Published on April 24th, 2015 | by Holly Ringsell0
The Music Of The MCU
The Music Of The MCU
In celebration of this week’s release of Marvel’s Age Of Ultron, I’ll be taking a look back at the sounds of the Marvel Cinematic Universe… Starting, unfortunately, with The Incredible Hulk.
The Incredible Hulk – Craig Armstrong (Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby)
This was a struggle. The score swings from soft moments to sharp, loud rises, making it almost unbearable to listen to. Any gentle sadness is overwrought with heavy horns and repetitive rubbish. It’s also a whopping forty five tracks long, and I was long past done by the thirtieth. It’s dated, dull, derivative (but not of anything particularly memorable) and painful to listen to. Hulk Theme – End Credits is particularly embarrassing and devastatingly 90’s. Avoid.
Iron Man – Ramin Djawadi (Pacific Rim)
Rocky. Thats just about the only word set to describe Djawadi’s Iron Man score. The first handful of tracks are repetitive and thumpy, but perhaps this is Djawadi’s idea of setting the tone? He certainly went by ‘repetitive and thumpy’ for the Pacific Rim soundtrack. That said, there’s a handful of stand out tracks. Driving With The Top Down is a great intro piece, rocky and heavy, but with a rising ending. Vacation’s Over is huge, and absolutely appeals to my preference for those big, swelling, emotional tracks. Mark II is a great natural progression from Driving With The Top Down, and Extra Dry, Extra Olives is a welcome moment of softness. Iron Monger is particularly over the top though, and not in a good way. It’s rock-based. It’s very Djawadi. It’s very Iron Man.
Iron Man 2 – John Debney (Bruce Almighty, Elf)
Very similar to the Iron Man score, peppered (HA!) with a little more vulnerability. Making Pepper CEO is soft and gentle, Tony Discover’s Dad’s Secret is equal parts motivational, inspiring and emotional. It’s a reasonable progression from the first Iron Man, but nothing much in the way of stand out and as such, not a lot to discuss.
Iron Man 3 – Brian Tyler (Thor 2: The Dark World, Expendables)
Here we have a shining example of taking a sound and adapting it into something exponentially better. Iron Man 3 is great, a slow build and still rocky (like the previous two Iron Man soundtracks,) but the use of horns give a much more exciting and powerful vibe, along with an edge of darkness. The entire soundtrack is throbbing and loud but far more well executed. Isolation is dark and sad, yet hopeful. Stark is a fantastic track, full of power and awesomeness, with a sharp rise. Battle Finale is a great ender, action-filled and reminiscent of earlier tracks but with a bigger sound, partly thanks to the excellent choral background. It’s easily the best of the three Iron Man scores, changing enough to progress it into something wonderful, whilst still in keeping with the pre-established heavy, rock edge of Iron Man. Can You Dig It? is particularly absurd but it is the titles song, and it’s great fun. Definitely one of the stronger scores, despite the movie’s flaws.
Thor – Patrick Doyle (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes)
Utterly ethereal. The orchestral elements are completely perfect, with natural progression to power. Sons Of Odin begins gently but builds naturally, not jarring like The Incredible Hulk or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A New King is solemn but rising, fraught with worries, Ride To Observatory begins similarly, rising instead to a triumphant sound, overcoming adversity and difference. Fight songs are louder, more exciting, but the progression is so natural and well-handled, that there’s no unpleasant moments in listening. Frost Giant Battle is particularly excellent — a perfect combination of tense action, and in keeping with the big, orchestral sound. Loki’s Lie is full of sadness, Science And Magic is beautiful. The Destroyer is the perfect mix of techy action vs old world orchestral, perfectly conveying the dangerous battle. Thor Kills The Destroyer is goosebump-inducing, packed full with proud celebration, inspiration and triumph. Brothers Fight has a great, sad-but-hopeful swell, as does Can You See Jane? Definitely one of the highlights of the MCU soundtracks.
Thor 2: The Dark World – Brian Tyler (Iron Man 3, Expendables)
The perfect progression from Thor 1 — it’s commanding and powerful, and Thor: The Dark World is easily one of the best intro tracks in the entire MCU music roster. Lokasenna is ethereal and haunting, and Asgard is definitely reminiscent of the Avengers theme, as is Escaping The Realm — think Avengers but with more mythical elements, perfectly in keeping with the character. Thor, Son Of Odin is another highlight, a huge, swelling, proud song. Sword and Council is very similar to Thor, Son Of Odin and Thor: The Dark World, giving it great consistency without becoming repetitive. Whilst neither of the Thor movies are my favourites film-wise (The Dark World is actually my least favourite,) their scores stand out head and shoulders above the rest. Exceptional.
