LOGAN – Marco Beltrami
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Although it is technically a part of the Marvel X-Men franchise of comic book movies, Logan is a very different type of super hero film than anything else in recent history, dark, violent, and profane. Set in the year 2029, the film sees the mutant Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) aged, burnt out, and sick due to adamantium poisoning, eking out a meager existence as a limo driver on the Mexican border. He lives with albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and cares for the very frail Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is beginning to suffer from a degenerative brain disease and is prone to devastating psychic seizures. No mutant children have been born for several decades, and no-one knows why. Logan’s life is turned upside down by the arrival of a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who is manifesting a mutation almost identical to Logan’s, and who is fleeing for her life from the agents of a biotech company, Transigen, and their ruthless head of security Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Reluctantly, Logan agrees to ensure Laura safely arrives at a supposed safe haven in North Dakota, and so, with Professor Xavier in tow, the trio heads across the United States, trying to stay one step ahead of the ‘reavers’ who are hunting them.
Written and directed by James Mangold, who also directed the standalone movie The Wolverine in 2013, Logan has been critically lauded for its realism, brutal action sequences, grim tone, and emotional content. Many have described the film as more of a western/road movie than a traditional super hero film, and this is very true; the characters in this film are not like the X-Men we have grown to know – they are broken, defeated, suffering from illnesses, and 100% mortal. In fact, several respected critics have described it as “the best superhero movie in recent memory,” which will “likely find a spot among the best comic book adaptations to grace a movie theater.” While I agree that the film is very good – especially from an acting point of view – I personally found the film to be over-long, with a middle section that drags, and with a finale that didn’t elicit from me the emotional catharsis it seems to have wrought from almost everyone else who has seen it.
The score for Logan is by composer Marco Beltrami, who is no stranger to the super hero genre, having scored The Wolverine for James Mangold, as well as the Fantastic Four reboot movie in 2015, and of course the wonderful Hellboy in 2004. However, much like the film itself, the score for Logan is not a typical super hero score. The score plays more like a contemporary spaghetti western, interspersed with gauntly percussive action sequences and an overarching atmosphere of dusty desolation underpinned by simmering anger. In the score’s accompanying press material, Beltrami says: “Logan was an extremely demanding but very inspiring film score to work on. Jim [Mangold] distilled the innovation of an indie within the framework of a tentpole. He played me scores he liked and which inspired the tone of the film for him – Taxi Driver, Paper Moon, The Gauntlet. He liked the directness and rough edges, the unpolished tone, the energy. Somehow I had to capture this while simultaneously creating a modern score. It did not need grandiose thematic music and verbose melodic statements. It was all about vibe.”
Fortunately, Beltrami is no stranger to the western genre either, with scores as varied as 3:10 to Yuma, The Homesman, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada in his back catalog, and it is these efforts that Logan tends to resemble the most. Beltrami’s score utilizes several specialty instruments often associated with the western genre – harmonica and glass harmonica, guitar and electric guitar – plus electronics, heavy percussion, and a standard symphony orchestra, albeit one which concentrates much more on the lower end of the sonic register, eschewing anything that provides too much lightness in the treble range.
Thematically, there’s really only one of any consequence, and it’s related to the Laura character. Usually heard on Jake Schlaerth’s glass harmonica, Laura’s theme is a 3-note motif that seeks to capture the mystery surrounding her identity with moody tones and a slight sense of melancholy. It appears fairly regularly throughout the score; it is first introduced in “Laura” where it is long and drawn out, accompanied by slow strings, a heartbeat motif, and twisted and tortured industrial synth sounds. Later, it appears with mysteriousness and detachment in “Gabriella’s Video,” in “Feral Tween,” and almost subliminally in the first part of “Into the Woods” where it is given a touch of warmth from the string section, before fully emerging in “Eternum – Laura’s Theme,” where the full set of orchestrations – soft piano, harmonica, brushed cymbals, solo trumpet and trombone; trembling Mexican-style guitar riffs – give it depth and weight. I like the idea on the whole, but it’s a tremendously insubstantial musical construct considering that it has to carry the majority of the emotional weight of the film, and I’m not sure it is really up to the task.
The rest of the score is interested almost exclusively in tone and texture, with very little conventional melodic material to grasp on to. I’ve honestly forgotten almost everything about Beltrami’s score for The Wolverine, so I really don’t know if any of the thematic material for the character carried over from that score to this one, but I would be very surprised if that were the case. Instead, Beltrami captures the fate of the character via the material first heard in the “Main Titles,” which is awash in lonely-sounding pianos and Morricone-esque whining harmonicas, augmented by moaning electronic textures, guitars, and a light rock drum kit. This is dusty, sun-weathered, hard-living music, redolent of the desperate life Logan is leading at the start of the film. These ideas are explored further in cues like the sick, eerie-sounding “Old Man Logan,” the jazzy and determined-sounding “Alternate Route to Mexico,” the more introspective “To the Cemetery” which reprises the piano motif on its own, and much of the score’s middle section via cues such as “Driving to Mexico,” “You Can’t Break the Mould,” and “Up to Eden”.
