Why You Should…
If you seek a decently arranged Western-thriller superhero hybrid that engages with the grizzled soul, ending a notable era for a beloved icon.
Why You Shouldn’t…
If Marco Beltrami’s dissonant hazing contact of Wolverine still hasn’t grown on you, reducing the muscular growls of the character to an anonymous howl.
Release Date: March 3rd 2017 (GENERAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Marco Beltrami
Recorded By/At: John Kurlander
Label: Lakeshore Records
Additional Music By: Marcus Trumpp & Brandon Roberts
Orchestrated By: Marco Beltrami, Marcus Trumpp & Mark Graham
Mixed By: John Kurlander & Tyson Lozensky
Produced By: Buck Sanders
Conducted By: Pete Anthony
Featured Musical Soloist: Jake Schlaerth.
As the 21st century cinematic pantheon continues to rage onwards with an endless stream of comic-book adaptations, it’s at least reassuring to know that somewhere on the horizon, there’s a sense of finality and resolution waiting to be met. Having held the longest record for portraying a superhero onscreen, the days of Hugh Jackman’s iconic mutant iteration of Wolverine finds themselves outnumbered in James Mangold’s epic LOGAN, a ferociously satisfying Western-styled drama that subverts genre expectations. Echoing an aura of hopelessness and contemplative solemnity, this film displays a surprisingly potent level of thought in its design, with respectable character performances and a far greater deal of maturity when compared to most Marvel films. It earns its R-rating with a sense of righteousness, having carried the trend recently resurrected by Deadpool the prior year. The distant future of 2029 is a death knell for mutants across the lands, with an unknown virus wiping them out brutally, as Wolverine, or Logan as the title humanises him, spends his time caring for a dying Charles Xavier, played by the ever-magnificent Patrick Stewart. The head mutant is losing his will to live as the result of a neurodegenerative disease that limits his infamous telepathic abilities. The protagonist himself has aged a great deal, to negative degrees because of the Adamantium fused within him developing poisonous capabilities. Tasked with the job of transporting a young girl named Laura across border, what starts as a simple request ends up evolving into a desperate attempt for survival, as he, Charles, and Laura are hunted down by a militant task force named The Reavers. Logan’s discovery of the girl’s connection to him sparks a final attempt to exact justice, but is deeply threatened by a fatal combination of age, weariness, and most frighteningly… himself. It’s the end of an era for the man and legend, and the send-off for his character has been emotionally cathartic, with critics and valued audiences agreeing its spot among the greatest superhero films of all time. Anchored by strong performances, sensationally violent brawls and blood spills, and mesmerising cinematography, an unorthodox score by Marco Beltrami is also key to the film’s success.
Beltrami returns to score the character’s outing after their prior venture, The Wolverine in 2013, but this score is a far-cry from their ethnic dissonance marches of rebellious bravado. Often, the instrumental palette is dehumanised and stripped down to match the raw, hands-on tone of Mangold’s scenery. This is a primal and undeniably effective score within the context of the film, lending an authentic sense of despair and aged showmanship, but its presence as a standalone listening experience is questionable. Beltrami employs a chieftain minimalist score, utilising the most earthy of instruments such as the glass harmonica, a textured seasoning of guitars and animalistic percussion. Says Beltrami of the experience, “I knew it was going to be tricky because the visuals were going to lead and the music played more of a textural role […] Jim didn’t want a [traditional] thematic score — he wanted an emotionally supportive score. So there was a delicate balance, and I experimented with some unique instruments for it.” There’s a sense of organic spirit in the music, beginning hauntingly in “Main Titles,” neatly incorporating sharp notes in a wayward piano solo that benefits from its ambiguity, with grungy guitars and a steady tempo. The fragility with which Logan lives his private life is captured effectively by these instruments laid bare, and this tone sets the atmosphere for the remainder of the material, heard again in “To the Cemetery”, a lovely foreshadowing of the finale to come. “Laura” is the most impactful thematic identity for the concept, a series of 3 dwindling notes of glass harmonica and organ that are subtly accompanied by a deep layer of strings and eerie ambience, aiding the mystery behind her powers and her relation to Logan. The layers of synthetics are interesting if not for their subtly pulsating tonal shifts, relatively unharmful to the ear for more concerned listeners who have grown sick and tired of the modernised approach to film scoring. This continues in “Gabriella’s Video” with gentle bass presence and dripping piano notes una corda, using the alternating 2 note pattern for her childlike curiosity whilst refraining from exploring that innocence. A motif for the villainous “The Grim Reavers” is characterised by a shifting slide of 4 notes on low, menacing synthetics that evoke the consciousness slowly fading out of a being with startling precision, before re-materialising with growing fright in “Farm Aid” to twisted atonality- these are prime cues for Goldenthal enthusiasts. There’s a series of motifs scattered across the desolate plains of the score that neither linger in the memory nor fully form to create a developed theme in this final frontier for the character, perhaps an intentional decision to signify the time running out. The only one that forms an exception is Laura’s theme, given her presence outlasting the other characters in the overall scheme of things. Her theme finally receives closure in “Eternum – Laura’s Theme”, a mournful and contemplative blend of poignant character loss and Western sunsets.
