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It’s not a sequel, says director Bryan Singer, but an evolution, as X-Men 2 explodes onto the world’s screens. And coming from the director of The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil, that’s not just Hollywood hype. The X-Men universe is designed to expand. Andrew L. Urban reports.

There are lines and moments in films that stick with us for various reasons, and whenever I hear a line like “it’s not a sequel,” I get a flash of Arnold Schwarzenegger nursing a headache at kindergarten. Not when he was a kid, but when he was inadvertently left in charge of one, in Kindergarten Cop. The tiny tots suggest he’s got a tumour; “it’s not a tumour!” cries Arnie defensively, in that lovable Austrian accent. (I’m married to an Austrian, so it’s lovable to me, even though she doesn’t speak with Arnie’s accent.)

So it is when I get to write “it’s not a sequel,” a statement uttered (no less defensively) by Bryan Singer, who is handling one of the few great movie franchises available: X-Men. “It’s the next adventure in a saga – an evolution from the first film. We not only follow up with the principal characters from the first picture and their respective journeys, we introduce a new generation of X-Men, as well as some new villains. 

"the X-Men universe is designed to expand"

“Like any good comic book, the X-Men universe is designed to expand,” says Singer. (Is this his career path?) “These stories can go on forever. This continuation of the saga has provided me with an opportunity to expand the storylines and the characters – and to have a lot more fun. X2 is edgier, darker, funnier and more romantic than its predecessor.”

At least, that’s what Singer intends. Audiences will soon say how well he’s succeeded, but the producers never had any doubts about his ability to progress – or help evolve – the franchise. “Bryan grew to really love the X-Men characters and their universe, so there was no question about him directing X2,” says producer Lauren Shuler Donner, who began developing the first X-Men film nearly a decade ago. Echoes producer Ralph Winter: “Bryan has great insight into what makes the series such a popular piece of pop culture. And his ability to make these characters real – like they live next door – even though they possess incredible and sometimes dangerous powers, is pretty extraordinary.”

But Singer’s approach relies on a certain position. “The X-Men films pose the questions that we all have: Am I alone in the world? Why am I so different, and how am I going to fit in? These questions are universal and timeless, particularly among adolescents. We’ve all felt at times like mutants.” Well, yes, but we don’t have the powers to help us deal with that feeling. In that respect, X-Men plays to our wish-fulfilment fantasies. This is why comics are important translators of the human condition, a kind of lightning rod for the rage of impotence, or for acting out fantasies of heroism. In Japan the Manga is literature for the masses: in earlier years, comics were literature for westerners. 

"In comic books, we can play hypothetical doom games."

Playing cowboys and Indians, for example, is a physicalisation of comics. Kids play with guns not to copy killing but to confront it. 

In comic books, we can play hypothetical doom games. These help us deal mentally and even emotionally with the worst case scenarios. X2 takes the central conflict in X-Men, Xavier’s belief in the possibility of peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants, versus Magneto’s doctrine of mutant supremacy, to the next level. The threat now comes not from a powerful mutant, but from a human. 

“One of the things I wanted to introduce into the story was a human element as the villain,” Singer explains. “That menace is a danger to all mutants and, subsequently, to mankind. The conflict is a bold reminder of the prevailing themes in the comic book lore; in this movie, one man’s fear of the unknown could lead to a level of intolerance of catastrophic proportions.”

The one man posing such a formidable threat to the X-Men is William Stryker, a character that ups the ante and makes the stakes higher than they ever were in the original X-Men.

“What I love about Stryker,” says Singer, “is that he is a perfect example of a villain who is not involved in violence or terrorism because of the need for expansionism, or religion or even greed. His hate and bias are based on a deeply personal loss of some aspect of his family. Somewhere in the past some damage was done…some hit was taken…and now his desperation makes it easy for him to engage in war against those he thinks are responsible for the destruction of his family.”

"favourite characters from the vast X-Men comics universe"

In addition to its returning cast (see below), X2 features favourite characters from the vast X-Men comics universe who are new to the film franchise. Brian Cox plays the villainous Stryker, a former Army commander who holds the key to Wolverine's past and the future of the X-Men; Alan Cumming joins the cast as Nightcrawler, a mutant who can teleport himself from one place to another; and Kelly Hu is Stryker's assistant, who has her own surprises in store for the heroic team as Deathstrike. Aaron Stanford joins the cast as John Allerdyce, aka Pyro, a promising new student at Professor Xavier's School for the Gifted, with the formidable ability to manipulate fire.

Re-uniting from X-Men are Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier, the world’s most powerful telepath), Hugh Jackman (Wolverine, a solitary fighting machine who possesses amazing healing powers, retractable adamantium claws and an animal-like fury), Ian McKellen (Magneto, a powerful mutant who can control and manipulate metal), Halle Berry (Storm, who can manipulate weather), Famke Janssen (the telepathic and telekinetic Jean Grey), James Marsden (Cyclops, whose eyes release an energy beam that can rip holes through mountains), Anna Paquin (Rogue, possessing the ability to absorb the powers and memories of anyone she touches), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (Mystique, a metamorph who can shape-shift into anyone) and Bruce Davison (Senator Kelly, the former leader of the anti-mutant movement). 

Actor Shawn Ashmore, who was introduced in the first film as Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, a classmate of Rogue’s who can lower his body temperature and radiate intense cold, returns in an expanded role as one of the junior X-Men.

"one of the coolest powers and sound effects"

Singer considered several other figures from the vast X-Men comics universe, before deciding on Nightcrawler. “I chose Nightcrawler to be in X2 because of the character’s fascinating dichotomies,” Singer explains. “Both his demon-like looks and religious beliefs are grounds for major ostracizing and prejudice. Who can’t relate to that? Plus, he has one of the coolest powers and sound effects.”

And who can say no to THAT?

Published May 1, 2003

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