First Class, then returned to the helm with X-Men: Days of Future Past, at which time 11 years had passed since he had directed an X-Men movie. That’s not an incredibly long time to be away, but in his absence the genre had evolved and shifted significantly with the advent of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe concept and Christopher Nolan’s dark and gritty take on the genre with his Dark Knight Trilogy. I asked Singer if seeing these various other superhero interpretations had any effect on his approach to the X-Men stories:
“It’s weird, they affect me all the time! This makes a billion dollars, and this does this, and this tonally is so light and this is fun and this is a gag, and the other side is Nolan, it’s dark. But when I go to make an X-Men movie I’m like ‘Well the last thing I can do is start to try and make an X-Men movie look like Dark Knight or The Avengers.’ If I start doing that then I’m going to fuck it all up. You would not have had Days of Future Past you would have Days of Avengers Knight something. So when I go into the making of it, it doesn’t really affect me, but when I’m in-between I’m like ‘What am I supposed to be doing?!’ That’s how it happens. Yeah, it’s weird. I do think about it.”
And with the varying tones on display, Singer says that before he made Days of Future Past, he went back and watched the first two X-Men movies to remind himself of the balance between drama and humor that permeated throughout those films:
“[Kevin] Feige and I had a conversation about this recently where he felt when he saw Days of Future Past that the tone actually reminded him—because Feige worked as an assistant with us on X-Men 1—he felt [it reminded him of X-Men 1]. I rewatched X-Men 1 and 2 to remind myself what sort of tone I have to maintain. If I’m going to see a Star Wars movie or a movie from a franchise I love, whatever it is, I’m going to want to see that tone maintained. If that tone shifts, I’m like whoa, whoa, that’s a different movie… You don’t want to try and assimilate whatever is more different or popular at the moment. I keep getting drawn back because there’s always something different to tell.”
Indeed, with X-Men: Apocalypse Singer and writer/producer Simon Kinberg are tackling the biggest X-Men story yet, as Oscar Isaac’s titular villain brings about worldwide destruction with the aid of his Four Horsemen. But no matter how dark and dire things get, you can rest assured that Singer will maintain the tone that he set with his groundbreaking first film way back in 2000.
For more on X-Men: Apocalypse, peruse my other set visit articles below. The film opens in theaters on May 27th.
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Over 75 Things to Know about the Epic Superhero Sequel
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Evan Peters Describes New Quicksilver Sequence as a “Sequel” to the First
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: New Timeline Explained by Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Bryan Singer on the Villain’s Powers, Costume, and Casting Oscar Isaac
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: How Did They Decide Which Mutants to Include?
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Michael Fassbender on Working with Oscar Isaac, Becoming a Horseman