X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – John Ottman
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the seventh film in Marvel’s “other” long-running super franchise, set in the world of mutants. The film begins in the future, long after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand and The Wolverine, in a world where civilization – both human and mutant – has been decimated almost to the point of extinction by massive machines known as Sentinels, which were initially created to combat ‘evil’ mutants, but eventually took it upon themselves to destroy all humanity. In a last, desperate attempt to literally save the world, the remaining mutants led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen) devise a complicated plan to send the consciousness of Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to inhabit the body of his younger self in 1973; once there, he will locate the younger versions of Xavier and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender), and task them with helping him avert the individual event they believe triggered the creation of the Sentinels: the assassination of industrial scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by their fellow mutant Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). The film is based on the extremely popular X-Men comic storyline by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, co-stars Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters and Shawn Ashmore, and is directed by Bryan Singer, returning to the X-Men director’s chair for the first time since 2003.
One thing that has always bothered me slightly about the X-Men films is the complete lack of musical continuity between the different entries (something which has also plagued the Avengers series, but that’s another discussion for another time). Michael Kamen scored the first X-Men film in 2000 because John Ottman was busy directing Urban Legends: Final Cut at the time; Ottman came into score X2 for Bryan Singer in 2003, but was replaced by John Powell on The Last Stand in 2006 because directing duties switched to Brett Ratner. Harry Gregson-Williams scored the spinoff X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009; Henry Jackman came into score First Class for director Matthew Vaughan in 2011, and Marco Beltrami came in to replace Gregson-Williams on the second Wolverine film just last year. None of these composers saw fit to quote any of the themes written by any of their predecessors, thereby establishing the total lack of musical continuity in film after film. With Bryan Singer returning to the director’s chair for this film, his longtime collaborator John Ottman came back to pull double duty as both editor and composer too, marking the first time that the same man has scored more than one movie. However, and with just one exception, Ottman also completely failed to reference anything done by any of his predecessors, and worse still doesn’t really write any interesting new motivic material either, leaving his score without a personality of its own.
That one exception is the main title march Ottman wrote for X2, and which reappears here in the opening “The Future – Main Titles”, the conclusive “Welcome Back/End Titles”, and in very small snippets during “Do What You Were Made For”. Although the march is clearly heavily inspired by Henry Mancini’s score for the 1985 sci-fi film Lifeforce (and as such I find it impossible to separate the two in my head), at least now Ottman seems to be trying to establish an actual central identity for the X-Men concept as a whole; it should also be noted that Ottman appears to have tried to make the theme less Lifeforce-y this time around, by playing around slightly with the percussive pattern and tempo under the melody, and adding more synth and electronic guitar effects. As no other X-Composer has tried to do this, Ottman must be given credit for that at least, and I only hope that whoever scores the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse scheduled for 2016 follows his lead.
Unfortunately, that’s where the superlatives have to stop. I noticed while watching the film that the score in context was curiously anonymous. All the right buttons tend to be pushed at generally the right times, it’s loud and dense and has a lot of movement, but it’s almost entirely devoid of any sort of uniqueness or individual identity. It’s like movie scoring by-the-book, from the Super Hero 101 chapter: big orchestra, lots of electronics, and action music up the wazoo. While on a purely technical level the score is fine and adequate, it fails at the one thing a score must do: elevate its movie beyond what we can already see on screen. Ottman simply covers the movie in a beige musical sheen of wall-to-wall scoring that just sits there, on top of the film, existing, but not really doing anything more than that.
In terms of stylistics, the score oscillates between two styles: enormous action music, and more introspective quieter moments for the scenes of reflection, tragedy and loss. On the action side, cues such as the two versions of “Time’s Up”, “The Attack Begins”, and “I Have Faith In You/Goodbyes” are enormous in scope and size, often incorporating electric guitars, dense percussion rhythms, and layers of electronics and synths to add another level of power and grandeur. Each of these cues also have a brief interlude for a prominent male voice choir which seems to act as a brief leitmotif for the Sentinels (and is cleverly foreshadowed on groaning synths in “Paris Pandemonium”). Elsewhere, “Springing Erik” has a cool caper-like vibe that stands at odds with much of the rest of the score, but is fun to listen to nonetheless.
