X-tra Effort | EW.com

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X-tra Effort

Can The X-Men mutate into Hollywood's next big superhero franchise?

What’s a rabid summer-movie fan to do? The Phantom Menace is light-years in the past. The Blair Witch spell is already starting to lose its charm. So where does that leave us? Setting our sights on next year’s biggest, boldest phenom-in-waiting: The X-Men, of course.

With its mutant-superhero premise, its mammoth built-in fan base, and its juicy marketing potential, The X-Men – based on Marvel Comics’ best-selling series for more than 20 years – could become the next Batman franchise. As long as they don’t screw it up.

Speaking of which: Though filming on the Patrick Stewart-starring flick doesn’t begin till September, the Internet has been teeming with X-asperating rumors about budget battles, casting snafus, production delays, and an ER full of script doctors.

Just simmer down, say the moviemakers. All this tinkering is just Hollywood as usual. ”Some of the rumors are so inaccurate, I actually find them really funny,” says director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects). ”To be honest, a lot of what’s on the Internet about The X-Men is nonsense,” says Fox’s president of film production, Tom Rothman. ”The production is doing more than okay. It’s terrific.”

THE CAST TRACK

After an extra-long search process (which included rumored talks with Ed Norton and an ultimately futile flirtation with Russell Crowe), the current lineup looks solid, if not megastar-studded: Star Trek’s Stewart as the wheelchair-bound mind reader Professor X; Halle Berry (Bulworth) as the ivory-haired, weather-manipulating Storm; Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters) as the villainous Magneto; SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit babe Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as the shape-shifting Mystique; Bond girl Famke Janssen (Goldeneye) as telekinetic Jean Grey, Anna Paquin (The Piano) as Southern belle Rogue; and Dougray Scott (Ever After) as the hirsute Wolverine. There’s even a Phantom Menace crossover for good luck: Ray Park (Menace’s Darth Maul) will play the cranky Toad. The only X-Man yet to be cast: Cyclops.

GET ME REWRITE!

Writers, there’ve been a few. Singer won’t say exactly how many, but the flick’s first drafts were penned by Ed Solomon (Men in Black). When he moved on to a new project, the script got a rewrite by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), a polish by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Joss Whedon, and additional tweaking by Singer himself, among others. In fact, the process was so tangled, the Writers Guild will have to arbitrate the credits. But that’s nothing out of the ordinary in this age of team scribbling, say the moviemakers. ”I’m quite excited by the script,” Singer declares. ”Much more so than I’ve been in a long time.” For the record, the script’s plot centers on the X-Men recruiting the mysterious Wolverine to help them thwart the evil Magneto.

MONEY MATTERS

Though rumors have swirled about a nervous Fox shrinking the budget from $100 million to $65 million, an adamant Singer says, ”It has been and always will be $75 million.” Hence, the relatively cheap cast (many of whom have committed to sequels). Helping to cut costs: computer-generated storyboards that map out action sequences before they’re filmed. ”We didn’t do this before Titanic,” says Rothman. ”And we learned some hard lessons there. Now we’re applying them.”