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The Batman
  • Composed by Michael Giacchino

Four notes. Relentless. Aggressive. Dah-dah-dah-DAAAHHH. (Apologies to less technically-inclined musicians for introducing such complex notation so early on.) Sometimes keyboards. Sometimes growling brass. Sometimes just the timpani. But always: four notes. The four stages of a bat: birth, early life, later life, death. One note for each. The first three – up in the air. The last one – down on the ground. No other animal is like that. Some others could sustain four notes. None could sustain these four notes. Everywhere you go: four notes. Turn left: four notes. Turn right: four notes. Dah-dah-dah-DAAHHH. Four notes.

Martin Scorsese may not like it, but we are in an age where big cinema releases are dominated by comic book movies. It’s been that way for a while. It wasn’t always that way. The music from them can be split into three eras. The first era lasted from 1978 to 1988. That was the era of John Williams. There was actually only one comic book score in it, but it was a big enough one to sustain a whole era: Superman. Bright, colourful – comic. Heroism, romance, thrills and spills. While in quality it may remain the benchmark for all these things, nobody else would ever write a comic book movie score like that again (and nobody ever will). Because in 1989 the second age began and Danny Elfman defined a new generation’s comic book movie sound, with Batman, when his cinematic adventures commenced for the first time.

Michael Giacchino

That second age of comic book movie scores was a bit different. It lasted longer, but it did have a lot more movies in it. Something they had in common: big themes for the heroes. Each one tailored to the character, impossible to imagine on a different comic book hero. Darkness, yes – but lots of bright colours too. All the other Elfman scores – and things like The Shadow, The Phantom – you only needed to listen to a few seconds of any of them – these were comic book movie scores. They couldn’t be anything else.

The third era has two strands. It began in 2005, as did Batman (again). This time it was different. Hans Zimmer may have had another A-list composer alongside him in the credits, but there’s no doubting who was responsible for what people remember as being the sound. And that sound was dark. It wasn’t like other comic book scores. It was like gritty action/thriller scores. There was no heroic theme. There was no particular theme of any kind, actually. It was there for grit, for atmosphere, for realism – because the one thing you absolutely expect of a film about a grown man who dresses up as a bat in order to fight crime is realism.

More followed. And followed and followed. Largely interchangeable, not just with each other but with any other thriller. Themes not needed any more – they are so 1989 after all – absolutely not what the kids want. But OK, even if you take that as a given (and we must, since there is no choice) – but not just no themes – no identities. Nothing individual. Nothing specific for any of these colourful characters – just greyscale.

A branch emerged within this third age though. Largely in the Marvel movies – we did start getting some themes again. But it was as if they were carefully designed to avoid being individual. The themes – the scores – they’re still largely interchangeable, even as some brightness and colour began to re-emerge. Texture, really, did not. None of those themes seemed to really stick with the public. Characters would emerge in all the sequels and have new themes. Most people probably couldn’t tell the difference. There are exceptions – Michael Giacchino managed to give Doctor Strange a distinctive sound, and a theme that did stick. Lorne Balfe did it not long ago for Black Widow. Two scores with a distinctive identity, uniquely crafted for their films. Nothing interchangeable going on there. There are others, too, ably trying to do something different.

And so we come to The Batman. He begins again. Apparently we don’t have to sit through his origin story again. Thank god for that. Into Giacchino’s hands, his musical legacy has been placed. Giacchino burst onto the scene with those brilliant video game scores, a quarter of a century ago. Hailed as the obvious “new John Williams” (words that probably made him proud, and possibly made him shudder at the same time). When he worked more in tv and then film, it became evident that he was not the new John Williams at all – he was Michael Giacchino instead. His stock rose, he joined a load of big franchises. He kept sounding like Michael Giacchino. His music for these big franchise movies is usually big. It’s usually bright, colourful. It’s usually got a big theme or two in it. He usually offers a tip of a hat to what’s gone before in the franchise.

But this is a big, tentpole comic book movie. We’re in the third age of the comic book score. People don’t want bright and colourful. How would Michael Giacchino – one of the most distinctive film composers of his generation, one who seems to build lasting, extremely strong relationships with most of the directors he works with while managing to stamp his own personality over the music for their movies, something a lot of modern filmmakers (and perhaps more pertinently, studio executives) seem to hate – how on earth would he manage to write music sticking within the boundaries of the third age of the comic book score at the same time as doing what he does so well?

