With six major superhero films released, not counting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, 2016 showed the genre is here to stay, which means we can look forward to even more scores for our favorite superheroes on screen.
The overall movies they were written for may stack up differently when compared, but here is how this year’s batch of superhero movie scores compare.
6. Suicide Squad
David Ayer’s DC supervillain team-up adventure was far-and-away the worst superhero film of this year’s main six and unfortunately the music didn’t fare much better.
Even with Academy Award-winner Steven Price handling music duties, Suicide Squad is more interested in jamming in as many grating pop songs as possible, leaving the actual score sounding pretty malnourished. Without any major themes of note, the music of Suicide Squad ends up sounding like any other generic action score and feels like a waste of good talent.
Highlight track: “This is How I Cut and Run”
Deadpool also took a route of giving soundtrack songs priority over score, but as least the songs were clever and well-spaced throughout the movie.
The score, meanwhile, is mostly just serviceable. With the exception of a couple distinctive notes that sound like they were borrowed straight from the intro of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” there’s not much to speak of here.
Action beats are hit and emotional moments supplemented but most of the focus of Junkie XL’s score seems to be on demonstrating wacky sound design rather than writing a developed score.
Highlight track: “Maximum Effort”
4. Captain America: Civil War
Marvel scores have gained a reputation for being … hmm, what’s the word? Generic. Lazy. Neutered. Uninspiring. Squandered. All the above?
Before this year, I had all but thrown in the towel on expecting Marvel composers to be able to deliver something great. My faith returned but it certainly wasn’t due to Henry Jackman’s score to Captain America: Civil War.
Jackman is again following the Marvel template of forgettable incidental music throughout and skeletal main themes.
Much like the narrative itself, Civil War should have been a massive turning point in the MCU but the music portrays it as business as usual.
Not only that, the studio repeats its biggest musical faux pas by putting its best musical material in the end credits, showing that the studio and composers are capable of coming together and creating something great for these movies — they just won’t put it in the actual film.
Highlight track: “Cap’s Promise”
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3. X-Men: Apocalypse
2016 was the year X-Men went big and the music followed right in step.
The massive scope of X-Men: Apocalypse allowed composer John Ottman to cut loose and deliver a full-on sonic experience befitting of the material. Epic men’s choir accompaniment, a cool theme for the villain, more incorporation of the X-Men theme throughout and a surprise Beethoven appearance — Ottman’s score for the First Class-trilogy finale delivers.
Most previous X-Men music was serviceable if unspectacular. X-Men: Apocalypse‘s score is one that becomes a major strength of the film.
Highlight track: “The Transference”
2. Doctor Strange
This is more like it.
After ragging on Marvel for their repeated mistakes in music, it’s only fair to point out that the score for Doctor Strange is easily one of their best.
Having a tremendous talent like Michael Giacchino handling the music side of things seems to be the first step in improving things (he’s coming back for next summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming). Yes, the best track is still kept for the end credits but the score for the actual film still dabbles in fun psychedelic sounds and commits to at least one consistent theme for the soon-to-be Sorcerer Supreme.
There’s still room for this universe’s music to grow into something iconic but the score for Doctor Strange is the first in a long time that warrants repeat listens.
Highlight track: “The Mystical Master of the End Credits”
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1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
If this was the movie to break the camel’s back and cause Hans Zimmer to retire from superhero scores, at least he left on a soaring high note (well, it’s really more a beautiful assortment of loud, bass notes but you get the idea).
Zimmer is a modern master of blockbuster scores and it’s my assertion that his score for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, written with Junkie XL, is one of his finest.
Say what you will about the movie — I liked it, flaws and all — but Zimmer’s score is always there to pick the narrative up where it falls and add a canvas of emotion where there otherwise would be none.
Zimmer’s music crafts a modern-day opera of two larger-than-life figures clashing and pushes the intensity to the edge, then over. This movie is on music overdrive as we get a return to the great material from Man of Steel, an aggressive new Batman theme that is broodier and more melodic, an off-kilter theme for Lex Luthor that’s actually a warped take on Superman’s theme, a beautiful new scoring of the iconic death of the Waynes (as well as another death straight out the comics), and an unforgettable introduction to Wonder Woman.
This score is a gift to nerdkind and, (I Guess SPOILERS, still … ) like the Man of Steel at the end of this film, we should hope for our hero’s swift return from beyond to deliver us more musical heroism.
Highlight track: “Is She With You?”
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