Henry Jackman’s score to X-Men: First Class is just that, really. An epic and memorable main theme combined with some solid action tracks and an excellent side motif for Magneto make it the best X-Men score so far.
Rapid strings open the first track on the album; First Class. As starter cues go, this one is sublime; introducing both the main theme and the rather hopeful tone of the film within the first ten or so seconds. Brass then gradually begins to appear in the background as the music begins to build, and an electric guitar then makes its mark just before the track practically explodes with an epic burst of the main theme before then coming to a dramatic brass-heavy finish. Having never been a particularly big fan of John Ottman’s well-known X-Men theme, I found myself drawn far more to this new one by Jackman. Tonally and thematically it almost completely re-invents the established musical world of the mutants (which was likely the idea considering that First Class is a soft reboot) and yet it fits so well, and that combined with just how well orchestrated it and the rest of the score is makes it (in my mind anyway) one of the best superhero themes ever composed.
Magneto’s theme then makes its first appearance in Pain And Anger, a track that starts off fairly soft and heavy on the strings before then moving into far more dramatic territory with brass and percussion for the theme’s loud and near villainous debut. It’s by far the most memorable of the various motifs that the character of Erik Lehnsherr has received over the years, and if not for the score’s main theme, Magneto (the full rendition of the piece that’s later on in the album) woud have been the standout cue of this review.
The lighter tone then returns in Cerebro, with soft strings-based hints of the main theme opening the track. Every so often the electric guitar makes a short and rather dramatic appearance, and this combined with several slow brass notes and the rapidly building strings makes the opening minute a highly enjoyable build-up to one of the most epic moments of the score. Having died down a bit from the start of the track, the main theme returns in full force here for an incredibly epic and heroic appearance, backed by powerful brass and loud percussion. It’s a sadly short thematic rendition (being only thirty or so seconds long) but a great one nonetheless.
Fast-paced percussion kicks off X-Training, a suitably motivational piece that like much of the score, is particularly heavy on the heroic tone. The established rapid strings make their entrance a few seconds into the track, and are closely followed by a few notes from the main theme played out by an electric guitar. The volume then starts to increase and the percussion begins to build as the music steps up a notch, preparing for an expected explosion of the main theme that sadly doesn’t come, as the track then does that annoyingly common film score trope of building up to nothing. Thankfully however, this doesn’t last long as the strings start to speed up again, and after a minute or so Jackman then gives us the thematic explosion we were waiting for with an epic rendition of the main theme.
Let Battle Commence is, as the title suggests, a pretty major action cue. Fast-paced percussion and tense strings kick things off, with periodic bursts of brass keeping the momentum at a consistent high. Hints of the main theme then start to appear about a minute or so in, but this doesn’t last long as the tone takes a dark turn with now frantic and low pitched strings taking the musical forefront. Other than Magneto’s theme (who arguably isn’t the villain for this film anyway, at least not the major one) there sadly isn’t a definitive or memorable motif for the bad guy, and I feel this is most noticeable during action cues such as this one, as the “clashes” between heroic and villainous score are very one sided; the main theme in particular far outclasses everything else.
The next track entitled Sub Lift is a very good example of this. It opens in a rather uplifting manner, with brass slowly building in the background until strings and vocals then practically explode with the most epic rendition of the main First Class theme on the album. This the heroic moment we have been waiting for, however it is unfortunately rather short-lived, lasting only a minute long. The remaining two minutes of the track then illustrate my previous point pretty accurately, as the score descends into dull, almost generic-sounding villainous music and stays there for the rest of the cue. I listen to this score quite often, and one thing I’ve consistently done every time this track comes up is play the first minute, and then skip it. The quality difference between the two musical sections is incredibly noticeable, and it really is a shame.
The album then closes out with two final tracks; X-Men and Magneto. The former (quite surprisingly) isn’t at all what you’d expect from a track with that title, being a rather slow, meandering and strings-heavy piece that leans heavily on the melancholic side of things. The score does thankfully then go out with a bang with Magneto, a two minute long rendition of the character’s particularly dramatic theme. Lehnsherr’s motif does rather steal the show in First Class, being pretty much on par with the main theme in terms of sheer memorability.
On the whole, Henry Jackman’s score to X-Men: First Class is a great score, and its strength absolutely lies in its themes. The main one is epic, heroic, memorable and in my mind the best theme that the X-Men movie franchise has had so far. Magneto’s is also particularly good, though I do find it a bit odd that he has a fantastically villainous motif and yet the main villain for the film basically has nothing, aside from some near-generic and evil-sounding music. Along similar lines – being as superb as it is, the main theme massively outclasses everything else (besides Magneto’s theme) on the album, which makes the moments where it doesn’t appear seem rather dull in comparison, particularly in the action tracks.
Still, it’s practically a crime that they didn’t bring Jackman back for the sequels.
Standout Cue: 1. First Class