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X-Men: First Class
  • Composed by Henry Jackman
  • Sony / 2011 / 60:15

The fifth film in the X-Men franchise, First Class tells the story of the young Magneto and Xavier and how all of their exciting adventures began.  It’s been generally very well-reviewed, certainly much moreso than the previous two entries in the series.  Musically, it has been an odd journey for those X-Men.  They began with slightly bland, but enjoyable enough, backing from the late Michael Kamen (who was reportedly forced to tone-down his original theme-driven score on the scoring stage); a large step down came for the second instalment, boosted by the use of Henry Mancini’s theme from Lifeforce but weakened by everything else in the music; John Powell’s popular score for the third film was a step back in the right direction, a step negated by Harry Gregson-Williams’s forgettable Wolverine.  Based on that pattern… this one should be a winner, right?

Based on the fact that I haven’t actually said anything about it having passed the half-way mark of this “review” tells you all you need to know.  Actually, Henry Jackman’s music opens very impressively on the album, with a vaguely Elfmanish, heroic piece starting proceedings – not terribly memorable, but stylishly done and very listenable.  It’s downhill all the way from there.  It doesn’t matter how many times I listen to it – it’s still hard to think of anything complimentary to say about it.  It would be hard to honestly describe it as awful – it’s simply so unmemorable.  Who knows, maybe it fits the film like a glove (after all, nothing says Kennedy-era America like synth pads and drum loops) but it’s just interminable on album.  It keeps sounding like it might be about to go somewhere, but it never does.  There’s never a sense of a dramatic journey, and compositionally it’s all pretty banal, so it’s hard to imagine many people returning to it at all after an initial listen.  The opening track and all of its later variants earn the score an extra half star, but that’s probably being rather generous.  * 1/2

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  1. Jose R Acebes (Reply) on Wednesday 15 June, 2011 at 21:30

    The music does work in the film, though the most memorable bit is the track use”d in the very first scene, taken directly from Kamen’s score. At the end of the credits it is listed as Concentration Camp” instead of “Death Camp”, which is odd, since that’s the title of the track in the bootleg, not the cd album.

  2. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Wednesday 15 June, 2011 at 22:31

    Really? You don’t think there’s anything of value in an awesome choral statement like in the first half of “Sub Lift”? You don’t think a big dramatic cue like “Rage and Serenity” goes anywhere? (okay, it does go rather close to “Journey to the Line”, but that doesn’t stop it being an enjoyable cue) Plus, you seem to imply that unmemorable is equal to a one-star rating. That seems way harsh to me. I don’t really presume to know or dictate what your ratings ought to be based on, but this seems like a more typical scheme:

    * – awful
    ** – bland/unmemorable
    *** – okay to good
    **** – good to excellent
    ***** – excellent to classic

    with the no stars rating reserved for absolute travesties such as Gamer and 300. By calling this score unmemorable other than a few cues, you’re implying ** 1/2 to me, not * 1/2. And to say you’re being generous at the end is way off the mark IMO.

    I probably have more tolerance for ostinato driven action music than you, because I found this score OK. Not more, not less. But one and a half stars is way, way, WAY too harsh.

  3. Kalman (Reply) on Thursday 16 June, 2011 at 08:20

    I, too, find the score much better than 1 and a half star. It worked really well in the film and I find many great musical moments in the album.
    You are very strict, James! 🙂

  4. Hasta (Reply) on Thursday 16 June, 2011 at 13:54

    Edmund,

    both “Rage and Serenity” and “Sub Lift” are pretty weak to my ears; HOW DARE ‘YE compare the latter to the unrivaled “Journey to the Line”! Now put your head down in shame.

    I’ve not heard the entire score, just a few tracks, but James’ review doesn’t seem too far off from what I’d probably give it. The neatest track I found was “Training Montage”, and even it is only good at best.