Captain America: The First Avenger – Alan Silvestri (Avengers, Back To The Future)
I wanted to love this. I really did, but Silvestri’s work on this is nothing short of completely average. It’s certainly soldiery, but also boring. To his credit, he was scoring a film which was flawed in its pacing and storytelling techniques (HOW many montages!?) but it’s still largely uninspiring. It’s not completely without merit though, as Farewell To Bucky is devastatingly sad! It’s almost Disney-esque. Triumphant Return fits with the time period of the movie and is appropriately proud and bold. Captain America is a decent enough title track, bold and somewhat memorable, but the standout really is Star Spangled Man by The Star Spangled Singers, if only for its endearing nature. Silvestri is obviously a man who knows his way around a movie score, but this certainly doesn’t push any boundaries or offer much in the way of memorable content. A shame.
Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier – Henry Jackman (Big Hero 6, Kick Ass)
Typical Jackman – thumpy, metallic and tech. It fits in places, but is largely jarring and unnecessary. Lemurian Star is a great example of that sound working, a combination of tech with orchestral and a great opening track. Project Insight is great, and The Smithsonian is wonderful, (despite the fact it sounds remarkably similar to the Go The Distance reprise from Disney’s Hercules.) It’s a soft moment in an otherwise heavy soundtrack — emotional, sad, perfectly conveys Cap’s missing past, and the startling lack of his best friend, Bucky Barnes. Unfortunately the great is short lived. Some tracks are far too heavy and screechy, plenty of them wouldn’t be out of place on a damn Transformers soundtrack. The Winter Soldier focuses entirely on power and screeching aggression, which makes it remarkably jarring and difficult to listen to. Could have done with some sadder elements of weakness or loss, something to convey a man brain-washed and working against his will. The absolute stand out, and one of my favourite movie songs ever, is Taking A Stand. It’s the track that plays over the exceptional credits sequence but it’s easily the best song on the soundtrack. It’s swelling, powerful and emotional, but also tense and thrillery, utter perfection. The 33/34 second mark when it kicks in is phenomenal, goosebumpy greatness.
Despite the odd moment of greatness, the soundtrack suffers from inconsistency. The quieter tracks are incredibly quiet, but the loud tracks are incredibly loud. It makes listening to it as a whole difficult, as you’re constantly adjusting the volume or skipping the near-unlistenable tracks. Frozen In Time could have been so much MORE, but ends up stale and one note rather than sad and emotional. Natasha seems almost out of place, gentle notes in a character who is actually very closed off and brusque, sassy at most. It was a track almost more suited to Bucky Barnes. Swapping Natasha and The Winter Soldier would have made the songs more relevant! The Causeway is the most awful screeching mess, and any reprise of Taking A Stand is drowned out by the absolutely intolerable cacophony of bullshit. Into The Fray is more of the same terrible mess. Thankfully, Time To Suit Up is reminiscent of Silvestri’s Captain America: The First Avenger score, and is a natural progression to add depth and elements of the movie’s thriller genre, and End Of The Line is finally, appropriately sad. Unfortunately, Captain America is not at ALL memorable, even with the thriller-esque tone — Taking A Stand would have been a much stronger title track. Luckily, the score also includes It’s Been A Long, Long Time by Harry James and His Orchestra and Trouble Man by Marvin Gaye. Both are fantastic, and round off a troubled soundtrack. It’s a score with moments of greatness, sadly overshadowed by Jackman’s preference for the mechanical, screeching nonsense he forces into everything. It’s as if Henry Jackman saw a picture of the Winter Soldier, noticed the arm and ONLY the arm, and sculpted an entire soundtrack around the idea that metal was involved. It’s a shame, because it’s a deep and fantastic movie — it’s actually my favourite of them all — and it could have had a much greater score, if handed to the right composer.
Avengers – Alan Silvestri (Captain America, Back To The Future)
Much like Captain America: The First Avenger, Avengers is boring, repetitive and barely memorable. Stark Goes Green is startlingly similar to the Captain America: The First Avenger score. Nothing stands out, every action sequence is fraught and tense, again, like the Captain America: The First Avenger score. The Avengers is the only exception, being an iconic and powerful piece of music, inspiring and a great track to sum up the team. Avengers was a flawed movie in terms of character development (what character development?) and plot, so again, perhaps he was working with what he had… Or perhaps Silvestri is just stale.
