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Eternals
  • Composed by Ramin Djawadi

2021’s third Marvel movie, Eternals introduces a whole host of new characters to take part in the endless fight between good and evil. They’ve evidently been biding their time up until now. Interestingly, all three of these movies have been met with somewhat lukewarm receptions – not just from critics (it was ever thus) but seemingly from audiences. While essentially all 850 movies in the series are precisely the same apart from the colours of the costumes, the moving on from most of the original Avengers has perhaps not been as successful as may have been hoped by the money men; it is surely only a matter of time before Robert Downey Jr. is resurrected and we just start again.

Ramin Djawadi had the distinction of scoring the very first film in this series, when Downey donned Iron Man’s costume for the first time. At that time I was rather unimpressed with his efforts – but a lot of time has passed since then and it’s always interesting to look back at scores like that – so often things that go against the grain and seem to miss the point end up sounding just fine when you listen back later, filtered through a decade or more of changes in styles and approaches to the point where something that once sounded like an aberration can now sound quite normal. Anyway, I listened to it again and still thought it was terrible. Djawadi is a different composer now though – a number of big hits behind him, a far greater range and dramatic depth to his writing when he’s on top form.

Ramin Djawadi

Eternals is a fairly surprising score, in its album presentation at least, as it largely eschews the big action material usually found in these things and focuses instead on a surprisingly ethereal – some might say celestial – sound. It’s a big theme that opens things up though – nothing earth-shattering but it’s a dynamic, entertaining anthem for the new heroes – catchy, too. Some will note its simplicity – but that’s often a benefit in a main theme, and that’s the case here.

I think Djawadi’s brand of orchestrated keyboard music works best when it isn’t trying to disguise what it is, and instead embraces it – there’s something a bit prog-rock about the synths in the first score track, “It Is Time” and to me that’s far preferable to just throwing a massive orchestra together to play music that just doesn’t use it as it could. This continues into the fabulous “Mission”, the score’s best track – a heartfelt emotion is present in the melody, heard first for solo piano before guitar and voices join in. There is a hint of that old keyboard “orchestra” setting I remember on my casio in the 1980s as the strings move in unison with the piano, but again – when it’s kept small like this, simplicity can be a real asset – and there’s no doubting the piece’s very strong emotional core.

At times there are superficial echoes of Interstellar – the synthetic organ repeating the opening section of the main theme in “The Domo” will almost inevitably recall aspects of that score – but Djawadi goes off in very different directions with it. One aspect of the score that doesn’t get quite as much air time is the world music style first heard in “Joie de Vivre” – I think the composer handles it with a real deftness of touch and it’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t get more of an opportunity to explore that particular style, really.

In “Celestials” – a piece which more than lives up to its name – first we hear a heavenly wordless female voice over the smallish orchestra before a larger choir joins it, the theme soaring away as it is taken up by the strings – it’s another really strong theme and another notable injection of emotion. The second half of the piece turns more towards action – a relative rarity – and it’s less effective because it’s less emotionally involving. “Life” is another strong piece: a contemplative opening section sees Djawadi exploring a little motif that grows in stature before there is a really soaring sweep as things just get bigger and bigger. It’s not the usual Marvel heroic sound but it’s a very effective heroic sound indeed.

“Proper” action music finally arrives in “Not Worth Saving”, which opens with an angry brassy burst – it’s quite dark stuff, while managing to keep within the score’s distinctive sound world. I like the broad dramatic strokes with which Djawadi paints here – it’s not the usual frantic wall of sound, it’s actually quite refreshing to hear Marvel action done this way. There are grand strokes of a very different kind in the mournful “Remember”, with piano and organ providing notable moments of drama. This leads to another of the score’s very finest moments, “Across the Oceans of Time” – again there is an ethereal sound which I find to be absolutely gripping, the composer’s fine uses of voices a really impressive feature. In the second half of the piece, it actually sounds distinctly liturgical – we could be in a biblical epic. “This Is Your Fight Now” is a solid action track built around the main theme, which actually has a bit of a rock influence at times (but don’t worry, it’s not Iron Man).

If I don’t write as much about the second half of the album, that’s not because it isn’t as good – just that much of it is drawn from the same material. It probably has a slightly darker tone overall – there is tension, always melodic, and even as the music sometimes grows big there is always some calmness around the corner. The finale, “Earth Is Just One Planet”, is a surprisingly downbeat way to close the score (though the album isn’t quite done, with a Bollywood song closing it out – one that will not be remaining on my iPod for very long).

In common with everyone else who has ever used the internet, I have an inexplicable yet innate urge to rank everything. In my ranking of Ramin Djawadi scores I don’t think Eternals quite reaches the top (The Great Wall retains that honour) but it’s close. What I really like is that this is the third Marvel score in a row to do something a bit different and manage to build a distinctive sound world of its own – it’s a really entertaining album of music, managing to find new ways of musically representing the heroism and villainy and long may that continue.

Rating: ****

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  1. Klaas (Reply) on Wednesday 1 December, 2021 at 10:06

    It puzzles me how you rank this score right under ‘The Great Wall’, which was granted 3,5 stars. That seems a strange statement, considering this score got 4 stars?!

    • Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Tuesday 7 December, 2021 at 10:02

      Perhaps James likes that score a bit more now than when he first reviewed it. 🙂

      • James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 7 December, 2021 at 12:48

        I do indeed and also there’s the subconscious drift where a star today is clearly not worth as much as a star a few years ago.

  2. Gandalf the White (Reply) on Tuesday 7 December, 2021 at 13:02

    Maybe James needs to LOOK AT HIMSELF before being so rash. I ask this in Jesus name. Amen.