"He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
Great English writer Samuel Johnson spoke those words in the late 1700s, and I think they encapsulate beautifully the narrative of the latest "X-Men" film, "Logan." There's little I can say about this film that probably hasn't already been stated, but know that it's a beautifully dark and violent film that moves past the "comic book movie" genre title in the same way that "The Dark Knight" transcended labels nine years ago. It's about a man discovering who he truly is and what he's meant to do, and the importance of love at the end of every thread of life. I couldn't praise the movie enough after leaving the theater, but being the music critic, I'm here to talk about Marco Beltrami's score of the film. And Beltrami does a great job of capturing the struggle of a man who was made a beast and is fighting internal (and external) battles every day.
Marco Beltrami is a composer whose name comes up often in my quest for amazing soundtrack music, but truth be told I've never sat down and really delved into one of his scores until "Logan." From his back catalog, he seems to specialize in action and horror films, and there are definitely elements in this score that suggest his specialties. But just like this film transcends its initial labels, so too does Beltrami. Be warned, this is a long, long score with twenty five tracks, so there's a lot to cover.
The first track, "Main Titles," sets the tone that Beltrami is going to use all sorts of sounds in his palette for this score. A sinister, skeletal piano theme forms the backbone of the piece, but there's interesting usage of a drum kit and guitar that adds an interesting modern edge to things. It's telling you expect the unexpected from this score.
With the next two tracks, "Laura," and "The Grim Reavers," we get a taste of some great subdued ambience at work. "Laura" is the first usage of the glass armonica on the score, but certainly not the last. It's an interesting and uncommon instrument choice but one that really captures innocence and softness very well. "The Grim Reavers" shows Beltrami's horror roots, with thrumming basslines and deep brass textures and staccato violin interspersed.
"Old Man Logan" is a fantastic track that really shows the fragility and decay of Hugh Jackman's character in the film. It's somber and sparse, and ends so wonderfully with some cool harmonica accents for that lonesome western feel, which this film has in spades. While "Alternate Route to Mexico" has a sound that will really dredge up some western imagery like dust blowing tumbleweed, "That's Not a Choo Choo" is pretty standard tension building stuff with violins and pounding drums. The weakest track so far.
I didn't initially like the track "X-24" when I heard it, but hearing it again, this is a track that really shows the contrast of man and beast. The beginning armonica pulls towards the light while the grinding string and drum assault in the middle show true darkness before evening out in sort of a holding pattern of building tension.
One of my favorite tracks, "El Limo Nator" has a very cool atonal piano backing that jumps all over the keyboard. It's a unique take on an action track, sort of having brass that sounds likes it's from a comic book film, but twisting all the sounds and tones and making it strange and foreign. It takes a risk, and I like tracks that take risks. "Gabriella's Video" and "To the Cemetery" repeat both themes from "Laura" and "Main Titles" respectively, so if you enjoy those tracks these will stick as well, but I see the necessity in them. They're motifs to be further established in the film.
"Goodnight Moon" is a beautiful track that keeps using the armonica to wonderful, ethereal effect, but its follow up "Farm Aid," I just didn't care for. It's a track that, while playing during a pivotal scene, bounces from one action and horror trope to another. Beltrami knows what he's doing, but he's not exactly being original in this track. But in the next, "Feral Tween," Beltrami takes the armonica used to signify Laura and uses it to lead up to an explosive middle and end where the drums play with some interesting rhythms. It really shows a transition from innocent girl to ferocious animal.
"Driving to Mexico" didn't really grab me in any way, but "You Can't Break the Mould" and "Up to Eden" are must listens for fans of the short tracks on Trent Reznor's scores. It's atmospheric in a way that definitely reminds me of some of his work.
"Beyond the Hills" uses some cool guitar plucking and harmonics to back this atmospheric track, but other than that it's pretty straightforward, nothing too experimental or gripping. But during the halfway mark of "Into the Woods" is where things really pick up. Once the track hits it's marching snare drum and blasting bass and brass, its off to the races for the next couple tracks. "Forest Fight" is another one of my favorite tracks, with its ever changing energy and crazy drum solos and it's riveting and jarring piano chord middle and end. It's truly the moment where the beast shines through. Up to this point, the man was contained, and now the rage is taking over.
"Logan vs. X-24" is a slow burn, but as it rises, there's a pulse pounding subtle drum track that hits double time and amps you right up until the track reaches its peak and the tension is thicker than molasses...and then it explodes in a flash of a piano chord and dissolves into static. And then there's the beautiful aftermath of "Don't Be What They Made You." This is a track that is like looking out at a setting sun; peaceful, serene, and sometimes emotional, especially when put into context of the film. With "Eternum - Laura's Theme," don't expect a grand, sweeping piece now. No this is a track that finally solidifies the lonesome west vibe of the entire film. Harmonicas blaze as we say goodbye to the characters and their uncertain future.
The last three tracks technically aren't part of the film, but I believe they make up the credits. "Logan's Limo" is a bluesy, electric guitar driven piece, while "Loco Logan" touches on all the elements I liked from "Forest Fight." And finally, "Logan Drives" is a final somber piece tinged with brass that adds just a bit more dimension to the character's themes.
Overall, this certainly isn't one of my favorite scores of all time, but it's pretty damn good. There are a lot of great tracks to be found, and Marco Beltrami proves that he can use his horror and action roots to great and thrilling effect, but also shows his diverse range of choices with unconventional instrument choices and dexterity when it comes to crafting a mood. Some tracks fall flat, but others are subtly beautiful. I'd say it's a fine addition to your collection, and an even deeper way to probe how "Logan" showcases how a man who became a beast becomes the man he always wanted to be.