Guardians Of The Galaxy – Tyler Bates (Watchmen, John Wick)
Guardians Of The Galaxy is the most unique of all the MCU soundtracks. It’s slow and building, the action sequences are equal parts tense fight and epic space battle realness. Ronan’s Theme is heavy and thumpy without being invasive and jarring. It still implies fear and power without being unlistenable, (like Henry Jackman’s Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier score.) Many of the tracks are playful and fun, Everyone’s An Idiot and The Kyln Escape, for example. The Great Companion is a fantastic track, as is the spooky and dangerous The Road To Knowhere. Each character piece is different and individual — The Collector is specific to him. Ronan’s Arrival matches Ronan’s Theme excellently, portraying power and fear, it’s consistent but not repetitive. The Ballad Of The Nova Corps is musical perfection. Perfectly conveying power, bravery and justice, it’s everything a Captain America song should be, but given to the Nova Corps instead. Probably one of the strongest tracks out of all the scores. Groot Spores is ethereal and magical, sci-fi, spacey beauty, and Groot Cocoon is reminiscent without being repetitive. Sacrificial and sad, but ultimately, beautiful. Black Tears is a fantastic build up for the big ending scene, phenomenal, and A Nova Upgrade is a welcome bundle of happiness and safety to end the movie on. There’s familiar themes and notes throughout, it’s perfectly consistent, but different and fun enough to not become repetitive. Considering Guardians Of The Galaxy was Marvel’s wildcard, perhaps they were more free to create? It is, of course, also bolstered by a spectacular soundtrack of 70’s and 80’s hits, Awesome Mix Vol.1 — it’s something unique to Guardians Of The Galaxy, not only in the MCU but movies in general. Awesome Mix Vol.1 reached number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, becoming the first soundtrack album in history consisting entirely of previously released songs to top the chart. The album was the US’s second best-selling soundtrack album of 2014, behind the Frozen soundtrack. It topped the Top Soundtracks chart for 11 consecutive weeks and 16 weeks in total. As of January 2015, it was sold 1,003,000 copies in the US, and has been certified platinum by the RIAA.
Agent Carter – Christopher Lennertz, various
Oh, how I wish they’d release the Agent Carter soundtrack! It combines superhero-esque punchy attitude with the smooth sounds of the 40s and 50s. Jazz, swing and classics from Bing Crosby, Gene Krupa, Peggy Lee and more. It was a delight, especially if you’re already a fan of that era of music, (which I am!) Wonderful, particularly stand out, especially for a mini series.
Daredevil – John Paesano, various
I’d love a release of this, too! Main Theme is particularly brilliant, quiet and calculated, rising to tense, dark and brooding. The piano sounds with the strings are perfect. It’s a fantastic theme, one that sticks in your head and gets you damn excited for the episode to come! There’s almost some hints of sadness and depth within. It really is a fantastic opener. The music throughout the series is pretty exceptional, and there’s a few scenes in the last episode which are absolutely incredible — the FBI arrests shot in slow motion, combined with Pavarotti on the soundtrack, it’s beautiful and powerful. The big fight scene that occurs soon after is accompanied by an incredible, triumphant, exciting track and when combined with the action on screen, it’s a truly memorable, and beautiful, moment.
Where do we go from here?
Marvel’s soundtracks are a little inconsistent. They range from unlistenable to incredibly beautiful, with some boring stodge as the middle ground. There are moments of excellence shrouded with unbearable rubbish.
My hope is that Marvel avoid using Alan Silvestri again. His work doesn’t fit the characters or stories, and is largely underwhelming, even when paired with a spectacle like The Avengers. Henry Jackman is simply too heavy handed, as is Ramin Djawadi. Brian Tyler seems the strongest of the bunch so far — he seems to genuinely understand the characters involved, and often spins a beautiful score out of an average (or less than average,) movie. I’d love to see him take on Captain America in any regard, he probably would have created something crushingly sad for Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, which I would have loved to hear. He’s just taken on Avengers: Age Of Ultron, which certainly bodes well for future endeavours. Could he be the ideal choice for Captain America 3: Civil War? I’d certainly be happy with him at the musical helm. My own fan casting, however, would have to be James Newton Howard. He’s created two of my favourite scores of all time, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, and his work with sad, angsty, drama ridden disaster is nothing short of utterly perfect. He’d no doubt nail the turmoil present in the upcoming Civil War. Regardless, Marvel tend to repeat their favourites, so if its Brian Tyler, I’ll be more than happy! Looking even further forward, I’d definitely be interested to see Tyler Bates take on any space-themed movies. Captain Marvel, Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, perhaps even Avengers 3: Infinity War. He’s one of the most intriguing of the bunch, and I think the variety shown in the Guardians Of The Galaxy score proves he’s got the chops to take on another big hitter.
Whoever they choose, music is important. It sets the tone of a scene, introduces characters and motivations, fills us with pride and joy at the sight of our favourite superheroes succeeding. Do yourself a favour and purchase some of the better scores of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and re-live that awesomeness all over again.