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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg
  • WaterTower / 2016 / 90m

After the success of the Marvel film series I suppose it was inevitable that the DC universe would attempt to follow suit and, after Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel generated new interest in the Superman character in 2013 (albeit not the mega-success of the bigger Marvel movies, and polarised reviews) Batman and Wonder Woman are now added to the mix in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with Snyder back in the director’s chair.

Because Hans Zimmer and co score virtually everything, this film provided him with an interesting challenge because not only had he done Man of Steel, he had of course also scored Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, so while his previous Superman material was a certainty to return, he had to decide how to handle a very different take on the Batman character for whom he had written so much music in a different incarnation; his solution was to bring in someone else (Tom Holkenborg, going as Junkie XL here) to do the Batman material for this score.

Tom Holkenborg and Hans Zimmer

Tom Holkenborg and Hans Zimmer

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t much of a fan of the Man of Steel score.  Indeed, I thought it was something of a nadir for Zimmer – boring and predictable, relentlessly grim and joyless – not his worst score, but surely his worst for a major film like that.  But the peculiar thing about Zimmer is that he veers from that sort of thing, the insipid, to the inspired – not long after Man of Steel was the excellent Rush, the following year came the truly outstanding Interstellar – so there was always the chance that things would turn out very differently this time.

They didn’t.

Aspects of it are certainly superior to its predecessor (the lonely Alien-style trumpet solo which appears briefly in various cues and in more extended form in “New Rules” is really very good and I do like the electric guitar – edit: it’s actually an electric cello – in “Is She With You?” which is easily the pick of the action cues), but equally it never comes close to that score’s only real redeeming feature (its finale).  The one thing this score does have that the other one didn’t is a bit of fun here and there, though it’s not clear that it’s entirely intentional.  If you get past the obnoxious opening seconds, which is no mean feat given the scale of the aural barrage, a few minutes later you come to a camp classic of a cue, “The Red Capes are Coming”.  Listening to it you can easily picture a demented cross between Liberace and Montgomery Burns sitting at a keyboard pounding it out (if you pardon the expression), saliva dripping from his jaws as the Village People are chased around the room by the hounds, half way through an old gypsy with a fiddle popping her head round the door before quickly leaving in bemusement.  It’s so utterly ludicrous, so hard to believe a professional film composer (or two) could write it for a $250m movie in 2016 (other than for something like Pirates of the Caribbean) it actually becomes really funny, the most raucously enjoyable three and a half minutes of music in quite a while.  Whatever its purpose is in the film – bravo.

Unfortunately it’s not all like that (the absurd crashing piano does come back in “Problems Up Here” so there is a bit more comedy later on, but it’s short-lived), and while it’s not surprising how abrasive and generally dank most of it is, what is surprising is how extremely dated it is.  Zimmer is always at his best when he’s on the cutting edge, trying to do things he hasn’t done before, but the production of the opening “Beautiful Lie” sounds so cheap and frankly so 1990s, and that continues through the majority of the score, which all feels so familiar in one way or another.  The percussive action material from Man of Steel is back, but also here are the handful of far too familiar simple chord progressions which you can hear in so many lesser scores by Jablonsky, Djawadi, Jackman etc – so, so generic (just listen to “Do You Bleed?” if you dare and tell me you can tell the difference between it and the dozens if not hundreds of generic Remote Control action scores generally credited to Zimmer’s underlings).  There’s the deep male choir, the familiar Holkenborg array of drumming (whatever challenge a film presents, he seems to find the solution in a shit load of drumming), no real surprises.

Parts are downright unpleasant – the synthetic onslaught of “Must There Be a Superman?” is almost unbearably horrible, the eight-minute action cue “Black and Blue” rolls all the tired clichés into one long passage that might have sounded reasonably different (if very simplistic) in 1996 but really doesn’t any more.  My favourite bad bit is the synth effect in “Tuesday” that sounds like a seagull closing in; my least favourite comes in the 14-minute finale (well, except for a parade of bonus tracks) “Men Are Still Good”, subtitled “The Batman Suite”, when the brass plays a simple chord repeatedly, in unison with synths and samples and drums – it’s cringeworthy.  In fact virtually everything in that long cue is terrible, and it in particular exposes an odd thing given the pre-release comments about Batman and Superman having distinctive sounds of their own, crafted by separate composers: that it’s actually very hard to spot any differences at all, to the extent that Superman’s theme occurs several times in the cue (it’s hard to discern a theme or even identity for Batman at all – I guess it’s one of the generic brush-strokes in there, but it will take someone else to figure out which one).

