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X-Men: Apocalypse
  • Composed by John Ottman
  • Sony Classical / 2016 / 76m

X-Men: Apocalypse, the ninth film in the series (and the second of 2016, after the rather different Deadpool) sees the original mutant, En Sabah Nur, awaken in the 1980s having been entombed alive in ancient Egypt, and decide he doesn’t much like what humanity has done during his time away – so he does the only sensible thing and decides to wipe them all out, with the aid of his four horsemen.  Fortunately, Charles Xavier and co are on hand to try to stop him.

Director Bryan Singer returns for his fourth X-Men film and with him comes composer (and editor, and this time also co-producer) John Ottman.  I don’t particularly like either of his previous two scores in the series, for different reasons (X2 felt unfocused and muddled, though I must note it was generally received far more positively than it was by me, and Days of Future Past saw moments of quality lost amongst too many generic Zimmerisms) – it’s great to report therefore that Apocalypse, which is very different again, is easily the best of the composer’s trio of scores for these characters and indeed one of the best “big” scores he’s ever done.

John Ottman

John Ottman

It all gets going with an ominous blast from the horns before some wisps flutter from the choir, then the new main theme for the film gets underway: it sounds a bit familiar (though I can’t place it), in this initial arrangement fairly slow and reverent but certainly big and powerful, dark and dramatic but not overbearingly so.  (It would sound comfortably at home in something like John Debney’s Lair.)  The theme is also heard in the subsequent “The Transference”, now distinctly more ominous and with some Latin chanting from the choir.  It’s delicious, classic gothic horror movie music, really (despite the modern touch from the synths) and great to hear.  “Pyramid Collapse” begins with all-out-action (the exploration of the new theme continuing) before the familiar main theme from the previous Ottman-scored films in the series bursts forth for the main title.  Lifeforce or not, it’s a gem of a theme.

After that relentless action-packed opening, there’s finally a pause for breath in the brief pairing of the ethereal “Eric’s New Life” and “Just a Dream”, the latter introducing the score’s other primary theme (its first few notes are distractingly – if obviously coincidentally – similar to “The Ecstasy of Gold”).  “Moira’s Discovery / Apocalypse Awakes” begins with some fairly standard orchestral suspense before the strings kick in and things start to sound spookier, leading up to the giant sound of a pipe organ.  “Shattered Life” has the feel of a requiem to it, sad and lonely and beautiful; then the score’s darkest moments so far come in “Going Grey / Who the F are You?” with some chilling atmospherics and a subtle version of the Apocalypse theme complete with very effective electronic embellishment which actually sounds terrific.

In “Eric’s Rebirth”, the organ has a much more withdrawn role to play – I’m sure the obvious religious connotations of using the instrument are no coincidence – and the second half of the piece (with James Newton Howard rather obviously seeping through from the temp-track) pushes the religious sound further.  There’s a beautiful cello solo which is the highlight of “Contacting Eric / The Answer!” – a more innocuous track than most on the album perhaps, but still impressive.  I love “Beethoven Havok”, sacrilegious as it may seem to some as it sees a fairly straight version of one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, mutate into full-on Remote Control-style anthemic action music.  Things slow down after this in “You Can See”, Ottman presenting a fairly simple piano version of the secondary theme.

“New Pyramid” sees the briefest touch of the X-Men theme followed by some huge orchestral and choral music; then dark forces begin to dominate again in “Recruiting Psylocke” and “Split Them Up!” which rumble along, some patches of dissonance and a greater electronic presence than in much of the score; the latter does explode into life for some slightly uncomfortable action music.  A welcome, if brief, return to the ethereal sound from earlier in the score arrives in “A Piece of his Past”, the secondary theme given a beautiful arrangement for cello.  The action’s soon back, in “The Magneto Effect”, with one gloriously heroic moment towards the end.  “Jet Memories” is another of the score’s handful of reflective pieces – at least until some furious action emerges, complete with full-on Goldenthal-style trombone trills.

