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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Soundtrack Review: #XMenApocalypse

X-men: Apocalypse - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is superhero bombast at its best.

Review by Matt Cummings

Say what you want about the newest X-men film (our boy Rama loved it), but in my mind it lacked a sense of danger from the menacing Apocalypse (played by Oscar Issac). Sure, there's a few very good scenes (including an excellent pair of cameos), and Director Bryan Singer has a good (but not strong) understanding of all the new mutants that he introduces. However, one would be shortsighted to attach the same negativity to Composer John Ottman's score, a bombastic and headstrong affair that will encourage you to follow this X-men baddie to the ends of the earth.

Set in the 1980's, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is slowly building his School For Gifted Youngsters, employing Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Havok (Lucas Till) as teachers for a new and growing class of mutants. But deep under the wreckage of an ancient Egyptian pyramid, an inescapable threat has been sleeping for thousands of years, waiting to be awakened. Apocalypse (Isaac) is considered the First Mutant, a being of immense power and brutality, whose efforts to rule the world were cut short during a coup. Upon his return, Apocalypse drafts a new collection of The Four Horsemen, including Storm (Alexandria Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who's recently endured an unimaginable personal tragedy. In an attempt to stop Apocalypse from overtaking the world, Xavier enlists CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) and a collection of his students - Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kody Mitt-McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) - to thwart the demigod's plans. The result will reunite Xavier with his past, including the rogue Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), while the team learns to hone their skills to become the next wave of X-men.

Ottman has already produced one of the best scores of 2016 in The Nice Guys (read our soundtrack review HERE and our film review HERE), so it was like finding hidden Christmas packages when I learned he would be producing Apocalypse. But the two are very different: If Guys is a fun throwback to the hard-boiled cop films of the 70's, Apocalypse is on the other end of the scale, as big and menacing as we would expect, complete with a chorus, a full orchestra backbone, and even an organ on tracks like Contacting Eric/The Answer!. Hidden midway through this track is a beautiful haunting passage from the chorus before descending into darker chanting tones, and the way that organ finishes the track is a nice build up. But that's Track 10, which might suggest you have to wait until then to get something memorable. Not true: Apocalypse) and Pyramid Collapse/Main Titles help to establish just how big this score will be, perfectly duplicating Composer Michael Kamen's original theme. It endures to this day as one of the greatest themes ever produced, and Ottman channels Kamen in the most respectful way possible (Kamen died in 2005).

In 2015, we witnessed a bit of a resurgence in re-packaging classical music into film scores (see Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation), and now Ottman has done the same, re-introducing us to Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 In A Major, Op. 92: Ii. Allegretto by wrapping in it into Track 11 (Beethoven Havok). There's also a bit of Spaghetti Western infused here, with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly popping up several times. It's effective in the bigger, expansive scenes of Cairo and Upstate New York. These tidbits repeat themselves at variable intervals, even as he continues to forge new territory elsewhere. And just like Rogue, it becomes a bridge for the rest of Apocalypse.

Just like with Guys, I love the diversity of music Ottman has produced in Apocalypse. There's the tender A Piece of His Past, Jet Memory, and You Can See that tend to work almost as love themes. With See it comes at a crucial moment, when Jean and Cyclops make an important connection, and it's hoped that if Ottman stays on to make the next X-men score, he will use it as their love theme. But Piece is also terrific, a soothing climax to an important character's whereabouts and what Jean does to relieve that person's anger. This sequence is one of the best of the film, both for its visceral throwdown but in the way Jean grows as a character. It's a stark contrast to the kind of march and mayhem Ottman creates elsewhere with Great Hero/You Betray Me, but it also shows he can blend many worlds and environments because the arrangements dovetail into each other so well.

The 25 tracks from Sony Masterworks are expertly mixed and sound great, no matter the device you're using. In the end, X-men: Apocalypse - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack matches the big summer expectations which the movie itself brings. And even if the result is meh, we loved the soundtrack. Ottman probes the biggest, most epic corners of the superhero genre, but also manages to bring things down to tender human levels when the moods calls upon it. With two great releases this year, I hope this signals the re-establishment of Ottman as a top-flight composer, as he clearly understands what a film like this needs. This is the best score of any X-men movie and perhaps the best superhero music since Alan Silvestri's The Avengers.

X-men: Apocalypse is in theaters now, with the digital score now available and the CD arriving June 17th.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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