- Composed by Henry Jackman
- Hollywood Records / 2016 / 69m
The Marvel machine rolls on with no sign of audiences losing interest in Captain America: Civil War, in which the superheroes split into two factions, one led by Captain America and the other by Iron Man, after the United Nations attempts to start regulating them. The cast is enormous, with the latest big addition to the roster of heroes teased in the film’s trailer earlier in the year, reviews have been glowing and box office returns already gigantic. Anthony and Joe Russo, who made Captain America: The Winter Soldier, return as directors.
Returning also is composer Henry Jackman, whose score for The Winter Soldier – while admittedly cast in a slightly misleadingly negative light by its album, given there’s some better material in the film that didn’t make it to the disc – was easily the series’ nadir. When he said about Civil War in an interview that the more industrial elements of the previous score provided a good idea of how this one would sound, the size of the groan I emitted caused brief excitement amongst local seismologists – after the good, bright and tuneful efforts of Messrs Silvestri and Tyler and more recently Beck, allowing this series to degenerate into the kind of joyless barrage of noise that has blighted the equivalent DC series seemed like such a shame (the universe has hardly been beyond musical reproach even except for The Winter Soldier aberration, but at least the tide seemed to be heading the right way). Much to my surprise, that hasn’t actually happened at all – Jackman’s score isn’t exactly great but it’s stylistically far removed from its predecessor, in a good way (actually, there’s no way it could be stylistically removed from its predecessor in a bad way).
You wouldn’t get this as the album gets underway – “Siberian Overture” opens with a swirling little motif that sounds like it could come from a vintage thriller and that’s all well and good but then we come to a horrible reminder of just how truly abhorrent The Winter Soldier was. It doesn’t last long though, really, and we’re into an heroic fanfare to end the cue as the logos appear in the film; Brian Tyler’s Marvel logo music seemingly having been abandoned almost as soon as it became established, perhaps an indication of just how little anyone cares about musical continuity in this series. On that note, don’t expect any familiar themes in the score, or in fact any particularly good themes at all – there are themes running through it and some returning from Jackman’s previous score, but I know this mainly because I’ve read it on forums – how anyone can actually notice any of them I don’t know, and how anyone can score a film featuring all these great superheroes and not come up with a single truly memorable theme I don’t really understand (and even if he couldn’t, the other composers already mentioned have established excellent themes for these characters).
“Lagos” has some horrible HORN OF DOOM and Remote Control rubbish, but after that the score actually veers much more into orchestral territory. While none of Alan Silvestri’s themes are directly quoted, Jackman does at times get into his style and threaten to go into The Avengers theme without ever quite doing so. Most surprising of all, it’s not all bang-crash-wallop – “Consequences” is like an elegy, slow-moving and reverent and that’s followed by the intimate “Ancestral Call”, with prominent wind solos quite unlike what you’d perhaps be expecting. “Zemo” (the bad guy) features that swirling motif heard in the opening cue, which is brief but like a binding glue that holds the score together (it crops up numerous times). It leads into some mean and moody orchestral rumbling with a synth heartbeat underneath, atmospheric rather than particularly interesting. The chopping Dark Knight-crossed with-Bourne stylings of the first big action cue “The Tunnel” sound like so much modern action music, but it’s distinguished a bit by actually sounding like an orchestra and not the horrible processed sound that usually cheapens these things unnecessarily.
“Celestial Bodies” is a lovely floaty piece, though there isn’t much to it, before we’re back to action (and suspense) in “Boot Up”, which keeps swelling gradually until it reaches a frenzy half way through, some interesting colours appearing in the sound palette alongside the less welcome ones that dominate the cue’s second half. There’s some much-needed relief in “A New Recruit”, a pleasant, tentatively heroic piece which is nicely restrained (the swirling strings sound rather reminiscent of previous composers’ takes on who I assume the new recruit is).
There’s a little burst of action at the start of “Stepping Up” but the piece is really a stop-start one, with injections of orchestral energy briefly punctuating much slower material before what is presumably meant to be an epic sound emerges in the second half of the piece; “Standoff” is a much more straightforward piece of action, when the score is at its most Silvestri-like – bold and brassy, a little less jagged perhaps but it’s fine material. “Civil War” is even better, probably the score’s finest moment, with grand gestures aplenty, some strong melodic material at last and lots of good ideas coming together for a thrilling action cue. The action continues in “Larger than Life”, the vibe now more in keeping with Brian Tyler’s, plenty of fun thrills being injected, along with a motif that comes very close to Lalo Schifrin’s famous “The Plot” from Mission: Impossible. “Catastrophe” has a bold sweep to it, but then there’s a much more restrained piece in the lengthy “Revealed”, which sounds at times a bit like a softer version of some parts of Hans Zimmer’s Inception.
There’s a dash of heroism in “Making Amends” (lots of noble horn writing) but then “Fracture” is a rather non-descript piece of suspense. The action returns in “Clash”, darker now but not miserably so and the right buttons are being pushed, even if the cue does seem to suffer from a slight lack of focus with the way it flits about from one thing to another. Things slow right down in “Closure” and there’s an attempt to inject emotion, but it’s a little bit dull at times, the highlight being a set of variations on that swirling motif that’s run through the score before some strained strings and then piano towards the end of the piece which are certainly effective. “Cap’s Promise” builds up to the rousing finale for the end titles and it’s a satisfying enough way to do that, then comes a coda to end the album in “Adagio”, which is a bit murky and perhaps sucks the energy out of what’s gone before it and might have been better left off (or put earlier on).
As I said earlier, it’s by no means a great score, but Captain America: Civil War does have a number of positive features. The contrast between it and its predecessor could hardly be more (if you pardon the pun) stark – there’s a crystal-clear recording of the orchestra which is pretty much unprecedented in a Remote Control score, a degree of fun to be had and several very entertaining cues. It’s all very slick and it’s a shame that its great flaw, the lack of a solid thematic base, is such a fundamental one. Still – one presumes that Jackman will be back and do the two upcoming The Avengers-branded entries in the series since they’re also to be directed by the Russos, and that’s not the unappealing prospect it once appeared to be.