Four notes.

Think of the really good Giacchino themes. Doctor Strange’s; Spider-man’s. Any of them, really. Long-lined, sometimes somewhat formal and rigid, other times fluid. But long-lined. Often harmonically complex. Usually a phrase or two that doesn’t go the way you think it will, providing a bit of an edge. You can do those things in the Marvel branch of the third age. But Batman ain’t on that branch. He’s the character that defined this age, musically. So what does he do – try to start a fourth age?

Or maybe – look at that third age and think – OK, I’ll take what’s good – the grit, the darkness – the simplicity of message. But I’ll be damned if this thing is going to be interchangeable with anything. I’ll damn well show you that even within these confines, you can have a score that can sit alongside the top ones from the previous ages. (To avoid confusion – as far as I know those are not words he actually spoke. It’s almost entirely certain that it’s just a load of bullshit I’ve made up to serve my fanboy wish fulfilment. Who cares?)

Four notes.

Over and over. That’s the musical identity. I sat in the cinema recently and the half-hour of adverts before the trailers started were mostly Batman-related. All of them had those four notes. Forget anything else that happened that day, everyone in that cinema went home humming those four notes, and we weren’t even there to see The Batman. And they’re all over this score. Batman’s got an actual identity again from the music. Simple, maybe. But this is the third age. This album lasts for two hours. You’d need a whole colony of centipedes to stand any chance of using fingers to count how many times they appear. It’s relentless. But they’re not just stated, restated. It’s unbelievable how much he does with them. Sorrow – four notes. Fight – four notes. Triumph – four notes. Anything at all – four notes.

There is a longer-lined theme for Batman. It doesn’t get used that much. It’s a supporting act. You probably won’t remember it – even though it’s good. All you’ll remember are the four notes.

There’s a theme for the Riddler, too. It swirls around – hey, like a riddle! – often there’s a wordless female vocal. Yes, we’ve heard that before. Yes, a lot of times. Yes, I still think it’s effective.

There’s a theme for Catwoman. It’s John Barry. Absolutely, it is John Barry. It’s Michael Giacchino, too. Pushing towards sultry, pushing towards light jazz. Beautifully slight. Perfectly judged. If the score had nothing else in it, it would be worth it for the Catwoman theme. I love it.

Those three themes all get their own suite at the end of the album. The Penguin’s in the movie too. Maybe one of the other melodies in the score was written for him. I don’t know. It isn’t out yet. He doesn’t get a suite. But after those three suites we get “Sonata in Darkness”. It’s twelve minutes long. It’s for piano. (It’s a sonata, so it’s only piano.) I assume it’s just for the album (though with Giacchino you can never quite be sure). It goes through all the score’s themes. Four notes – there at the start – there in the middle – there at the end. It flows from one thematic construct to another – always going via the four notes. It’s brilliant. Astonishingly brilliant.

This is a film score written in the age of Zimmer. The third age. I mentioned tips of the hat earlier. The one to Zimmer comes in “Escaped Crusader” – a brief onslaught of an action ostinato that will be familiar. But somehow, Giacchino has written a score for the age that doesn’t just pile relentless misery on top of misery. These things are supposed to be escapist, supposed to be fun. I’m getting distracted: there are other tips of the hat to mention. The screaming, complex, orchestrated-to-the-hilt “Highway to the Anger Zone” – hey, I remember when Elliot Goldenthal used to write music like that. The gothic brilliance of “A Bat in the Rafters” – that one’s going all the way back to the score that started the second age. When Elfman was Batman. The churchbells at the end – I’ve heard them somewhere before in a Batman score. Here – guess what they’re playing. Four notes.

Highlights abound. The incredible little textures in “Riddles, Riddles Everywhere”. The Catwoman theme shines whenever it appears, never more so than in “Meow and You and Everyone we Know”. The emotionally-devastating melancholy of “For All Your Pennyworth”. All three main themes come in “Hoarding School” – it’s a brooding, moody piece, one that’s constructed so well. I’ve already mentioned “A Bat in the Rafters” but I’ll mention it again. Actually, it’s in two parts. It lasts eleven minutes. Ferocious, colourful action music. Quite brilliant.