It’s not uniformly awful but Batman v Superman really doesn’t have much going for it.  Its worst crime is that it’s so boring – we’ve heard all this so many times now, we just don’t need to hear it again.  That’s frustrating because so often Hans Zimmer has reinvented himself and injected new life into his music and he usually picks a big tent-pole movie like this to do it.  He clearly has an awful lot of faith in Holkenborg and loves working with him; he has been extremely defensive about his younger collaborator on social media, but I really haven’t heard anything from him that warrants that or suggests he is in any way geared up to scoring a movie like this.  Still, that’s only my opinion – this sort of music is clearly exactly what lots of people want to hear, else it wouldn’t keep being produced.  I read a puff-piece interview with the two composers the other day and the interviewer described Man of Steel as one of the greatest scores ever written.  If that’s a point of view with which you sympathise then you’ll be filling your boots again with this one.  Sadly, it couldn’t be further from mine.

Rating: *

Also see: Man of Steel Hans Zimmer (2013)

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  1. Misael T. (Reply) on Friday 18 March, 2016 at 01:29

    I figured this soundtrack wouldn’t be popular with people that disliked the music in Man of Steel, I quite enjoyed the album and bought the 2CD deluxe editiion, however I won’t defend it, it’s clear that Zimmer simply is not interested in doing music for superhero movies anymore. Holkenborg, could have done something different, but he channeled Mad Max Fury Road, which I also like. Overall I enjoyed it, but there is a clear sense of obligation rather than inspiration. And just as a side note, the “electric guitar” in “Is She With You?” is actually an electric cello according to Zimmer.

  2. JamesIsRightOnTheMoney (Reply) on Friday 18 March, 2016 at 05:53

    This was by far the worst garbage I’ve heard from Zimmer in a long while. It was worse than MoS!

    Buncha Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross-esque ambient clutter sprinkled throughout (practically ear-grating), a horrendous Batman theme, a mediocre Superman theme, repeat of the same damn tired motifs from the previous soundtrack that have become a borderline joke at this point (play this whenever something emotional happens), AND THE DRUMS!!!! OH DEAR GOD, THE PERCUSSION IS RELENTLESS.

    Enough with the superhero films, Hans. I get it, the paychecks are fat and directors don’t seem to want anyone else, but sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph, hand this schtick over to Desplat. GAAAAAAAH-LEEEEE.

  3. Kalman (Reply) on Friday 18 March, 2016 at 17:01

    Well, I’m getting more and more interested in this score reading all this negativity towards it. Since Man of Steel is one of my all time favourite scores by Zimmer (yes, I enjoy every minute of it!), and you gave it one star as well, I’m sure I will like this one at least a bit more than you – or most of the reviewers.

    However I haven’t heard anything really good in Holkenborg’s individual scores so far, that’s why I’m a bit cautious. I guess I will watch the movie first and listen to the score afterwards.

  4. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 18 March, 2016 at 22:20

    kalman – I don’t understand how you can enjoy “every single minute” of Man of Steel but not like Junkie XL’s scores, considering large portions of the two are functionally interchangeable.

  5. Solaris (Reply) on Friday 18 March, 2016 at 23:29

    …hmm, I must admit I have always purchased the most complete possible Version of all major RC-Score during the last few years – if possible on CD: Man of Steel, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Mad Max: Fury Road. I consider myself a completist, basically, preferring to have all available minutes of every major Score. Plus, these deluxe set (like the one for MoS) really look kind of cool. I have rarely regretted spending a few extra € on these beasts.

    I’ve originally planned to go down this route with BvS as well, purchasing the 2CD-Edition… but for some reason, I just don’t feel like it this time. I honestly consider buying only the normal edtion as mp3 to know what the fuss is all about but nothing more. What the hell is happening to me? Did I reach my saturation point or have I been disencouraged by all the negative reactions (the latter hasnt stopped me before, certainly)

  6. tiago (Reply) on Saturday 19 March, 2016 at 02:37

    Parts of this score looks more accomplished than Man of Steel: parts of Beautiful Lie are actually kinda beautiful, the Wonder Woman theme in Is She With You? is a nice cross of the flame-throwing guitar music in Mad Max with some synth basses of the Black Pearl theme of the first Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Sherlock Holmes-esque Lex Luthor theme is bizarre and campy – I can only imagine both composers were being sarcastic, with their music almost screaming “he’s an evil genius!”. However, the Batman theme is terrible, it just tries so hard in being “grandiose”, “epic”, and it just fails miserably. Someone please tell Tom that just put a screaming choir on everything doesn’t automatically makes the music epic!

  7. Momo SkySky (Reply) on Saturday 19 March, 2016 at 02:55

    I delight in the fact that a person can love the Interstellar score and not the Man of Steel score 🙂 I enjoyed neither–to me they were both “big sound” with very little variation, melody or development (though I feel Interstellar worked pretty phenomenally in the film). But then I’ve been saturating myself in old Horner and Goldsmith scores recently, so that might have something to do with it.

