- Composed by Tyler Bates
- Hollywood Records / 2014 / 65m
I did wonder if the extraordinary run of success for the Marvel series of films might just end with this one, that the rather obscure Guardians of the Galaxy might be a step too far – a raccoon and a walking, talking tree amongst the gang of reprobates who are saving everyone from everything. But it’s hard such a huge buzz, initial reaction so favourable, that it seems that James Gunn’s movie is going to be yet another cash cow for the studio and their parent, Disney. It will come off the rails one day, surely, but there’s still no sign of that day yet.
After an inauspicious start, it seemed like the Marvel universe had settled into some kind of musical stability and indeed quality with two efforts from Alan Silvestri and two from Brian Tyler both being very entertaining accompaniment to the adventures. That ground to an abrupt halt with Henry Jackman’s excruciatingly bad score for Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier in 2014, surely the worst score ever written for a major blockbuster movie; and I’m not sure too many film music fans were expecting all that much of Guardians of the Galaxy, with Gunn bringing his usual composer Tyler Bates along. Bates’s pedigree isn’t exactly the strongest – he has never shaken off the considerable controversy which surrounded his music for 300, though he has certainly shown signs that he’s capable of writing music that is at least entertaining in the years since then.
The good news is that Guardians isn’t anything at all like The Winter Soldier in style and it’s a step up in terms of quality – it’s back towards the Brian Tyler sound that Bates has travelled, though a little closer to the Remote Control world than Tyler’s approach which takes elements from that but uses the orchestra more prominently (and better). The opening cue “Morag” is not without an element of intrigue with a swirling motif hanging around without particularly going anywhere – you expect it to take off and explode into life at any moment. So when it doesn’t, it’s rather disappointing. Then there’s “The Final Battle Begins” (considering its apparent finality, it seems to begin very early in proceedings) and it seems for a while like it’s more of the same, but eventually Bates does present his main theme, which is suitably heroic and enjoyable (it seems odd to praise a comic book movie score for having a suitably heroic and enjoyable main theme when you’d think such a thing was a given, but this is 2014). Its problem is that it isn’t especially memorable – true, Tyler’s themes for his two Marvel movies so far were a bit on the generic side, but they were done so enthusiastically and were certainly not unmemorable; this one isn’t in that league, nice though it is. (Its best performance by far comes in “The Ballad of the Nova Corps” late on the album, with a certain determined heroism to its arrangement which is appealing.)
After that reasonable opening, sadly things go downhill with a very lengthy period in which very little happens. This is functional music and nothing more – seemingly formless, ideas coming and going to suit the film but not an album – and while it may well do its job in the film, little of the music in the first half of the album after “The Final Battle Begins” seems really worth hearing away from the film. The orchestral sections are handled professionally but don’t stick in the memory at all; the emotional piano rendition of the main theme in “To the Stars” is probably the high point. You can hear the right buttons being pushed, but it’s hard to find a connection with it. The big action track in this sequence, “What a Bunch of A-Holes”, is decent enough, but so generic.
One interesting thing that happens through all this time is the growing sense of disbelief that there’s been no HORN OF DOOM. Yes, the great cliché, the symbol of dying creativity in blockbuster action scores, is nowhere to be found. Just as incredulity grows that Guardians of the Galaxy could succumb to so many other unwelcome modern trends (even the Bourne action ostinato is here in droves) but not the most unwelcome one of all… don’t worry, track twelve, “Sanctuary” arrives and… there she blows! Phew.
Some of the electronics are downright horrible (“The Destroyer”… oh, my ears) but I have to say I do enjoy some of the apparent 80s electronica homages – “The Collector” has a great retro feel to it thanks to the synths and I think it’s just fantastic, the best track on the album. Later, “Sacrifice” might not break any new ground but there’s a nice feel to the track, the keyboards again working really well. “Groot Spores” is even more retro and again is absolutely magical, particularly with the integration of the choir – it’s such a shame Bates wasn’t able to explore that side of things a bit more, because he could have provided a score with real character of its own had he done so. There’s still time for perhaps the most impressive of the action tracks, “Guardians United” – it’s still in that Remote Control vein, but certainly at the higher end of it (and the orchestra sounds like an orchestra).
Guardians of the Galaxy is not without its moments of entertainment and some of them are really very impressive. It’s got a proper main theme and there’s an element of swashbuckling fun to some of the action music; best of all, that wonderful retro feel in a handful of tracks. So it’s not all bad, not by any means. Is it all that good though? Not really. It’s nowhere near the execrable level of a couple of the previous scores for the Marvel universe but it has to be said that neither is it remotely in the same league as the better ones. It is just another generic modern action score, largely personality-free apart from those few individual moments of brilliance I’ve mentioned. You might enjoy a few more moments of it than I did, but I doubt you’ll be able to remember any of it once it’s over, and there are a few too many less-than-enjoyable parts for it to be considered quite at the level of all the other middle-of-the-road scores for this type of film. I don’t think Tyler Bates really deserves the reputation he has, even though I was one of the first to heap criticism on 300 – that criticism wasn’t really about the music, it was about something else, let’s remember. But unfortunately I don’t think Guardians of the Galaxy is really going to help his cause – he’s written more enjoyable scores than this over the last few years and frankly if I want to hear something that sounds like Brian Tyler, I’ll just listen to Brian Tyler, not a well-intentioned but almost entirely generic appropriation of his style, with a few Remote Control clichés thrown in along the way.