Wolverine. He's the best at what he does, and what he does isn't nice. I'm assuming that refers to slicing up villains with his adamantium claws, as opposed to starring in that terrible film with will.i.am. In any case, his new Japan-centric film is here - THE WOLVERINE - and it promises to be, well, not shit.
Is there any film franchise out there with less musical continuity than the X-Men series? All five movies - X-MEN, X2, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS - had different composers, with the only attempt at referencing the others coming in FIRST CLASS, where the opening scene in the concentration camp used Michael Kamen's music from an identical scene in the first movie. Saying that, X2's John Ottman is down to return with the forthcoming X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, but before that we have popular composer Marco Beltrami (DIE HARD 4/5, SCREAM) taking on everyone's favourite grumpy mutant.
It's hard to say what constitutes a sound for a character such as Wolverine as he seems to be as solo as he's ever been in this new film (which means no freaking Gambit), but given the soul-searching he generally does and the violence that inevitably comes with that, an overtly heroic approach like in the earlier films - however pleasant musically - would not be appropriate, especially as they also reflected the whole team. What Beltrami has done is embed the score in the musical culture of Japan, or at least a Western viewpoint of that, and then drawn the narrative and character out of that.
THE WOLVERINE begins, somewhat appropriately, with a Japanese wind solo before seguing to a short warm melody that (funnily enough given what I wrote earlier) sounds very much like 'Alkali Lake', the cue that introduces Logan in X2. There's something in the way this really feels like it's for Wolverine, with the hazy beginning that sounds like shorthand for his fragmented memory and the lonely wandering solo.
The Eastern feel continues with the beautiful and contemplative melody that opens 'Threnody For Nagasaki', the mysterious tones of 'Logan's Run', and the delicate motif in 'Two Handed', which sounds like it could be a love theme. But this is a Wolverine movie, so there can only be so much calm and tranquility before someone gets clawed in the face. The score is quite moody, and unsurprisingly for an action score set in Japan, much of it is dominated by percussion.
The percussion is used mainly for tension and intensity and it does both jobs well. Taiko drums take major parts in action pieces such as 'Sword of Vengeance' and 'Kantana Surgery' and as a result add a sense of geographical iconography, if that makes sense. The action cues are excellent and sound quite brutal at times - especially 'Funeral Fight' - which mixes electronic pulsing and dissonant strings to create a vicious cacophony that comes to a head with biting strings and a tragic violin melody.
In line with his aforementioned existential crisis, Logan himself doesn't really seem to have a theme until the latter half of the album where a noble "call to arms" style motif emerges. It eventually resolves itself with a energetic "moving on" rendition backed with driving percussion in 'Where To?', leaving us with an interesting final track that I didn't initially know what I thought of. I guess it's a contrast to the more traditional ending of the previous track, but what 'Whole Step Haiku' gives us is a bookend. Much like the opening, this track is Wolverine, it is who he is. Lonely, tragic, enigmatic, and with a sense of ambiguity for the character and for the future. It's a brave ending for a score like this, but it shows the level of thought in the writing.
Beltrami gets Wolverine, this much is certain. His use of Japanese instruments give the score an interesting texture and colour, and the action cues are exciting and intense. However, at the core of the score is Logan's personal crusade and his continual search for who he is. I don't know what the film holds, but I'm satisfied that we know musically who The Wolverine is. I can only hope that Beltrami will at some point be able to continue this journey.
THE WOLVERINE is out on July 23rd from Sony Classical