Latest reviews of new albums:
Dark Phoenix
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • Fox Music / 68m

X-Men: The Last Stand was not received well at all in 2006, and after it was rather conveniently erased from the timeline of this film series in a later instalment, the filmmakers had the chance to do it again and so Dark Phoenix was born to conclude Fox’s X-Men films before the characters are introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Obviously, this time the film was received even worse.

John Ottman’s scored a few of them but there hasn’t been a great deal of musical continuity in these films. The Last Stand‘s score was the best of the saga, John Powell providing a stirring superhero sound full of all the colours you would expect (but surprisingly rarely find) in a comic book adaptation. It was a great surprise to see Hans Zimmer announced for this film – it just doesn’t seem like the sort of project that would really interest him these days and, curiously, we didn’t get all the bluster that usually accompanies his new scores in the lead-up to the film’s release.

Hans Zimmer

To put it mildly, I’ve not been a big fan of Zimmer’s work on most of the comic book films he’s done – and any hope that he would take a new path on this one are quickly dashed as the album starts. The score is very dark, he hasn’t taken the opportunity to provide any recognisable thematic material, and while I’m sure he delivered exactly what was asked of him, it isn’t the kind of music that makes a particularly strong album.

The first cue, “Gap”, is arguably the best – while there is no strong melody, it does have some of the qualities of those rousing anthems Zimmer used to write – where it differs is that there’s no real sense of heroism, rather a focus on tension and dark atmosphere. The “theme” (of sorts) is heard in the first half of the cue, and while it may not stick in the memory (despite being a very simple construction) it does at least offer something.

Much of the rest of the album is very dark, with elements from Dunkirk mixed with some of the electronic sound of Chappie (but without that score’s fun). It’s certainly effective at creating tension and there are times – the twisted choir of “Frameshift” and “Deletion”, the ethereal beauty of part of “Intimate”, the action variant of the main theme in “Reckless” – when it offers glimpses of a more significant work, moments of genuine quality, but even if there are a few of these, they tend to be just fragments of cues (“Deletion” is the only one that really sustains interest from start to finish). The action music when it comes really doesn’t offer much – it feels like we’ve heard all this rhythmic pounding before, done much better. I’ve read some real appreciation for the finale cue (actually the album’s penultimate one) “Insertion”, but it does nothing for me.

For the most part, this is a series of long, monochrome cues which do little other than offer a dark ambience. That might be what the doctor ordered but having been surprised Zimmer agreed to do the film, I’m also surprised that he delivered this score for it – for a while now it’s seemed that he’s liked to use his more high-profile projects to make statements, do the bold and go against the grain and have an influence on how everyone else scores similar films for the foreseeable future – even if I don’t always like the results, that’s an admirable thing to do. Instead, we’ve got a kind of evolution of his Superman scores without any of their energy, which was about their only partially redeeming feature. Yes, there is some interpolation of (of all things) Henry Purcell, but it’s very heavily disguised and ultimately I feel, rather disappointingly, that Dark Phoenix is a decent enough atmosphere piece, but nothing much more – unless you’re a really big fan of Zimmer’s modern, darker sound (as many people are, of course) I imagine your response will be similar to mine.

Rating: ** | |

Tags: , ,

  1. Luc Van der Eeken (Reply) on Saturday 6 July, 2019 at 13:14

    Agreed 100%. I’m not a fan of his new ‘modern, darker sound’ which also plagued ‘Inferno’, ‘Dunkirk’ and ‘Blade Runner’. Here’s hoping ‘The Lion King’ will provide something different.

  2. Ad de Nijs (Reply) on Sunday 7 July, 2019 at 14:58

    Agree to both review and Luc’s remark.
    It’s also exactly the reason why the score was not selected for Screensoundradio.

  3. Chase (Reply) on Sunday 7 July, 2019 at 19:03

    James, I’ve been checking your site every day for your review of the Avengers: Endgame score. I’m very curious to know what you think of it.

    • Jake (Reply) on Friday 12 July, 2019 at 04:02

      I concur! As well as Giacchino’s Spiderman Far from Home!

    • James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 13 July, 2019 at 16:16

      Yeah, I hope to be able to get to that one soon. I love the score but it’s even harder to find the time to review such long albums.

  4. Dinko (Reply) on Wednesday 14 August, 2019 at 03:13

    Interestingly, the second album, Xperiments, merits greater attention and features more memorable tracks. Whereas the first album reminds me of someone grating carrots or cabbage for an hour, the second album is close to an actual Zimmer score and even reminded me of his earlier synth work (A World Apart, Paper house, Green Card)

  5. Benj (Reply) on Friday 6 December, 2019 at 18:18

    Great review, I agree the overall composition is atmospheric at best and anemic at worst. Recently watched the film with creator commentary (writer/director Simon Kinberg and producer Hutch Parker) where they discuss the unusual approach that was taken in creating the score for Dark Phoenix.

    Zimmer created over 12 hours of music based solely on conversations with the creative team, prior to even reading the script. This was not scored to accompany any particular scenes, and the editing team went through and chose where and when to place everything. Zimmer has since said he wrote 16 hours of music and that’s how we got the second release, Xperiments.