X-Men has to be one of the most inconsistent film franchises in recent memory. Pretty much every entry since the original two would toy with the world in one way or another, and the logic and continuity was compromised as a result. Especially in the light of Marvel and Fox's meticulous planning, all those missteps didn’t go unnoticed by the loyal fanbase. The time travelling plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past is due to stir the pot even further, despite being loosely based on the beloved comic book storyline. Still, the early reviews are encouraging and it seems that Bryan Singer back in the director chair is exactly what this series needs.
The return of the original director means that his friend and collaborator John Ottman will follow. He has often remarked how handling both scoring and editing duties on the same project creates a truly nightmarish environment, and it’s easy to imagine how the ever-changing picture torments whoever is handling each of these tasks, but doing both at the same time is probably infinitely worse. In any case, many fans have greeted Ottman’s return with enthusiasm, as his score for the second film was an effective and popular one back in 2003. The perspective of him revisiting the extensive thematic material was a promising prospect indeed. However, it's not exactly what's happened.
Right from the outset it becomes quite obvious Days of Future Past will feel very different to X2, as Ottman swamps his music in dark synthesizers to paint a bleak landscape of future horrors that our character are bound to face. His main theme from that score soon makes a brief appearance, but it definitely has a much darker feel, and his music on the whole is less nostalgic towards the films of the 80’s and more set in the present, with propulsive action scoring and electronic embellishments. In ‘Time’s Up (Original Version)’ Ottman employs a dark chanting choir to accentuate the action set in the bleak future, which is really the music of the current blockbuster. Apparently Bryan Singer didn’t want to alienate contemporary audiences with traditional music and asked for a safer approach, the one in line with current sensibilities, although ironically the studio didn’t feel that it did and requested changes. Additional sessions took place very late in the post production process and choral renditions ended up remaining intact in both Vietnamese and Chinese versions of the film.
Ottman introduces a major theme in ‘Hope (Xavier’s Theme). It's an expansive piece, full of emotion, and speaks of regret and pain, certainly a state in which we find both incarnations of Professor X. While not terribly complex and somewhat recalling Hans Zimmer’s Inception, the melody serves it purpose well. It is this one, not the X-Men theme, that carries the film. The composer remarked how the story is based around characters, rather than superhero elements, and the choice of melodic elements material reflects that. Both ‘He Lost Everything’ and ‘How Was She?’ contain very effective ethereal statements of this tune.
A lot of the score is quite bleak. ‘Saigon - Logan Arrives’ employs harsh guitars, synths and percussion, with the orchestra playing largely a background role. It might be quite a shock to people used to the traditional music heard from Ottman in previous scores. In ‘Springing Erik’, funky percussion brings 70’s thriller and suspense music to mind, albeit with a more modern twist. Ottman has always been a great enthusiast of percussive elements, the most consistent element of his style, and this cue certainly alludes to that, and guitars yet again come to aid.
After several moody suspense tracks (such as ‘Paris Pandemonium’ and ‘Rules of Time’ ) Ottman brings back action with yet another version of ‘Time’s Up’. This version also contains the chorus, albeit in a much more subtle way. While probably perfectly effective in context, it lacks certain edge of the much ballsier original. ‘The Attack Begins” continues with a bleak and harsh battle sequence.
‘Welcome Back - End Credits’ is a truly satisfying track, featuring musical hints to the heartfelt final moments of the 2003 film, before bringing back the X-Men theme in its full glory. It’s a pity Ottman couldn’t find a way to use the it within the body of the score. The idea is certainly simple enough and malleable enough to be appropriated to different variations (as it happened in X2), but the way he manages to put both this tune and Xavier’s theme in counterpoint to each other is nothing short of amazing. And while I do understand how the old melody might not fit this darker chapter, the underusage of it is a big disappointment, and this ending piece reminds us just why.
John Ottman decided to merge the more orchestral sound of original trilogy with modern sensibilities of X-Men: First Class in order to create a moody and character-driven effort, as opposed to a more leitmotivic and superheroic X2. The score is certain to divide fans, but for what it aims to do, it does well. There is a certain small sense of disappointment there is no sense of real continuity between the two films, but this could be corrected with the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse. Like Xavier, we live in hope.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is released on May 30th from Sony Classical