Meanwhile, Logan’s ‘berseker’ persona is explored in something that Beltrami calls the ‘Loco Logan’ motif, a cacophonous collision of sounds and instruments which emerges whenever the adamantium claws are unsheathed and Wolverine goes to town, slicing and dicing an unsuspecting bad guy. This music is actually hugely entertaining for someone who can tolerate dissonance, sounding like someone put Elliot Goldenthal’s thunderous brass blasts through a country music filter. Cues such as “El Limo-Nator,” the second half of “Feral Tween,” the second half of “Into the Woods,” and most of “Forest Fight” tend to embrace this style of writing, with “El Limo-Nator” sounding especially cool, especially when the jazzy piano riffs start playing off against the muted trombones.
Everything else is either textural and muted, or chaotically dissonant. The Reavers, goon-like heavies who provide the muscle for Pierce in his search for Laura, seem to have an ominous heraldic idea filled with darkly moaning tones, pulsating electronic heartbeats, heavily clattering percussion, which can be heard in cues such as “The Grim Reavers,” “That’s Not a Choo-Choo,” and “Farm Aid”. Whenever the X-24 – an evil clone of Wolverine without the etiquette and good manners – shows up the music becomes even more vicious, a wanton aberration of glass harmonicas, growling electric guitars, string dissonances, and deadly-sounding percussion, unpleasant and incessant. Unfortunately, the score’s big emotional climax in “Don’t Be What They Made You” is a dud, little more than a slow, solemn piano line augmented by string harmonics. Considering that the music is underscoring an enormously pivotal scene in X-Men lore, Beltrami underplays it to such a degree that it would almost have been better un-scored. Instead, the music is limp and lifeless, and in fact may have been the biggest contributor to my lack of emotional connection with that scene.
The final three cues are pseudo-montage sequences elaborating on some of the score’s minor thematic constructs. “Logan’s Limo” uses the guitars and pianos in combination with jazzy cymbals, harmonicas, and a string section, resulting in a dirty-cool sound that captures the blood-soaked, sweat-stained, dirt-encrusted world that this Wolverine inhabits. “Loco Logan” provides a longer examination of that particular action motif, while “Logan Drives” sees Beltrami making allusions to Bernard Herrmann and Taxi Driver by having a solo trumpet drive the melodic line, drawing the same parallels between Wolverine and Travis Bickle that director Mangold alluded to in his musical instructions.
While I understand exactly what Beltrami was trying to do with his score for Logan, I still think that there will be a significant disconnect between it and those who grew up listening to Michael Kamen, John Ottman, and John Powell’s X-Men scores, because Beltrami’s Logan is just so different from anything we have heard in a super-hero movie before. On the one hand, this is commendable; bucking expectations and taking an entirely new approach to a well-defined musical genre is not an easy thing to do, but that’s exactly what Beltrami has done here. On the other hand, listeners will still need to be comfortable with music that shifts between being dissonant, ambient, and jazzy, and which has more in common with the work of Ennio Morricone, Jerry Fielding, Elliot Goldenthal, and Bernard Herrmann, than anyone who has scored a super-hero movie before. If you’re cool with that, then Logan will find a way to at least entertain you and allow you to experience its unusual tonal palette. If not, then you may find yourself recoiling in horror like Caliban from the sun, or experiencing a psychic attack of your own.
Buy the Logan soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Titles (2:21)
- Laura (2:24)
- The Grim Reavers (1:32)
- Old Man Logan (2:45)
- Alternate Route to Mexico (1:23)
- That’s Not a Choo-Choo (2:13)
- X-24 (2:46)
- El Limo-Nator (1:38)
- Gabriella’s Video (2:36)
- To the Cemetery (0:55)
- Goodnight Moon (1:55)
- Farm Aid (3:11)
- Feral Tween (3:34)
- Driving to Mexico (1:42)
- You Can’t Break the Mould (1:07)
- Up to Eden (1:51)
- Beyond the Hills (2:09)
- Into the Woods (3:09)
- Forest Fight (2:30)
- Logan vs. X-24 (4:13)
- Don’t Be What They Made You (2:04)
- Eternum – Laura’s Theme (3:35)
- Logan’s Limo (2:32)
- Loco Logan (1:20)
- Logan Drives (2:08)
Running Time: 57 minutes 45 seconds
Lakeshore Records (2016)
Music composed by Marco Beltrami. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Dana Niu, Rossano Galante and Mark Graham. Additional music by Brandon Roberts and Marcus Trumpp. Featured musical soloist Jake Schlaerth. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Ted Caplan. Score produced by Buck Sanders. Album produced by Skip Williamson and Brian McNelis.