Review: X-Men - The Last Stand (2006)
Composer: John Powell
Label: Varese Sarabande
Catalogue Nr.: VSD 6732
The mutant-saga continues with old heroes and new heroes, old bad guys and new bad guys as well as new threats for the X-Men. This time, the danger comes from all sides: Scientists develop a healing to repress the mutant gene but the cure is quickly misused as a weapon. Old villain Magneto does not like the idea of curing mutants, so he mobilizes a little private mutant army. Meanwhile, Jean Grey returns from the lake where she sacrificed herself for the X-Men in United (2003) but something is different, she isn't the same anymore and has gained new powers that even Charles Xavier, the mightiest of the mutants, can't control. Which side in the ultimate war between humans and mutants will she join? Well, now I know after watching Brett Ratner's pretty good popcorn/effects firework. The well-established hero characters from the first two movies are perfectly used in many dramatic ways here which makes this film emotionally more satisfying than, say, George Lucas' recent stories from a galaxy far, far away. But that could also become a problem for the film because it depends so much on already established storylines that it would leave someone who doesn't know any of the previous films in the dark. Box office results will show if the franchise is established enough to carry its otherwise strong finale.
(Please NOTE: I am not very comfortable with reviewing scores from recent blockbusters because I am afraid of giving away plot infos and stuff that could spoil the experience. However, I tried my best and only hinted at certain crucial events that influenced the music. For some of you though, this might already be too much so please be warned!)
For the final mutant wars, John Powell was brought in to provide the necessary musical blast. He has already had a big run of projects in early 2006 from the cool Ice Age - The Meltdown (2006) to the 9/11 drama United 93 (2006). With his assignment for the third X-Men chapter, the former member of Hans Zimmer's Remote Control factory joins a list of unique artists: John Ottman, who composed an adequate but otherwise dull score for the second film, and the late Michael Kamen, who provided the beginning of the saga with a highly effective but notably troubled score. Even though these three artists composed music for the exact same franchise, the results could not be more different from each other and there is actually no real musical consistency or overarching quality in the scores but lets get on to the third. Powell's music clearly wins over the previous efforts as far as accessibility is concerned. His music is rich of themes and surprisingly well-thought out and orchestrated if you consider Powell's Remote Control background. This is nothing like Face/Off (1997), no this is much better! Powell has left his roots behind and provided the score with a convincing dramatic depth. Good that he did because with the death of no less than three (!) main characters, the film is the most dramatic of the franchise and literally cried for emotion and thematic development.
Powell's new X-theme is introduced on mysteriously lurking strings backed up by gently whirling flutes in "20 Years Later" when we explore the crucial first meeting of Jean Grey with Professor Xavier. The flutes and woodwinds take a more positive note as the cue continues, innocent like the child Jean. After that, we go 10 years forward for the introduction of winged mutant Angel which is followed by "Bathroom Titles". Powell gives his X-theme a full workout on dark horns driven by an excellent ostinato of strings and flutes. In the film, the main titles cue has a more busy orchestration and is a little different from what ended up on the album. Low strings, pizzicatos and lurking horns start "The Church Of Magneto / Raven Is My Slave Name" which ends with a dark-pounding suspense moment that floats into a short, bright string statement of the X-theme. "Meet Leech / Then Off To The Lake" begins quiet with a depressing mood on strings and woodwinds before the X-theme unfolds as Cyclops drives to the lake again where he lost Jean. Sad strings continue as he mourns the loss of his love again and an atonal outburst strikes as he unleashes his laser-sight in anger. The cue cross fades directly into "Whirlpool Of Love", starting with a choral passage that is changing in mood from mysterious to glorious with an introduction of Powell's mighty, yet tragic theme for the dark phoenix and a truly painful atonal conclusion for a truly painful reunion.
If there is one moment which briefly hints at John Powell's Remote Control background, it would be "Examining Jean" which starts with an X-theme statement for horns backed up by a careful RM-orchestration (the typical drums) but it works surprisingly well. "Dark Phoenix" comes with a choral mystery before the first real highlight comes in as we become witness of "Angel's Cure". The cue starts suspenseful with Powell seemingly keen on not giving anything away. As Angel breaks his bonds and his wings unfold, Powell states his majestic theme for the mutant and scores his aerial escape with a overwhelmingly beautiful workout of the melody for full orchestra that makes turns Angel's brief flying sequence into a moment of pure glory. The reunion of "Jean And Logan" is scored with suspense as Logan doubts Jean is still the same. As the cue cross fades into "Dark Phoenix Awakes", a little big of RM-drums open the cue which otherwise continues with restrained suspenseful tones for strings. "Rejection Is Never Easy" accompanies the dark phoenix taking over Jean with a slightly operatic moment for dark choir - only a brief glimpse at what operatic moments are yet to come.