  8. Richard Thomas Biscuits (Reply) on Saturday 19 March, 2016 at 19:00

    Zimmer is a fool for promoting the shitty dreck of Junkie XL. He’s embarrassing himself. Junkie is JUNK.

    Rich T. Biscuits

  9. Kalman (Reply) on Sunday 20 March, 2016 at 16:13

    Edmund – I can hear mostly Zimmer in Man of Steel. His melodies, his ideas. Yes, there are a couple of drums/action tracks by Junkie but they are quite good. My problem is with his individual scores: I simply can’t hear any melodies in them, no emotions, nothing that would grab my attention. I couldn’t sit through Mad Max for instance – boring non-melodic noisefest. (The same goes for the movie, by the way…)

  10. Sim (Reply) on Monday 21 March, 2016 at 02:50

    What a completely banal and insufferable score. Obnoxious orchestra cranked to 11 with an “epic choir” inserted with absolutely no deftness or craft. An album full of music that I probably would have thought was “badass” when I was 13. I’ve liked other things from these composers but this was a completely juvenile score with absolutely nothing interesting to offer.

  11. dominique (Reply) on Monday 21 March, 2016 at 11:11

    self-importantly nothing.

  12. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Wednesday 23 March, 2016 at 21:23

    I have to preface this, but I liked Man of Steel (Movie and Score). The movie had some dour bits it didn’t need and the score had more variety than most people mention (and First Flight is one of Zimmer’s best tracks). You can dig up my comments about Man of Steel, but I think it’s a 3 star score.

    I’m not sure if I posted this, but Mad Max: Fury Road is one of my favorites from last year. “Brothers in Arms” is great and I don’t think anyone thought Junkie had the emotional chops that he showed in “Many Mothers.” I’m not sure if anyone could do a good Deadpool score because 90% of the big scenes were needle drops.

    This one really is super dull and boring. I liked the electronic breaks in “Do You Bleed” and “Fight Night,” but they’re gone before they get interesting. I’d actually put this one as No Stars. I like Winter Solider more. There’s a few good tracks and they at least TRIED doing something different in playing with sound design as score (like representing the Winter Solider with the Scream instead of a piece of music).

    Hans can say what he wants, but he was flat picking up a paycheck for this one. Junkie XL showed great promise with Fury Road, but I think more of that was George Miller pushing him harder than anyone else. It’s pretty clear Zach Snyder not on George Miller’s level, but it’s sad when the best score to a movie he made was plagiarized from Elliot Goldenthal.

  13. Michael (Reply) on Sunday 3 April, 2016 at 04:22

    Good review, James. I totally agree with it.

    Daniel Henderson:True, although I assume you haven’t heard David Hirschfelder’s score for Legend Of The Guardians. And there’s the fact that Tyler Bates did a much more better superhero score with Guardians Of The Galaxy, without being forced to copy temptracks like Snyder did in 300.

  14. Ed Chang (Reply) on Wednesday 6 April, 2016 at 14:27

    I grew to enjoy it, though at first, I admit, I hated it. But after seeing the film and knowing what scenes the cues were written for, it’s much clearer why things are the way they are. “Must There Be A Superman?” for example makes much more sense. Also, not being a Zimmer fan, I guess I don’t have the (dis)advantage of having so much of the past being recycled to distract me. In fact I am a huge Bernard Herrmann fan, and the criticism of of this score (of being too similar to other Zimmer scores) is something I felt about Herrmann’s later scores for Marnie and Obsession. I suppose familiarity can certainly breed contempt!

    In any case, here’s my analysis of the BvS score, with about 20 themes/motif identified and labeled.
    http://cuebycue.blogspot.com/2016/04/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice.html

  15. MPC (Reply) on Wednesday 1 June, 2016 at 23:02

    I thought along similar lines when I heard the soundtrack, but it actually plays better in the film. “Beautiful Lie” is the opening title sequence, where Zimmer takes inspiration from his Batman Begins score (for the same sequence, natch). “Red Capes Are Coming” is essentially Luthor’s motif, and too bombastic in the film. I initially hated the new Batman theme, but it’s like a melding of Zimmer’s theme with Elfman’s choir. That holds promise to be developed further.

    I actually prefer this over “Man of Steel”, but I pray with “Justice League” undergoing executive changes behind-the-scenes, that Zimmer and Holkenborg don’t return. I have a feeling WB will hire a composer who’s worked with Marvel Studios or lighter blockbuster fare.

  16. Sam (Reply) on Wednesday 11 October, 2017 at 03:56

    This is probably Zimmer’s best score with another composer, for me. Always listen to it. A Beautiful Lie, The Red Capes Are Coming, Must There Be a Superman? Is She With You?, and Fight Night are the best parts of it. Never a dull part, especially when in such a great film.