Most of all – four notes. As simple as that. Giacchino comes up with a new musical identity for the most enduring comic book character of them all. Has he ever written anything better? Well, everyone has his or her own preferences. I don’t think he has. He’s come up with a comic book movie score that leaves all others in this third age trailing in its wake. This character gets rebooted so many times, who knows whether the next time we see him it’ll be the same actor, same director, same composer. Let’s hope it is. Matt Reeves gets something special from Michael Giacchino every time. This is the most special of all.

Rating: *****

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  1. Victor Field (Reply) on Sunday 27 February, 2022 at 17:54

    It sounds like you liked it.

  2. Nathan (Reply) on Sunday 27 February, 2022 at 18:08

    Sorry if you mentioned it and I missed it, but: how many notes is the central idea of this score built around?

  3. Mike (Reply) on Sunday 27 February, 2022 at 19:26

    Four notes can be important.

    Horner used exactly that his entire career!

  4. Tom de Ruiter (Reply) on Sunday 27 February, 2022 at 20:11

    James, this is one of the best reviews you have ever written.
    The way this review has been written, with a sort of history lesson I liked very much, I could just feel the excitement. The way you describe the score, is the I fel when I heard it for the first time.
    Giacchino has done something brilliant with indeed ‘four notes’.

    Thanks for this review. It made the music even better then I already though it was!!!

  5. […] Southall le da 5 estrellas a The Batman http://www.movie-wave.net/the-batman/ Eso si, que MANIA con decir que el ostinato implica a Zimmer, es un recurso, no es exclusivo del […]

  6. MPC (Reply) on Monday 28 February, 2022 at 03:03

    A glowing review for Giacchino’s THE BATMAN score, but no review incoming for his SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME score three months ago?

  7. Jack Zhu (Reply) on Monday 28 February, 2022 at 08:17

    I can’t wait to hear what Jon Broxton and Christian Clemmensen have to say about this.

    As a lifelong Batman fan who has read more than a few hundred of his comics and stories I feel like the music captures so much of what I love about Batman, the mystique, the darkness, the operatic nature of the character is all captured in the music.

    The interesting textures used actually remind me not only of John Barry and Elfman but also Nick Arundel’s Catwoman theme from Arkham City, especially in how the theme itself is built and some of the screeching textures that underpin it.

    The Riddler theme itself is very fitting for this iteration of the character though it’s not the same character I grew up with, it’ll be very interesting how they spin it for this movie. As you put it it kind of winds and curves like a riddle does and reminds me of something the late Shirley Walker would have come up with in fact it’s like twisted version of Mr Freeze’s Jingle from Batman the Animated Series or a Elfman Lullaby gone awry.

    The Batman theme itself was something I had the most problems with in the beginning, however after hearing the full score the way Giacchino uses it to convey every mood and aspect of Batman in 4 notes as you say is great. The fact that it’s based off the four bass notes of Chopin’s funeral march I think is very fitting for the character and how it’s used throughout the score is genius.

    One standout cue for me in the score was “Escaped Crusader” the bass synth textures over layed with low strings and brass used were very reminiscent of Zimmer’s work in the DK Trilogy but moreso Christopher Drake’s score for the game Arkham Origins where he uses similar synth effects as Zimmer in a ostinato pattern to convey tension.

    Overall the score itself reminded me of all the Batman composers that came before, but has it’s own distinct identity which is what I was hoping for. It’s a solid score with just the right amount of atmosphere and tension for Batman.

  8. Marco Ludema (Reply) on Monday 28 February, 2022 at 11:15

    Probably gonna wait until the CD comes out, and I’ve seen the movie, to purchase this one. I do like what I’m hearing so far, though.

  9. ghostof82 (Reply) on Monday 28 February, 2022 at 22:07

    I don ‘t get it. Bat-Maaaan…. thats two notes. TWO. How does he stretch it to four? BA-AT MA-AAAN….?

    • Nathan (Reply) on Monday 28 February, 2022 at 23:28

      Why should the notes correspond to the character’s name? This isn’t a sophisticated score like RoboCop II, after all. . ,

    • Gabriel Bezerra (Reply) on Wednesday 2 March, 2022 at 18:14

      I’m-The-Bat-Man

  10. Jakob Stegelmann (Reply) on Wednesday 2 March, 2022 at 07:26

    Great review. Sonata of Darkness is actually the end credits music. It is fantastic.

