- Composed by John Powell
- Varèse Sarabande / 2006 / 61m
The X-Men series of films reached its creative lowpoint but box office highpoint with 2006’s The Last Stand, Brett Ratner’s disappointing entry in the franchise, in which Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen and all their friends fall out again, this time when a “cure” is found for the mutants. A change of director led to another change of composer, giving the series its third composer in three films. Michael Kamen’s clever, dark score for the first film had been seriously underrated; John Ottman’s simplistic, bright score for the second had been seriously overrated.
John Powell was going through a real purple patch at the time, providing high-quality music for numerous different films in numerous different genres (this comicbook superhero adventure lies between United 93 and Happy Feet in his filmography). For The Last Stand he provided – perhaps surprisingly – a straight-up orchestral action/adventure score. It’s certainly not “old-fashioned” in a musical sense – but it does have old-fashioned values of how to score a film, heightening emotion, accentuating thrills, aiding drama.
Things begin “20 Years Ago” with a swirling Herrmannesque wind figure leading into a fairly dark version of the fantastic main theme, perhaps the most memorable of the composer’s career to date; the theme then explodes into life in “Bathroom Titles”, full of dashing heroism (and a rhythmic pattern recognisable from the most famous comic book hero theme of all, presumably an intentional nod). It’s such a great theme, heroic and colourful and expansive and perfect for the X-Men. The piece is heard frequently through the score – especially in its first half – and is given genuine development by the composer, working perfectly in a number of different guises thanks to its malleable nature.
A second theme is just hinted at in “Raven is My Slave Name” before being properly introduced in “Whirlpool of Love”. A distant choir accompanies a prolonged, circuitous melodic line carried by the strings; I try to refrain from using the word “epic” as often as possible, but it’s the perfect word here. The score doesn’t get any more epic than in its standout track – and indeed the standout track of Powell’s career to date – “Dark Phoenix’s Tragedy” sees frantic, frenetic action music build and build before the sweep of the Phoenix theme takes over proceedings. It’s as thrilling and stylish as all of the composer’s finest work is, but also strangely moving and its elegiac choral finale is remarkable. Powell has never been better.
There are plenty of other highlights too. There’s an ironic heavenly glaze to “Angel’s Cure” before it blackens into incredibly downbeat action, the main theme finally leaping forth to bring the piece to an end – great musical storytelling. The action music is very strong throughout the score – it’s not just wham-bam stuff, it ebbs and flows and seems to grow organically from its surroundings, in stark contrast to the score to the film’s predecessor. And it’s not just the action that impresses – the John Barry-style theme in “The Funeral” (heard briefly later in “The Last Stand”) is absolutely gorgeous and could easily have come from the pen of the great man himself.
The action finale is truly spectacular. “Attack on Alcatraz” begins a sequence of five tracks covering just over twenty minutes which play continuously (and seem to be indexed fairly arbitrarily – it’s really one long piece chopped up into different tracks – but that doesn’t particularly matter). It’s exhilarating music, rarely pausing for breath but finding plenty of time to inject passion into the energy. X-Men: The Last Stand is a terrific film score and makes a wonderful album, the best this series has had and one of the best for any film bearing the Marvel brand (only James Horner’s later contribution to the Spider-Man franchise would be ahead of it in my estimation). Powell’s combination of action and emotion is done perfectly, his orchestral approach refreshing and proving (as if it were in doubt) that it can be done just fine in a modern film of this kind. Very highly recommended.
Rating: **** 1/2