Bryan Singer is a talented director, no question. That admission might sound out of place coming from a guy who poked fun at Singer’s initials and said that Superman Returns gets worse every time I see it. But it’s true. I sometimes jest, but I have great respect for filmmakers because they open themselves to be embarrassingly mocked, praised, or ignored every time they produce something new.
Singer did an incredible service to comic-book movies by paving the way for their success with 2000’s X-Men. After 1997’s Batman & Robin killed comic-book movies’ momentum for a few years, X-Men showed that it was possible to have a big team-up film full of superheroes and make it work. It’s a modest movie, especially by the standards of The Avengers and the Dark Knight trilogy, but it’s still well-acted and carefully crafted.
After X2: X-Men United, Singer hung up his claws to try his hand at another famous superhero series with the aforementioned Superman Returns. Since then, he’s fallen into relative obscurity, directing a few TV movies, as well as the somewhat popular Valkyrie and the critically panned Jack the Giant Slayer. His next big movie is 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.
My question is: Was it a good idea for Singer to return to X-Men after so many years?
Singer’s presence adds a welcome bit of nostalgia and it seems to bode well for the project because his first two films of the series are undoubtedly the best, along with X-Men: First Class, which he helped write and produce.
Sentinels and an all-out war between humans and mutants are what we’ve been waiting for, and it looks like we’re finally going to get them in the next film. But is Bryan Singer the right man to bring such an epic story to the big screen? He’s unproven in that area.
Historically, directors returning to their old series after a long absence are a mixed bag. Some lost their edge over the years while others showed even more talent. Here are 10 examples of directors who took their time getting back into the big chair, going from shortest to longest distance in years between films:
After seven years of legal wrangling and other behind-the-scenes drama, James Cameron finally got the chance to make a sequel to The Terminator in 1991. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the best action films ever made, so it was well worth the wait.
Nine years passed between Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. But writer/director Nicholas Meyer didn’t miss a beat. These two films are perfect bookends to the original crew’s adventures, and they still hold up as quite possibly the best in the series.
I didn’t think it was possible to top Toy Story 2, but director Lee Unkrich proved me wrong with the masterpiece Toy Story 3. He co-directed Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo – all of which are incredible films. But Toy Story 3 might just be his crowning achievement. Eleven years in the making, the film feels like a natural progression of the story, and it even manages to have the funniest gags and most poignant moments of the trilogy.
Kevin Smith made a sequel to his popular low-budget film Clerks 12 years later. He had just made the disappointing Jersey Girl, and he decided to get back to his roots with Clerks II. It was good enough to turn a tidy profit and possibly lead to a third film.
Fourteen years after directing one of the best dramas of all time, Rocky, John G. Avildsen came back to close the story once and for all with 1990’s Rocky V. The resulting film ended the franchise on a sour note that was only undone when Stallone resurrected it one last time in 2006 to bid a fond farewell with the soft-spoken Rocky Balboa.
Francis Ford Coppola suffered a string of disappointments during the 1980s, which apparently convinced him to make The Godfather Part III in 1990. The result is lackluster compared to the first two films, but it still has plenty of elements of genius in it.
Does anyone think it was wise of Steven Spielberg to direct Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 19 years after having the iconic archaeologist ride off into the sunset in The Last Crusade? I didn’t think so.
George Lucas officially returned to the director’s chair for the first time in 22 years when he made Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. This film (along with the other two Star Wars prequels) let a lot of fans down and is generally regarded as being inferior to any of the films in the original trilogy.
Oliver Stone took 23 years to make a sequel to Wall Street. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps isn’t a bad film, from what I’ve heard. But it’s not a sequel that fans of the original pined for, either.
In 2012, Ridley Scott took another shot at the classic film that put him on the map as a visionary director – 1979’s Alien. The result is a quasi-prequel/reboot called Prometheus. While it certainly made a lot of money, it left quite a few people scratching their heads wondering what it all means. At least it’s better than Alien: Resurrection.
The Difference Between Success and Failure
Probably the most important factor in having a successful return to a series after many years is to have done related work in the intervening years. James Cameron made Aliens and The Abyss in between his two Terminator films. He had honed his skills in the action and sci-fi departments. Nicholas Meyer co-wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986. Lee Unkrich stayed busy at Pixar between Toy Story 2 and 3.
Singer hasn’t exactly followed in these filmmakers’ footsteps. I hope he allays my fears and shows that he hasn’t lost any of his talent over the years. I want to love X-Men: Days of Future Past. I really do. With any luck, next year I’ll have the pleasure of writing a gushing review singing its praises. Time will tell.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Good stuff, Robert. and I agree that it’s dangerous for a director to try to relive old successes by coming back “home” to a previous venture.
But Singer is a talented guy, and I’m encouraged by his work on ‘Valkyrie’, which was an excellent film and historically very accurate.
Keeping my fingers crossed…
Understatement of the century so far: [Star Wars Episode 1] “is generally regarded as being inferior to any of the films in the original trilogy”
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