    Meh. Probably would think higher of it had I seen the film, but I’m fairly certain I never will. Great line btw “nothing says Kennedy-era America like synth pads and drum loops”.

    TEEHEE

  5. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 16 June, 2011 at 17:16

    Hasta,

    It was “Rage and Serenity”, not “Sub Lift”, that I was comparing to “Journey to the Line”. And just because I’m comparing something’s sound doesn’t at all mean that I’m comparing its quality. You jumped way too quickly to conclusions there.

    The cue “Mutant and Proud” is actually so similar to “Journey to the Line” that it’s almost lawsuit worthy, if not for the fact that Jackman probably got the OK from Big Boss Zimmer after being forced into it by the producers/directors/film score demons of Hollywood.

    Training Montage bugged me. It was basically the first cue, except with too many electronics.

  6. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 16 June, 2011 at 18:19

    Okay, the more I read your “HOW DARE YE” comment, the more it bugs me. If I compare 300 and Titus, does that automatically mean that I think 300 is equal to Titus?? Of course not!

  7. Hasta (Reply) on Friday 17 June, 2011 at 06:42

    teehee

  8. KK (Reply) on Sunday 19 June, 2011 at 00:19

    Edmund has a point. He was just comparing the track to Journey to the Line. And when I searched the track on youtube, it did sound quite a bit like Journey to the Line (although nowhere near as good).

    However, I have yet to listen to the score so not sure what to make of it. But the samples sound like something I’d get from a 2 star score or even as low as James’ rating.

    So really I don’t have much of a legitimate opinion to consider.

    – KK

  9. atonaljosh (Reply) on Sunday 19 June, 2011 at 04:57

    I think the music is banal and simplistic as you say, but moments are very effective in the movie. I agree that it doesn’t stand up to repeat listens though, as there’s no cohesion or depth to it.

  10. Joel G (Reply) on Wednesday 6 July, 2011 at 18:11

    Hey Mr. Southall. I must say, I can certainly respect your opinion on the score as being this low, and I certainly had my share of disappointments. This is sadly a very predictable, modern RC score. That said, if you are bothering to review, it seems you might at well Mention the ideas that Are there. Again, theyre not particularly memorable, but a few things could have been mentioned other than simply saying it’s a generic score.
    Actually, I feel like there are lots of pieces missing from the soundtrack album. Because in the film, the main X-Men heroic theme that appears mostly in the third act/climax of the film almost appeared So much that it became kinda annoying, whereas on album, I felt that theme didn’t make much of a statement, other than the opening title track.
    Also, Magneto/Erik’s “theme” (read: guitar chord progression) also Dominated the first half of the film, but here doesn’t seem so prominent. Oh well. Not that I really Want more of that hard guitar over and over.
    Just my two bits.

  11. Mastadge (Reply) on Thursday 7 July, 2011 at 13:57

    Magneto’s theme sounded way too villainy/monstrous to me. I almost wonder if test screenings had people too sympathetic to Erik, who is an emotionally crippled anti-hero whose every point is valid rather than a villain, and they decided to give him a more monstrous theme to play him more villainously.

  12. Cindylover1969 (Reply) on Friday 8 July, 2011 at 16:38

    I have to admit this didn’t excite me very much in the film (although the Bay of Pigs climax did have its moments). Still, at least the Take That song over the end credits* isn’t on the album…

    *On the UK prints, at any rate (it’s not on any other ones, as far as I know).

  13. Ernesto (Reply) on Friday 21 October, 2011 at 21:47

    I don’t know what kind of high profile music are you searching there, but Henry has done really good job – and I can’t stop listening to “First Class”, “X-Training”, “Magneto”. It’s really powerful. Sure, it’s no Thin Red Line, as mentioned, but for a comic flick – it’s memorable, effective and deserves at leas 3 stars from me. “Would you date me?” and “Rage and Serenity” are nicely done too.

    Maybe my opinion differs because I’ve seen the film.