X-MEN 2 – John Ottman
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Following the musical debacle of the original X-men movie in 2000, in which the studio heads at Fox meddled so much with Michael Kamen’s score it rendered it almost redundant, it stands to reason that director Bryan Singer would return to composer John Ottman, for the sequel. Ottman, who had worked with Singer previously on The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil, had been away making his own movie, Urban Legends: Final Cut, and was unavailable to score X-Men 1. His efforts here bear all the hallmarks of a composer trying to stamp his own musical authority upon a series, and establish himself as the obvious composer of choice for future movies in the franchise. He has only partly been successful. X-Men 2 picks up where the original movie left off: the evil Magneto (Ian McKellen) is incarcerated in a plastic prison; Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is scouring the globe trying to unravel the mysteries of his past; and the various other mutant members of the X-Men continue to fight the fight against evil, under the benign authority of Dr. Xavier (Patrick Stewart). However, when a renegade mutant attempts to assassinate the President of the United States, it becomes apparent that past differences must be put aside, and the mutants loyal to Magneto and Xavier must join forces to stop a new enemy which could destroy all mutants.
In almost every respect, X-Men 2 is a superior film to X-Men. The action is tighter and more exciting, the emotional connection with the characters is stronger, the screenplay has a more biting satirical edge, and the overriding philosophy of respecting those different from yourself is subtle punched home. The lead cast – Jackman, McKellen, Stewart, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos etc. – are all uniformly good, but the standout is Alan Cumming as the morose, devoutly-religious, blue-skinned shape-shifter Nightcrawler. Cumming endows his character with such calm nobility, inner peace, and self-resignation to his fate, he quickly easily becomes the most well-rounded character of the entire series. One cannot help feel the pain and self-loathing he feels.
Musically, Ottman’s work is both very different from and very similar to Michael Kamen’s. Ignoring the themes for a second, Ottman seems to have intentionally followed some of the musical precedents Kamen set down in his underscore, especially in the use of electronics, and in the limited inclusion of dominant themes. While this may seem a slightly negative way of scoring, I personally think it makes a lot of sense, providing a stylistic consistency for the series.
Having said that, Ottman’s one recurring theme is a good one: a lively staccato brass march that, while plainly modeled on Henry Mancini’s Lifeforce, nevertheless leaves a positive impression. The inclusion of a choir into the opening 7-minute ‘Suite from X2’ makes it sound important, while the theme’s further recapitulations in ‘Mansion Attack’ and ‘We’re Here To Stay’ gives the score a nice, rounded quality. A secondary 5-note brass fanfare acts as a leitmotif for the X-Men themselves, weaving in and out of the action in cues such as ‘Storm’s Perfect Storm’, ‘Sneaky Mystique’, ‘Rogue Earns Her Wings’ and ‘I’m In’. Other action cues, notably the aforementioned ‘Mansion Attack’ and ‘Magneto’s Old Tricks’ are heavily dissonant, with vicious percussion strikes, ragged brass writing, and piano rolls that bring the best work of Elliot Goldenthal and James Horner to mind. All in all, Ottman puts his orchestra through its paces more strenuously than Kamen did, and this too is a welcome development.
Unfortunately, for a score of this length, there is a surprisingly large amount of quite redundant filler music, making the wait for the “good bits” something of a chore. ‘Finding Faith’, ‘It’s Time’, ‘Death Strikes Deathstryke’, ‘If You Really Knew’ and ‘Getting Out Alive’ are all oddly pedestrian, each of them containing memorable snippets (the brass/choral interplay in ‘If You Really Knew’ is stunning), but on the whole remaining rather underwhelming. The quieter material, such as ‘Cerebro’ and the lovely ‘Goodbye’, fares better, with Ottman’s string writing sounding especially strong in terms of spirituality and emotional content.
In many ways, the X-Men 2 score is a step in the right direction for Ottman, who following his impressive burst onto the music scene, as been floundering in low-key indie-land for several years. Ignoring the blatant Henry Mancini reference, the thematic consistency and some of the action writing on show here proves that Ottman and his conductor Damon Intrabartolo have an impressive mastery of a large symphony orchestra. All he needs to do now is liven up his transitional cues, and X-Men 3 (whenever it is released) could be a knockout.
- Suite from X2 (7:10)
- Storm’s Perfect Storm (2:18)
- Finding Faith (1:29)
- Sneaky Mystique (3:30)
- Cerebro (1:26)
- Mansion Attack (7:33)
- Rogue Earns Her Wings (1:34)
- It’s Time (3:39)
- Magneto’s Old Tricks (4:57)
- I’m In (4:10)
- If You Really Knew (3:20)
- Playing with Fire (2:43)
- Death Strikes Deathstryke (4:50)
- Getting Out Alive (3:58)
- Goodbye (5:26)
- We’re Here to Stay (1:48)
Running Time: 60 minutes 16 seconds
Superb Records TRM-74073-2 (2003)
Music composed by John Ottman Conducted by Damon Intrabartolo. Orchestrations by John Ottman, Damon Intrabartolo, Frank Macchia, Rick Giovinazzo, Christopher Tin and Pierre Andre. Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Edited by Amanda Goodpaster. Album produced by John Ottman and Casey Stone.