The original movie score for X-Men: First Class (2011) was composed by Henry Jackman (not to be confused with the Wolverine actor, Hugh Jackman), who is one of my favorite action movie composers. He’s also scored the music for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Kick-Ass.
Despite the cinematic X-Men universe being exciting, action-packed, and visually impressive, it is also riddled with a wealth of continuity issues. The same can be said about its original scores. In ten total movies (six X-Men films, three Wolverine origin films and one Deadpool film) there have been seven contributing composers. Not until recently, with John Ottman’s back-to-back composing of Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, has any sense of musical cohesion been implemented among the X-Men films. Ottman also composed X2, which was noticeably blended into his latest efforts.
In my opinion, Jackman’s work on First Class is far and away the best of the X-Men scores that I have listened to. The soundtrack leads off with the vibrantly upbeat title track, “First Class.” Like “Task Force X” in Suicide Squad, “First Class” is the quintessential leadoff track.Bright staccato strings instantly capture the film’s youthful dynamic while the lower voices boldly and heroically introduce the grandiose main theme. Halfway through, electric guitar and percussion forcefully amplify the song’s intensity. In the follow-up piece, “Pain and Anger,” a dark ambiance instantly shrouds the tone of the soundtrack and gradually builds to a powerfully moving and antiheroic theme. Diverging melodies conveying innocence, mystery and power eventually manifest into Magneto’s antagonistic theme, “Frankenstein’s Monster.”Jackman seamlessly interlaces both the omnipresent X-Men theme and Magneto’s theme with beautifully moving melodies and dark undertones throughout the score. “X-Training,” like “First Class,” easily stands on its own. This track triumphantly reintroduces the heroic melody, but with an added rock edge.
As good as this soundtrack is as a whole, the final trio of songs, “Mutant and Proud,” “X-Men” and “Magneto,” are absolutely fantastic. “Mutant and Proud” is a convincing blend of tragedy and optimism packaged brilliantly using a simple chord progression of slowly-building whole notes, a la Hans Zimmer’s “Time” from the Inception score. Cascading quarter notes from the low brass near the 3:00 mark and the echoing trumpet provide resolve and are worthy of goosebumps. “X-Men” is a transitionary piece that bridges “Mutant and Proud” with the score’s bad-to-the-ass finale, “Magneto.” Seriously, the full evolution of Magneto’s leitmotif is worth the price of purchase. It hits hard. It’s powerful. It leaves you wanting more… and you’ll likely repeat it.
For a final thought—it is really too bad Jackman was not asked to compose the Days of Future Past and Apocalypse sequels. While John Ottman hit a home run with “Hope (Xavier’s Theme)” in DoFP, his scores fall flat in comparison to Jackman’s First Class.