- Composed by Henry Jackman
- Hollywood Records / 2014 / 75m
Captain America is back in The Winter Soldier, three years after his first film. It seems likely that the extraordinary success of the Marvel films will continue, with an outing very different from his “origin story” that was the focus of the earlier film; this time round the Captain is in the modern world and has to do battle with the nasty winter soldier. The film is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who have worked extensively in television comedy (and also made the amusing Welcome to Collinwood a few years back) and they’ve already signed up to make the next film in the series, to be released in 2016.
Captain America: The First Avenger was a bit of a musical turning point for the Marvel series; there had been some good music in the series before but rarely sustained across a whole score, but Alan Silvestri finally did the obvious thing and wrote the first truly memorable character theme in the series – and what a great theme it was. It made cameo appearances in Silvestri’s own score for The Avengers and also in Brian Tyler’s Thor 2 – finally, a bit of musical continuity. The filmmakers had seen sense. But it doesn’t appear anywhere in Henry Jackman’s sequel score – and indeed sense is something notable by its absence throughout.
The album starts badly and proceeds to get much worse. The utterly generic opening piece “Lemurian Star” blends the same tired old Bourne action ostinatos and the now-ludicrous, laughable Inception HORN OF DOOM with some obnoxious electronics; “Project Insight” introduces what is presumably Jackman’s own theme for the main character, an instantly forgettable piece of fluff; at least “The Smithsonian” features some pleasant Americana, though it only lasts a few seconds. But if you listen to that and think – oh well, it’s not that bad – then you get to “Fury”. And you realise that yes, it’s that bad and then some. Suddenly there’s an assault of electronics. It may work just fine in the film but it’s utterly repulsive away from it. And yet… it’s like a nice rendition of “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” compared with what follows in “The Winter Soldier”, which sounds like Ross’s keyboard music in Friends, apparently randomly-placed bleeps and squirts appearing every few seconds, exceptionally silly synth parts that are like vintage 1980s Casio, sudden jumps between incredibly loud and incredibly quiet, occasional transitions from awful parts to somehow even worse parts. Imagine for a moment falling down a deep well, breaking both legs, the well gradually filling up with water thanks to heavy rainfall – you can see the water level rising, you can’t move, your phone has no reception – that constant drip-drip-drip – death is imminent – it’s only a matter of time. Believe me, that experience would be like manna from heaven to anyone unfortunate enough to listen to “The Winter Soldier”.
To make matters worse – there are still 48 minutes to go. 48 minutes of slow, painful torture. Yes, there are plenty of rubbish Remote Control generic action scores, just as there are some enjoyable ones. At its best, the style can yield a generic-but-entertaining album. Some moments here are like that. The bar is very low and occasionally the music reaches it. There’s even an attempt at times to inject some emotion – what a foolhardy, old-fashioned concept of what a film score might be used to do – with a vaguely elegiac theme that crops up now and then on strings and piano. If it appeared on one of those three-star generic Remote Control action scores, you’d think it was the worst thing about them. It’s by a million miles the best thing about Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
I’ve read some interesting discussions on the internet recently between film composers, opening up in a way that is rare but refreshing about the challenges of modern film music. Who is to blame for dreck like this – is it really the composers, or is it the filmmakers? The most unequivocal answer came from the most influential film composer of the day, Hans Zimmer – it’s up to the composer to write music he is passionate about and convince the filmmakers that his way is the way to go. Who knows what happened on this score – I find it very hard to believe that Henry Jackman gets up in the morning and becomes passionate about writing music that sounds like offshoots from literally a hundred other modern action scores. So, why did he do it? Did he assume this is what the filmmakers wanted, because this is what they all seem to want, and so he deliberately wrote below himself? Or did he truly believe this is the best score the film could receive? Obviously I don’t know the answer to that. Henry Jackman is a talented composer – surely this isn’t truly what he wants to be writing? I may be being unfair – this may be exactly the sort of thing he’s passionate about writing and he really does believe that this is how to score a film – in which case I’d probably be even more upset than in the scenario where he feels forced into it (while acknowledging as I must that perhaps I am hopelessly out of touch and there are loads of youngsters who will become as inspired by music like this just as much as previous generations were inspired by Ben-Hur and Star Wars). There may be far more to it than I could comprehend – that isn’t difficult, because I comprehend very little, being just a computer keyboard warrior of such limited brain.
I do know that this is the polar opposite of film music – indeed, of music – that I would ever consider to be any good. There is seemingly no attempt at all to give the film a unique identity – it’s all a generic wash of the same tired old sound that Remote Control (and more recently, a lot of others) have been churning out for the last decade. There is no sense of fun, anywhere – maybe the film’s darker, maybe there isn’t a single light moment in it anywhere – that’s what the music’s telling us. It’s telling us that everything is miserable, everything is bleak, we may as well give up because there’s no hope of anything good happening – it is utterly without pleasure. Not everything has to be bright and happy; but if you’re as miserable as this and as simple as this, it’s really hard to see the point, harder still to see what would possibly make someone ever want to hear it. There’s no expression of feeling, no dramatic undercurrent.
When will filmmakers grow a pair of balls and reject this sort of approach to their films – when will they say that no thanks, we don’t want you to sound like a fourth-rate Hans Zimmer impersonator, we want you to sound like you. When will composers grow a pair of balls and say – if you just want it to sound like everything else then just licence some library tracks, save yourself a million bucks by not commissioning an “original” score that sounds exactly like everything else – my job is to give you a score that doesn’t just sit in your film and act as musical wallpaper, it actually makes your film better than it otherwise could do – and it sounds like me because I’m a passionate creative person and my music is me. Who knows. One day maybe. In the mean time, we’ll keep on getting this sort of garbage; I have to say, even in the stupefyingly bad context of this sort of thing (Ender’s Game, GI Joe 2, you know what I mean) this is the absolute pits. The ironic thing is that the composer most often tarred by the brush of this rubbish produced by his associates, Hans Zimmer, actually dares to do different things in his own scores – he has crazy ideas, sometimes it’s brilliant and sometimes it’s appalling, but at least he dares. His disciples seem completely the opposite, obsessively removing all distinguishing compositional features and churning the tasteless gloop that seeps out into an endless stream of mass-produced film score McNuggets, indistinguishable from one another and a world away from what film music can actually do. It’s desperately sad.
Rating: No stars