Film Score Friday: ‘X-Men: First Class’ By Henry Jackman

Big summer super-hero movie scores carry with them a certain set of expectations. The broadness of the source material opens the doors for large and exciting music that should play with the imagination and enhance the very feel of the movie. Of course with great expectation comes great pressure and not all blockbuster scores can resonate beyond the background of the scene. The X-Men franchise has always been one to deliver the goods on the soundtrack, and the newest installment continues that trend nicely.

The franchise has yet to have a single recurring composer, and the new film doesn’t break tradition with Henry Jackman stepping up to the podium for this round. Jackman has not done much as yet in his career, but has written music with Hans Zimmer on some high profile projects and has two other scores later this year. As a relative unknown he is a wild card, it is hard to know what to expect.

Well, we now know that we should be expecting great things from Mr. Jackman. The score for X-Men: First Class is a solid and often rousing musical experience. One that stands shoulder to shoulder with most super-hero scores of the past decade. It might lack the bombast of Spider-Man or the sheer scope of X-Men 3, but it packs a serious punch and excels in all the right places.

One of my favorite aspects of the X-Men film scores is that despite the turnstile at composer, each score fits into a bigger tapestry. Much like how each patch on a quilt is it’s own thing, but contextually it works with everything around it to make it all better. First Class has elements in the music that are fantastically reminiscent of X-Men 2’s score, but are played in an older style that feels very much of it’s era. In fact, the whole thing feels very sixties with a hard modern edge. It’s not quite “swinging” but it has a quality that helps sell the era in the film.

I particularly loved the more menacing undertones that ebb and flow with the characters. For instance, Magneto has a general theme, and when he is falling into his bad side it is played very bad, almost even scary. Then as he bonds with Xavier it lightens up and becomes very poetic. The music finds the balance of the character and stays on point during the entire film.

As much as I am enjoying this music I wouldn’t go so far as to call it the best of the series. It does have some flaws, such as a limited variety of sounds and it gets kind of soft in the middle. It is missing an element that bridges it’s three or four big tracks together with interesting and different sounding music.

Favorite Three Tracks:

First Class – Henry Jackman: The opening track of the album gets things off to a perfect start. This track builds really well towards something bigger and much more noble. Much like how the first class in the movie is coming together for the same goal. The track has a hopeful, optimistic vibe that still feels grounded, basically this track tells the tale of Xavier’s dream. It starts of small, but like any good movement it gains momentum, finally coming to a head. The X-Men will always stand tall against injustice to man or mutant, and this track is what I imagine it sounds like when they do.

Rise to Rule – Henry Jackman: This is some of the better action music I have heard on a soundtrack album in a long while. It maintains an edge of darkness as it builds to a climactic point half way through the track. Then a somber, beautiful moment takes hold, easily one of the prettiest points in the whole album. That beauty doesn’t last, however, as the action beat picks up again just in time for a truly epic end.

Magneto – Henry Jackman: This is destined to become the quintessential theme for one of the best comic book villains of all time. This is dark, gritty, raw but at the same time totally of it’s era, very sixties. Appropriately enough the track actually really gets going in the previous song, X-Men. Just like Magneto the man has his roots in the X-Men, Magneto the song has it’s roots in X-Men the song. The little additions of Magneto’s sound effects played as instruments really helps put this over the edge as a piece of music I will be listening to long after the film fades from memory..

Least Favorite Track:

Cold War – Henry Jackman: It’s not that I hate this song, it’s that it is just so much more of the same. The Cold War is an important factor in the film and I was expecting a track that almost gave that nebulous crisis it’s own theme. Instead we get more action music, only with no real hook. It probably doesn’t help that the next track is X-Training, which does indeed branch away from the same sound as the rest of the album and becomes a fun bit of montage music that works well in the film.

X-Men: First Class is a really good score, and an even better movie. The soundtrack stands comfortable in my head near the top of super-hero film scores of the decade, and it’s singular sounds of hope are the reason I will keep at least a few of these tracks near the top of my play list. I am excited to see what Mr. Jackman has for us next, because if this is any indication, he has a bright film composing career ahead of him.

Total Score for X-Men: First Class –

4 out of 5

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