"The Weekend Rent" offers quick-hit suggestions of what to watch at home to get psyched for new releases in theaters, on Fridays.
Bryan Singer goes big in his return to the big screen as a director for the first time in five years with Jack the Giant Slayer, a live-action 3D fantasy adventure starring Nicholas Hoult that is based on the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. Singer had to work overtime to convince audiences that this is more than a children's story and, although the first trailer attached to Rise of the Guardians made it look tame enough for five year olds, the movie is packed with plenty of human-vs.-giant action and should please genre fans.
Singer came out of the gate swinging as a director with the critically acclaimed The Usual Suspects, a 1995 movie that earned Kevin Spacey on Oscar for his performance as crippled con man Roger "Verbal" Kint. What starts as a conventional whodunit evolves into something much more complex as the story develops and viewers wonder, who is Keyser Soze? People expected greatness from Singer after this stellar debut… and occasionally got it.
Singer followed up The Usual Suspects with the disturbing Apt Pupil, which stars the late Brad Renfro as a teenager who discovers a Nazi war criminal (Ian McKellen) lives in his Californian town and blackmails the man into telling him about war atrocities in exchange for keeping his identity a secret. This adaptation of a Stephen King novella split critics down the middle—a disappointment after The Usual Suspects—but it showed a glimpse of how well McKellen and Singer work together.
McKellen returned to work with Singer for his next two movies, which made both of them fanboy favorites. Singer's X-Men, about a group of mutant superheroes led by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) who struggle to keep peace as the powerful mutant Magneto (McKellen) and his band of mutants strike out against humanity, was a faithful adaptation of the comics. Whereas McKellen played a Nazi in Apt Pupil, this time he plays a concentration camp survivor during WWII who harbors a bitter resentment toward humans and uses his powers to manipulate metal objects and toss cars around like toys.
As great as X-Men is, Singer outdid himself with the rare sequel that surpasses the original: 2003's X2: X-Men United, which is on many people's short list of the greatest superhero movies of all time. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is front and center for this round as he tries to regain his memory while the villainous government-figure William Stryker (Brian Cox) plans to use Professor X to rid the world of mutants. It's terrific fun to watch Magneto bust out of his plexiglass prison and give the goody-two-shoes mutants a virtual "I told you so" after his paranoia about the human threat proves to be correct.
After two stellar superhero outings, people expected Singer's Superman Returns to soar to new heights. This sequel to the Richard Donner original kept the spirit and tone of Donner's work and recast Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel and Singer's golden-boy Spacey as Lex Luthor. Although it got mostly positive reviews (it's 76% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), fanboys can't stop complaining about what didn't work in this movie: the lack of action, a weak choice in Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, and more. The studio passed on another Superman sequel by Singer, but the director has said he has moved beyond it and is looking forward to Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel.
For his last big-screen effort as a director before Jack the Giant Slayer, Singer stepped away from superheroes after getting stung by the fan reaction to Superman Returns and got all historical on us with Valkyrie. The movie stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, the real-life mastermind behind Project Valkyrie: a plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler and overthrow his government from the inside during WWII. Although Valkyrie offers some moments of suspense, what could have been a gripping historical thriller is marred by some puzzling decisions. Cruise doesn’t sound or look German—he looks like Tom Cruise with an eye patch. In fact, none of the German characters actually speak German on-screen—the actors all speak with their native accents, so you have British actors sounding British while playing Nazis, and Cruise sounding like, well, Cruise. It's a curious decision that calls Singer's credibility into question, especially since this a movie based on actual events. The lukewarm reaction both at the box office and from critics kept Singer out of the director's chair for five long years until this week's Jack the Giant Slayer—a return to form that may offer a bit of redemption for the popular director, depending on its reception.
All of the films listed above are available on DVD and/or Blu-ray as well as on various VOD services. What are your favorite and least favorite Bryan Singer movies?