“Old Man Logan” marks a Hammond organ, glass harmonica and synthesised drum kits concoction of uneasiness with deteriorating cello and broken piano discord. It’s a creepy cue that is superbly effective in drawing the finality of Logan’s future from the listener with predominantly minor key exploration. Beltrami doesn’t shy away from reaching back to his prior Western efforts for 3:10 to Yuma and The Homesman to inject that atmosphere further. “Alternate Route to Mexico” uses twanging piano and bass lines with ride cymbals and slides, creating an air of movement that echoes the title cue loosely, before “That’s Not A Choo-Choo” recalls the Reaver motif briefly at the start, implementing tremolo strings and dissonance. The percussion makes a few noisy knocks on the door with wailing effects and inhuman strings in malevolent fashion- a strong action cue that accentuates tension and frantic panic brilliantly. The “X-24” cue utilises a delayed throttle of low cellos and double basses with hazy drone effect, insipid in its texture to represent the cold, emotionless clone of the protagonist. For the more melodious listener, it could push them further away, but for the chaotically inclined, this score could be a collector’s highlight. It’s rewarding to see Beltrami poke a finger at the genre norms and successfully create an album that not only tells the story, but revels in its raw, rustic undertones. The superb mixing by John Kurlander & Tyson Lozensky must be commended for making these portions tolerable, with pristine results as sharp as the Adamantium claws themselves.
The bulk of Logan’s rage is characterised by the “Loco Logan” motif, initially debuting in “El-Limonator.” A violent burst of toothy low piano rambling and fluttering mute brass creates atonal realms that sustains interest, definitely a cue to take away for personal playlist collation. More of this is heard in the thumping “Feral Tween”, barraging a neat set of percussive rackets, with horrifying results that are somewhat gleefully gratifying. Elsewhere, some forms of emotional tenderness sneak their way in “Goodnight Moon”, suing the glass harmonica to more harmonically satisfying results, otherwise delaying the sonorous clash of instrumental carnage. “Driving to Mexico” brings a lighter road trip style, with the title motif for Logan taking snaky turns and twists on echoing piano, continued in “You Can’t Break the Mould”. “Up To Eden” re-circles the titular motif piano in moderate warmth and lovely reflective colours, temporarily dissolving the listener of the darkness yet to come, a sentiment continued in “Beyond the Hills”, with a ticking mute guitar rhythm and glass harmonica, providing a loose variation on Laura’s theme with knowing certainty. The haze returns in “Into the Woods” with the Old Man Logan motif, but laced with bittersweet strings before a rumbling shift kicks in, signifying X-24’s presence as he kills an unsuspecting Xavier. Engagingly abrasive pounding drums kick in to herald the Loco Logan’s barrage as he unsheathes his claws for the kill, carried over to “Forest Fight” as the sunset draws ever closer for Logan. Staccato taut violins and a bass Reaver shift headline the underlying drums as Logan avenges Charles’s passing by squaring off against the villainous Pierce and X-24 with the atonal pianos kicking in. Laura lies on harmonica as the cue ends, and in “Logan vs X-24”, the gently increasing bass grinds amplify the dread, loosely hinting at the Alien motif by Goldsmith as the drums slap with blinding pitch bends, alternating cross-rhythmic layers of electric guitar flapping wildly. The meter fluctuates as the final spirals out of control for the mutant, who struggles to stop his clone with a screeching glissandi furiously closing with tremolo cellos and low octave pianos, as the character suffers his fatal wound from the clone, before Laura uses the Adamantium bullet to finish off the clone. “Don’t Be What They Made You” reinforces a final paternal sentiment from Logan to Laura, begging her in his dying words to live differently from him by using Laura’s glass harmonica and gentle piano-string work, as he painfully dies in her arms whilst she cries, offering somber pathos. As she holds a quiet funeral for him with the other children whom Logan tried to help, she turns the cross to mark an X in symbolic fashion, ending his saga. Overall, this score is definitely not your typical superheroic fanfare. Much like Ennio Morricone‘s The H8ful Eight two years before, it’s an occasionally depressing and cold, numbing listening experience that will convince you that the sun will perhaps never truly rise again for a new dawn. But in spite of this approach, Beltrami deserves a pat on the back for ending a respectable saga with diligence and a surprisingly thoughtful album that works wonders in the film. Depending on where your tastes and tolerances lie, Logan could either renew your interest in Beltrami’s Westernised work, or leave you wishing he’d buried it with an X himself. As it stands, Logan is an engaging work that benefits from a strong narrative, and shades of mournful longing, ending Hugh Jackman’s praiseworthy run as the superhero with a final tip of the hat.
Rating: *** 1/2
(all music written by Marco Beltrami)
1) Main Titles (2:21)
2) Laura (2:24)
3) The Grim Reavers (1:32)
4) Old Man Logan (2:45)
5) Alternate Route to Mexico (1:23)
6) That’s Not a Choo-Choo (2:13)
7) X-24 (2:46)
8) El Limo-nator (1:38)
9) Gabriella’s Video (2:36)
10) To the Cemetery (0:55)
11) Goodnight Moon (1:55)
12) Farm Aid (3:11)
13) Feral Tween (3:34)
14) Driving to Mexico (1:42)
15) You Can’t Break the Mould (1:07)
16) Up to Eden (1:51)
17) Beyond the Hills (2:09)
18) Into the Woods (3:09)
19) Forest Fight (2:30)
20) Logan vs. X-24 (4:13)
21) Don’t Be What They Made You (2:04)
22) Eternum – Laura’s Theme (3:35)
23) Logan’s Limo (2:32)
24) Loco Logan (1:20)
25) Logan Drives (2:08)