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Captain America
  • Composed by Alan Silvestri
  • Walt Disney Records / 2011 / 74:30 (inc. iTunes bonus)

Another Marvel superhero is brought to the screen in Joe Johnston’s Captain America, the best-received one of these films since the first Iron Man.  One of the more peculiar aspects of these films as made in the last few years has been the music, which has been firmly routed in the Remote Control sensibility, even from composers you would least expect to hear that style from.  I thought Ramin Djawadi’s music for Iron Man was pretty awful, but evidently the powers that be didn’t subscribe to my view because it’s been the template for most of what’s followed in the Marvel universe, with John Debney’s score for the sequel actually having a similar approach and even Patrick Doyle going a bit Remote Control in his music for Thor.

When Thor was released earlier in the year, there was widespread disbelief that even a composer like Doyle would have to cave in and go with the trend – but the (very reasonable-sounding) belief was that had he not done so, the filmmakers would simply have found a composer who would, so he had little choice.  While there is more than one way to skin a cat, it does seem that if any type of film simply cries out for an old-school symphonic score with a big theme, it’s the superhero film – but it seemed nobody was willing to write one like that.  Enter Alan Silvestri.  His fortunes have been mixed over the last few years – there has been reasonable music for pretty big films, but I honestly thought his best days may have been behind him.  Captain America suggests that was a very premature conclusion to reach; and for those of us tearing our hair out in despair at the ludicrously dumb approach to scoring these films since Iron Man, we might be able to hold off on needing hair implants for a little while longer – this is precisely the old-school symphonic score with a big theme that we’ve been waiting for.

Alan Silvestri

Anyone buying this album based on my recommendation might wonder what the hell I’m on about after listening to the album’s first few minutes – in truth, it’s slightly bland stuff.  But this is the calm before the storm.  By the time of the ballsy “Training the Supersoldier”, it is clear that this is Silvestri is on fine form; and with the first explosive rendition of the brilliant patriotic march theme for the eponymous hero in “Captain America – We Did It”, those within a certain demographic of film music fan are likely to leap out of their chairs in delight.  We just don’t hear film music like this very much any more – almost entirely orchestral, very bold and assertive and unafraid to draw attention to itself – it’s frequently hard to believe that this is from a 2011 big-budget blockbuster.  But with his grand orchestral strokes – and that familiar snare-drum-driven action style –  Silvestri (along with, of course, director Johnston) has been brave enough to deliver the kind of score which it seemed studio executives thought would scare off the teenage boy target market – box office figures for Captain America suggest they were mistaken.

Long-time readers may be slightly surprised by some of my words – I haven’t always been all that enthusiastic about Silvestri’s music, even scores that have been widely-praised elsewhere.  But the negative traits I sometimes find just aren’t here – while the album is action-dominated, there are enough pauses for breath that it never feels like the kind of assault on the senses some of his action scores have; while the album is very long, there is a clear and obvious musical journey which easily justifies the length; while there’s only one theme in it that people are likely to take away and remember, that one is the most memorable theme for an on-screen superhero since Elliot Goldenthal wrote his theme for Batman Forever in 1995.  (The album’s only sour note: by far the best presentation of that main theme, the “Captain America March”, is idiotically only available as an iTunes download.)  There are other themes – the main villain theme is nice and effective, a sort of darker flipside to the hero’s theme, but admittedly you won’t find yourself humming it while you walk around the supermarket.

