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Captain Marvel
  • Composed by Pinar Toprak
  • Hollywood Records / 68m

It’s taken an embarrassingly long time but we finally have one of these Marvel films focusing on a female character. Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as the eponymous hero and while the plot is basically the same as all the other 683 films in the series, I did think the film felt a bit fresher and more entertaining thanks to its slightly different perspective and really hope it won’t be long before the fact that a big tentpole film is released with a woman in the leading role is no longer such a peculiar event that it attracts all the attention that this one has.

Also notable is that the score was composed by a woman, an even rarer event (on any film, not just a big one like this, which is really very strange) – by far the biggest of Pinar Toprak’s career so far. I’ve been a fan since I first came across her music in 2009 with The Lightkeepers; and she had a kind of dress rehearsal for this film when she worked with Danny Elfman on Justice League last year (focusing on the Wonder Woman scenes).

Pinar Toprak

Her score opens with a full concert arrangement of the appropriately heroic main theme. While not treading any new ground it’s very nice, the tune is memorable and nicely malleable to allow it to form the basis of many different aspects of the score. While only really hinted at in this cue, there is also a taste of the 90s-era electronics which are to be a feature of the score, and this does give it a nice little touch to set it apart from the crowd.

The theme’s malleability is evident right from the start of the score itself, with a nice female vocal version in “Waking Up” which leads into some ethereal electronics. They continue into “Boarding the Train” but the orchestra swells a little, the synths become more urgent and a passage for horns adds a hint of heroism. There is a wistful air to “Why do you Fight?” – an excellent if brief cue. But then we move into the first real burst of action in “Let’s Bring Him Home” – it’s quite choppy and propulsive, built from a B-section of the main theme – but the score hasn’t quite burst to life yet.

That happens more obviously in “Entering Enemy Territory” which has some excellent, punchy writing for brass. It’s a bit Goldsmithian with the little motivic fragments being layered on top of each other and it’s a fine piece of action music. The longer “Breaking Free” is slightly less focused, at least to begin with, so is perhaps less satisfying overall but it does have some very decent moments within it. The piece ends up in the darkest place the score’s been so far, the first real sounds of peril. Action continues in “Hot Pursuit” – I love the Michael Kamen-style electric guitar (and wish Toprak had had the chance to work more of that in).

After all that action, “Lost the Target” provides a little respite – the guitar is back from the previous track but in a much softer setting here. “Lifting Fingerprints” is quite a nice little piece with a heist movie feel to it (including the Schifrin flute). There’s more of a dramatic sweep to “Finding the Records” – it starts off pretty suspenseful (but still melodic) before gaining momentum as it goes. In the days of time limits on soundtrack albums there’s no way a cue like this would have made the cut – and I can see why it’s there to further the dramatic narrative of the music, but I think I’d have chopped it.

We’re back on track in “Escaping the Basement” which brings back that heist movie sound but now in an action context. The low-end piano material is great. After the brief “Photos of Us” comes the impressive “Learning the Truth” which has a James Newton Howard vibe to it, serving as a clear musical portent of the dramatic revelations at hand. The string writing is gorgeous. This is followed by the warm, rousing “New Clothes” which features a really stirring version of the main theme.

That warmth doesn’t last long however and in “Space Turbulence” there is some dark suspense material – quite snarly and menacing at first before being beaten down by more heroic material. After this comes the mournful, slow “High Score”, sadness clearly coming to the fore. A sequence of action cues then leads the score to its conclusion. First comes the dramatic brassy punch which heralds the opening of “Interrupting Something” which has a couple of really stirring moments, then in “Trapped” the electronics (missing for a while) are back alongside some jagged orchestral passages.

While everything has been fine and perfectly listenable and enjoyable to this point, the score reaches a whole different level in the next two cues. First is “I’m All Fired Up” which has a hitherto-unheard epic sweep to it, a brilliant piece of action/adventure music which is immediately eclipsed by the score’s real pièce de résistance, the eight-minute “More Problems”. It starts innocuously enough with some rumbling suspense but it quickly explodes into life with some brassy, truly ballsy action writing with plenty of distinct little sections joined together (often with bursts of the main theme) into an impressively-cohesive whole. At times it’s quite stylistically similar to John Williams’s more modern action style. It’s clearly the dramatic high of the score but there are still a couple more cues left – a brief burst of action in “You Could Use a Jump” and then the predictably rousing finale “This Isn’t Goodbye”.

I think Captain Marvel is an always-solid and sometimes excellent score, with a strong main theme, that makes an entertaining album. It’s hard for a composer to come in and make a really distinctive mark in a series of films as established as this one and Toprak doesn’t really do that – sure, there are touches here which are familiar from her other scores but by and large this is cut from the same cloth as many of the other scores in the series. Given it’s by far the biggest and highest-profile film she’s worked on, it’s understandable if she played it a little bit safe (even if not conscious of doing so) and the results are more than decent. I hope this doesn’t represent scaling the peak for her – and that there are many further peaks ahead.

Rating: *** 1/2

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  1. Anthony Aguilar (Reply) on Wednesday 24 April, 2019 at 02:03

    Like you, I wish the intentionally Kamen-esque guitar riffs could have been more prominent and worked their way into the fabric of the score more than they did. They were inaudible in the film from what I recall. I also wish the electronics could have had a bigger presence. The way much of the film was scored, it’s almost as if a huge and distinct personality was hiding in the score, waiting to burst out, but never did. Still, it was entertaining enough and I love how the first two notes of the main theme literally embody the ‘higher, further, faster’ maxim. The strong aspects do outweigh the negatives, and this score gets a solid 4 stars from me. ‘More Problems’ is cue of the year this far.