A tentative version of the X-Men fanfare heralds the arrival of some dynamic, percussive suspense music in “The Message / Some Kind of Weapon” and then the requiem (with choir, this time) comes back to introduce “Great Hero / You Betray Me” but as the title suggests, it turns rather dark (rather quickly) with complex clusters of strings and brass joining the choir as if in battle.  “Like a Fire” sees the strings swirling below the choir, swelling impressively and leading up to a forthright but stripped-down version of the X-Men theme.  “What Beach?” plays as the calm after the storm, an air of tragedy running right through it, but brighter colours gradually emerge through the impressively-restrained “Rebuilding / Cuffed / Goodbye Old Friend” and then march triumphant in the end title piece “You’re X-Men” for the end titles, as expected featuring a full-bodied performance of the X-Men theme (sandwiching an extended arrangement of this score’s secondary theme).

The album closes with a beautiful vocal, “Rest Young Child”.  It does sag very slightly in the middle, but X-Men Apocalypse is a consistently strong and enjoyable album.  It’s a welcome reminder that movies like this can feature dark and menacing music without it having to be completely dismal and joyless.  It’s impossible to quantify the effect of something turning out differently from your expectations and how big an influence that is playing on just how much I enjoy it, but enjoy it I do – in fact I can’t remember ever enjoying a John Ottman score more.  It’s excellent, highly recommended even if like me you weren’t convinced by his previous entries in the series.

Rating: ****

See also:
X-Men Michael Kamen
X2: X-Men United John Ottman
X-Men: The Last Stand John Powell
X-Men Origins: Wolverine Harry Gregson-Williams
X-Men: First Class Henry Jackman
The Wolverine Marco Beltrami
X-Men: Days of Future Past John Ottman
Deadpool Junkie XL | |

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  1. tiago (Reply) on Saturday 4 June, 2016 at 15:35

    I didn’t enjoyed it as much as you did, James, but the first three tracks, with the choral music for Apocalypse, are maybe the funniest music Ottman has ever wrote, tied with his score for Jack The Giant Slayer. And I like the new Jean Grey theme too – not sure why Ottman gave her another theme, since he had done it already on X2 when she was played by Famke Janssen, but it is a beautiful theme anyway.

    Also, has anyone listened to a bit of Thomas Newman’s Shawshank Redemption cue on “Eric’s Rebirth”? The brass writing is very similar.

  2. Matthew Rushing (Reply) on Saturday 4 June, 2016 at 18:25

    You should really try his Superman Returns soundtrack, especially the La-La-Land records complete score.

  3. SivakumarK52 (Reply) on Saturday 4 June, 2016 at 20:15

    I too noticed that Newman’s cue, and as Mr. Southall stated this score as dark but beautiful, I think
    Mr. Ottman’s reputation as a horror genre veteran could have helped him a lot. Whatever it maybe, this is definitely the best score in the X-Men franchise having a great theme continuity.

  4. Ad de Nijs (Reply) on Saturday 4 June, 2016 at 21:32

    Zimmerisms, I like the word, not the sound

  5. Jose R Acebes (Reply) on Saturday 4 June, 2016 at 23:27

    it sounds a bit familiar (though I can’t place it)

    It also felt familiar to me; when I tried humming it, I hummed The Final Conflict instead.

  6. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Sunday 5 June, 2016 at 22:37

    “this is definitely the best score in the X-Men franchise having a great theme continuity.”

    Continuity, schmontinuity. It’s not even a contest while John Powell’s The Last Stand still exists.

  7. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Monday 6 June, 2016 at 22:51

    Edmund – your statement is futile, unless you’re able to support it by a comparitive analysis. We await your comments.

  8. Soundtracker94 (Reply) on Friday 10 June, 2016 at 07:26

    “(it sounds a bit familiar (though I can’t place it)”

    The Apocalypse theme is like a merging of the main theme from The Final Conflict with the Abrasax Family theme from Jupiter Ascending. Jupiter Ascending was actually the first thing I thought of during those opening three tracks….

  9. Rob (Reply) on Sunday 24 July, 2016 at 07:08

    What about Jack the Giant Slayer?