A subtle statement of the dark phoenix theme comes at the beginning of "Magneto Plots" as both Magneto and Charles Xavier are meeting with dark phoenix at Jean Grey's former home. Their way through the 'telepathical mess' after "Entering The House" is scored with restrained, ethereal choir and a steady rhythm for triangle disturbingly ticking in the distance. Powell then unleashes the full power of the orchestra in "Dark Phoenix Tragedy" with bangs and strikes of metallic percussion and an action tour de force with dramatic undertones. The dark phoenix theme starts rising slowly and mighty as the mutant unleashes his full powers and Powell reaches out to the tragic climax with a brass race ala Danny Elfman. Suddenly, everything drops to quiet and elegiac female choir with a quasi-religious tone in "Farewell To X". Low strings then introduce "The Funeral", with sad cellos and horns introducing a mourning-theme which goes into a sad statement of the X-theme for a sad farewell. Quiet beauty comes with harps and strings gently float along as Iceman and Kitty Pryde are "Skating On The Pond" before action/suspense stuff continues in "Cure Wars" with a delicate whirling of flutes as the orchestra is rising. "Fight In The Woods" is a busy action cue that accompanies Wolverines' attack on Magneto's mutant recruiting camp with furious music.
A furious outburst of percussion cross fades into "St. Lupus Day" which brings a suspenseful variation on the X-theme's string ostinato before the dark phoenix theme returns, this time with a more romantic twist to underline the bond between Logan and Jean and a full outburst of the theme's build up followed by sad strings brings the cue to end. The final battle music starts with a tension march for tremolo strings, snare drums and dark brass in "Building Bridges" as Magneto is manipulating the golden gate bridge to reach the operating base of the 'curers' on Alcatraz. Another cross fade leads to "Shock And No Oars" and furious battle music with operatic choral chants. A four minute tour de force of striking action music is "Attack On Alcatraz" and Powell scores the arrival of the X-jet at the battle with a big statement of his X-theme before the action music rises again. "Massacre" continues the action with an exciting brass race and cross fades into the even more complex "The Battle Of The Cure" in which the percussion seemingly seems to battle the rest of the orchestra. It really sounds like the different sections of the ensemble were competing with each other during the power-parts. An operatic fury overcomes the score as we approach the battle's climax with "Phoenix Rises". Choral chants and brass races, dark fanfares swell up to a rousing statement of the dark phoenix theme for the entire ensemble where Powell really throws everything in to give us goose bumps. At the end of the cue, the orchestra comes to silence and the choir is left alone for the tragic end of the battle. A more positive rendition of the mourning theme from "The Funeral" comes in during "The Last Stand" as we see the victims of the war and a powerful statement of Angel's theme unfolds as we see him flying over San Francisco. The End Credits brings the album to an end.
Score as heard in the film: 85%
Score as heard on CD: 83%
Varese once again offers us with 61 minutes a wealth of score material on this release. Even at this generous running time, there are a couple of good moments missing such as the film version of the main titles or the outburst of Angel's theme during the final battle when he saves Kitty Pryde. But not the missing material is problematic, it is the sequencing. Instead of giving us complete and uninterrupted tracks, Varese choose to split long cues into smaller pieces and connect them with the dreaded cross fade. Some of these fades are acceptable such as the one between "Examining Jean" to "Dark Phoenix" while most of them aren't like between "Building Bridges" to "Shock And No Oars" and especially the one before "Farewell To X". The standalone experience of some of these pieces is notably aggravated due to the start being messed up and if you programme a personal track list it will create some odd anomalies. Big minus!
Presentation by the Label: 49%
John Powell created a roller coaster ride of orchestral thrills and emotions for X-Men - The Last Stand that leaves other composer's recent superhero scores such as the Zimmer-Howard combo from Batman Begins (2005) far behind. At the same time however, can't really catch up with classics such as John Williams' score for Superman (1978) or Danny Elfman's gothic symphony for the first Batman (1989). However, his work on the the third x-film makes it obvious that John Powell listened carefully and took his time to figure out what makes a good hero-score to craft a work that is more than just serviceable. He goes right to the core of the emotion, sometimes even during the biggest moments of action bombast and serves the film instead of serving himself like certain other Remote Controllers. All those pessimists out there like myself, who may have expected a Remote Control Synth-feast will sigh with relief when they hear the depth and orchestral power of this music with its many highlights from the powerful X-theme in "Bathroom Titles" over the majestic "Angel's Cure" to the entire finale action music. Powell's superhero-surprise qualifies as the most accessible and entertaining score of the franchise.
Review by Andreas Creutzburg
01. 20 Years Ago (01:10)
02. Bathroom Titles (01:09)
03. The Church of Magneto/Raven Is My Slave Name (02:40)
04. Meet Leech, Then Off To The Lake (02:37)
05. Whirlpool of Love (02:04)
06. Examining Jean (01:12)
07. Dark Phoenix (01:28)
08. Angel's Cure (02:34)
09. Jean and Logan (01:39)
10. Dark Phoenix Awakes (01:45)
11. Rejection Is Never Easy (01:09)
12. Magneto Plots (02:05)
13. Entering The House (01:18)
14. Dark Phoenix's Tragedy (03:18)
15. Farewell To X (00:30)
16. The Funeral (02:52)
17. Skating On The Pond (01:12)
18. Cure Wars (02:57)
19. Fight In The Woods (03:06)
20. St Lupus Day (03:03)
21. Building Bridges (01:16)
22. Shock And No Oars (01:15)
23. Attack On Alcatraz (04:36)
24. Massacre (00:31)
25. The Battle of The Cure (04:20)
26. Phoenix Rises (04:21)
27. The Last Stand (05:29)