In some ways, listening to this album is like listening to a musical version of the veteran composer (Silvestri is now in his 60s) sticking his middle finger up for 75 minutes and saying “you can do it this way, you idiots!”  I suppose it’s much more likely to be an oasis in the desert of mediocrity which represents the music for these comic book films rather than a genuine game-changer, but that’s better than nothing.  It’s so refreshing to hear the composer for one of these things just be himself (whatever he says in public, was Patrick Doyle really happy having to imitate the style of Ramin Djawadi in parts of Thor?  Was James Newton Howard really proud of himself while he was programming the tired drum loops in Green Lantern?)  This is the most thrilling action score of the year by far and is Silvestri’s finest album since Volcano in 1997.  In fact the epic non-stop action of the album’s last 15-20 minutes is arguably as exciting as anything he’s ever done.  The whole album just makes me smile and want to shake Silvestri’s hand for managing to do it.  Highly recommended.  ****

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  1. ddueck on Saturday 6 August, 2011 at 15:57

    A grand and perfect review, thank you James. I enjoy this score far too much and I’m glad you do too. Hurrah!

    BTW excited to hear your thoughts about Harry Potter DH2. :)

  2. spielboy on Sunday 7 August, 2011 at 04:53

    I presume Hollywood producers gave the OK for this old-school symphonic approach because it’s a WWII story. If Captain America’s adventures were set in the present I doubt we would have heard something like this. But… we’ll see what happens in THE AVENGERS.

  3. James Southall on Sunday 7 August, 2011 at 09:14

    That’s very possible. But… given who is scoring The Avengers, I have a feeling that’s going to be pretty old school too.

    Dave – to be honest, I’ve only listened to DH2 once so far. There’s a large pile of things to review right now – I’ll get to it eventually!

  4. Mastadge on Sunday 7 August, 2011 at 12:18

    Given who is scoring The Avengers . . . wait, what? Spill!

  5. Hasta on Sunday 7 August, 2011 at 19:23

    Ah, we’ve reached the day where orchestra is synonomous with “old school”.

    neat

  6. Cindylover1969 on Monday 8 August, 2011 at 05:31

    Please support Movie Wave by making your purchase from amazon.com through these links if possible, but please don’t read the review of it by that Hans Zimmer fan. That is all.

  7. Cindylover1969 on Monday 8 August, 2011 at 05:32

    The Amazon.com review of it, I mean. I’m not trying to besmirch Southall. :)

  8. Kalman on Monday 8 August, 2011 at 11:52

    Interesting, I found nothing to enjoy in this score even though I usually love Silvestri’s action work.
    One of the most generic music I have ever heard.
    This year, for me, it is still X-men First Class the best superhero score. So my rating would be the exact opposite how you rated these two scores.

  9. Christopher Avis on Monday 8 August, 2011 at 21:58

    Thanks for the review, James. It’s a decent score, certainly the best Silvestri’s done in many years. However, I’m a little surprised not to see your often repeated “CD is way too long” comment here. This would make a wonderful 45 minute album, but as it stands, it’s a bit draggy for my tastes. Thor, on the other hand, stands up much better to its long running time, in my opinion. Hope you’ll be reviewing Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That’s another winning score from Doyle

  10. Cindylover1969 on Saturday 20 August, 2011 at 21:15

    “I’m a little surprised not to see your often repeated “CD is way too long” comment here. This would make a wonderful 45 minute album, but as it stands, it’s a bit draggy for my tastes.”

    Apparently it’s not too draggy for HIS tastes, and you’re not the reviewer here. :)

  11. Paulo on Thursday 8 September, 2011 at 23:54

    Too much STAR WARSesche for my taste…It seems all composers drink from the same source when dealing with this kind of superhero marches for films. Just as a curiosity: when I first played the Captain American march in my stereo, a colleague of mine (at another room) immediately uttered: Oh, Star Wars again!!=D

  12. Phil on Tuesday 1 November, 2011 at 11:47

    Great review, but I have to disagree just a bit about Silvestri’s compositions on this particular film. It seems he kind of fell into his comfort-zone and did a lot of cues very, very similar to his normal action scores. I heard too much “Mummy Returns”, “Van Helsing”, “Cradle of Life” in there… but I have to say, I definitely prefer the generic Silvestri action music to the droning, pulsating, synth-bass-precussion-brass crap getting more and more prominent in movies such as this.