However, upon hearing these action cues, I couldn’t help but remember something I wrote in response to John Powell’s score for X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006, and which I will paraphrase here: “Every action cue is a dense, multi-layered epic of its own … different rhythmic elements and sections of the orchestra all playing their own little individual opuses. Taken apart, each element is perfectly adequate; however, when you listen to them all at the same time, it’s so thick it’s like trying to listen to mud … he doesn’t seem to be able to make up his mind what he wants to do, so he does everything all at once, just to keep all the bases covered.” Powell’s music for that film is better than Ottman’s music for this one, but I think the criticism is still a valid one.
Elsewhere, pieces like “The Future”, “Saigon/Logan Arrives” and “Pentagon Plan” contain very little worthy of recommendation, each containing little more than droning orchestro-synth textures, simple looped percussion hits, and an occasional obnoxious whining guitar chord. “Sneaky Mystique” and “How Was She?” are missed opportunities, as they fail to fully restate the snake-like, vaguely oriental textures that often accompanied the blue-skinned beauty during her escapades in previous films. Worse still, the dream-like “Hope” cue, subtitled “Xavier’s Theme”, is yet another thinly-veiled temp-track variation on Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception.
Other emotional moments include the opening part of “I Found Them”, the classy “He Lost Everything”, “Contacting Raven” and the finale of the lovely “Join Me”, which is the attractive highlight of the score. Many of these cues feature a pleasant cello motif, or soft, see-sawing string writing, and they are much more approachable than the action sequences but, even here, too many of the textures are just so nondescript. Pleasant, soothing, but offering very little to connect with, unless you find yourself being terribly moved by violin sustains.
The two songs at the end of the album feature in two of the film’s most interesting sequences: Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” accompanies the excellent Magneto jailbreak scene where Evan Peters as Quicksilver zips around a room at lightning speed, redirecting bullets and tasting spaghetti sauce with leisurely nonchalance. Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” plays on Wolverine’s clock radio, Groundhog Day-style, as he wakes up in a New York apartment in 1973, a beautiful naked blond-haired woman draped across him, with no memory of how he got there – but then again, if I had a nickel for every time that had happened to me… well, you know. I’d have no nickels.
Days of Future Past, like most of its brothers in the X-Men series and its cousins in the Avengers series, is a very good film: exciting, action packed, visually stimulating, and occasionally emotionally powerful. Everything a good summer blockbuster should be. However, like its siblings, the score yet again leaves something to be desired. With the exception of Alan Silvestri’s score for the first Captain America movie, and possibly Brian Tyler’s score for Iron Man 3, almost every movie in the Marvel Universe – X-Men, Avengers, and elsewhere – has suffered from poor musical choices, either on the part of the director, the producers, or the composer himself, who time and again seem unable or unwilling to grasp the concept that musical continuity across a franchise is always a good thing. Days of Future Past is such a missed opportunity; instead of having the bold, powerful, emotionally substantial music it deserves, and which the visual cinematic canvas on display would seem to demand, we have a whole load of apocalyptic but ultimately directionless action sequences, a few anonymous string textures, a Hans Zimmer temp-track clone, and a main theme which sounds as good today as it did the day Henry Mancini first wrote it.
Buy the X-Men: Days of Future Past soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- The Future – Main Titles (2:44)
- Time’s Up (4:18)
- Hope (Xavier’s Theme) (4:48)
- I Found Them (2:52)
- Saigon/Logan Arrives (4:36)
- Pentagon Plan/Sneaky Mystique (3:25)
- He Lost Everything (1:51)
- Springing Erik (3:33)
- How Was She (1:47)
- All Those Voices (3:19)
- Paris Pandemonium (7:45)
- Contacting Raven (1:48)
- Rules of Time (3:07)
- Hat Rescue (1:30)
- Time’s Up (Film Version) (3:34)
- The Attack Begins (5:04)
- Join Me (3:20)
- Do What You Were Made For (2:56)
- I Have Faith In You/Goodbyes (2:27)
- Welcome Back/End Titles (3:58)
- Time in a Bottle (written and performed by Jim Croce) (2:27)
- The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (written by Ewan MacColl, performed by Roberta Flack) (5:20)
Running Time: 76 minutes 34 seconds
Sony Classical 888430558328 (2014)
Music composed by John Ottman. Conducted by Jeffrey Schindler. Orchestrations by Rick Giovinazzo, Nolan Livesay, Pete Anthony, Jason Livesay and John Ashton Thomas. Additional music by Lior Rosner and Edwin Wendler. Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Edited by Amanda Goodpaster. Album produced by John Ottman.