- 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.
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.
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.
Also see: Man of Steel Hans Zimmer (2013)