I'd been waiting for the X-Men movie so long and hard that as the theatrical release date approached I could barely stand the anticipation. However, to be frank, from the moment I found out Michael Kamen would take on composing chores for the soundtrack, my expectations for the score whittled away. It's not that I had anything against Kamen; actually I was just very unfamiliar with his work and had been hoping for any of my favorite composers to be assigned instead. Fortunately I can say that after experiencing Kamen's X-Men score in the film and on its own, my rather low expectations have been quite thoroughly surpassed, and in fact I'm very pleased with the results.
Kamen's approach to the score is much like the director's approach to the film itself: avoid the conventions of the genre - well endeared though they may be - and instead take a more subtle, drama-oriented approach.
The conventions (or cliches, depending on how critical you are) common to this sort of score are your blaring action music, your rifely melodic, easy-to-grasp character themes, and the remaining, mostly unrelated filler. X-Men differs from this formula in that it doesn't have such blatant separation between the action/character music and the remainder. Rather, the action and character themes are toned down a bit, the mood music is actually effective, and the score as a whole is cohesive and uncharacteristically successful in conveying drama.
Thematically, I'd say the score is a dual between Magneto and the X-Men. In the score at least, Magneto actually wins out; a couple of his thematic snippets surface repeatedly, and more significantly, his dark musical mood is pervasive to the score. As for the X-Men, their theme has just a bit of a retro'ish hail to classic comic book heroism in its simplicity. Interestingly, the X-Men theme is sometimes spliced into segments accompanying Magneto, avoiding the type of black-and-white contrast you would see in a more typical score. Only in "Final Showdown" does the conflict emerge clearly with high action-packed intensity, providing a fitting climax. Other respites from Magneto's foreboding thematic presence include the hopeful "Mutant School", the ethereal and ferverent "Cerebro", and the lovely, highly melodic theme used in "Logan and Rogue".
Kamen's selection of instrumentation sets the score apart from typical scores of this sort. The use of strings is heavier than usual and is oriented toward achieving a moody, slightly ominous and haunting effect, particularly in scenes accompanying Magneto. Synthesizers and effects are also used very effectively, from the warbly synths occasionally used in Magneto tracks to the jumbled, distorted "information" sounds in "Cerebro". An electric guitar rears its head occasionally but not to the extent one might expect from the arranger of Metallica's "S&M" rock-symphonic CD. Perhaps most interesting is the almost techno-like form of percussion Kamen uses in a few tracks to support the film's idea of the onset of the future.
At about 40 minutes, the score is a bit short, although this is not so noticeable when listening through it. I know there is credits sequence music not included, but I haven't heard that music entirely yet in the theater and can't venture a guess as to why it's missing from the CD. Also, you X-Men fans who were hoping to hear an individual theme for each and every character (ala most RPG soundtracks) will unfortunately have to put those unrealistic expectations aside. Magneto, the X-Men as a team, and I think also Rogue get their musical moments in the sun, but as for the rest, you'll have to "save some of that for the sequel".
The X-Men score doesn't offer exactly the traditional musical experience I'd hoped for, but instead it boasts a whole different type of score for the comic-book adaptation film. Its inclination away from pure action and more towards drama may not be conventional, but it is highly effective and has left me very satisfied. Especially those who have seen the movie will appreciate the varied and thoughtful ways Kamen has matched the music to the narrative.