  11. Bernd-Helmut Heine (Reply) on Thursday 3 March, 2022 at 20:14

    I can´t wait to actually see the movie and listen to the score in context…

  12. Solaris (Reply) on Friday 4 March, 2022 at 10:01

    Huh, reading the review I wondered for a while where you are going with this. Until near the end I was convinced that you’re being *very* sarcastic and that you’ll going to give this a one- or (at most) two-star rating. I mean, considering the way the review was written and structured around mentions that Giacchino uses a four note theme for everything (and considering your stance on Long Albums), I might be forgiven to assume anything but a five star rating. Not that I’m against this outcome or anything… I am just a bit surprised. 😀

  13. madbone (Reply) on Friday 4 March, 2022 at 20:31

    The way this review is structured makes it sound like you were put in a coma by this music and woke up enlightened.

  14. Josh Bizeau (Reply) on Friday 4 March, 2022 at 20:38

    It’s a fine score, I suppose, but it’s no masterpiece by a long shot. Giacchino’s scores for Reeves’ other films are arguably superior. What he wrote for much of this particular take on Batman feels like a pastiche of every other score for the Bat prior– a little wink here, a little nod there, all wrapped up in a few competent themes that aren’t really as memorable as I would have hoped and some genuinely exciting action moments that can be rather Goldenthal-esque, as you mentioned. That certainly makes me happy. But, for a Giacchino score, this doesn’t even break the Top 10.

    It’s probably the best thing we’re going to get our of a “modern Hollywood” film score this year being that it’s Giacchino but all it does is remind me of how much MORE film scores used to be: More thoughtful, more thematic, more captivating, more indelible, more unique and exceptional to their composer. So much of what comes out of Hollywood now is paint-by-numbers at best or something like Zimmer’s Dune: An aural wallpaper cacophony of unremitting shit which is not memorable except in the worst way overall. The only way we’ll get a rebirth of a classical scoring mentality is to burn the modern Hollywood model to the ground and build up other studios or studio systems whose executives actually give a shit once again about what proper scoring for film can do to elevate the material.

    Good on Giacchino for providing a decent score when I’m sure someone at the studio would have preferred something much more industrial, bland and lowest common denominator. But, seriously, fuck Hollywood. I’m over it. For good.

  15. ANASTASIOS 99 (Reply) on Sunday 6 March, 2022 at 14:04

    Hi, everybody. My Music work for the Batman 2022. This Music Video is Dedicated to the new movie, The Batman 2022, which is currently being played in cinemas. I wrote this music symphonic work for the new Batman 2022. I hope you enter my own music world that I made for the new Batman 2022. I wrote a new music theme for Batman, without copying any composer, i mean, with my own music style – music mind. It is divided into three sections. The first theme is my own official Batman Theme in the lower strings of music, representing Batman as a dark warrior. The second Batman theme represents the bravery, the honesty, the element of justice that Batman has, since he aims to save the citizens of his city, from the evil criminals in the project. I call it, the heroic actions of Batman. My focus as a Greek composer is the emotional, human part of every music work. So I made a music theme, about the human role of Batman, his actions in saving the people around him. He is a man who enforces justice. Also, a third music Batman theme is underground, and represents the underground side of Batman, has chosen to live his life as a human – bat, is in the dark, has lost his parents, by criminals. It has a dual nature, and represents the strange nature of Batman. Also, the fate he chose. I have written music parts, music motifs, and the rest of the characters in the play. A small march, due to his height, with dangerous music lines, representing the Penguin, who in the work, looks more serius, so I wrote serious music. Also, strings, mixed, without music theme, representing the Riddler, who looks scary in the new work. He is behind a mask, of unknown identity, no one knows who he is, and he is a Riddler, as he is called. So music, it represents these elements, it has no central musical theme, it has strings that represent the mystery, the indefinite of its mind, his mind is like its him music part, it does not have a specific rhythm, they are strings that you do not know how they will evolve.. Also, a new music theme, about the relationship and interest between Batman and Catwoman. I wish through my music, with the music, I have, to give a new music soul to Batman. A more human musician theme that elevates the human spirit of Batman. I have the beginning as a Greek to focus more on the Virtues of the characters of a work. Even in a Batman movies. I wrote the Batman Theme for Tim Burton in the last second in the music video, for fun. I not copying anyone composer, i write alone. I hope I did not stun you. It is the kind of music cinema that many do not know, so it takes an analysis of what the listener, viewer, listens to at any given time. Because music cinema is not very well known in Greece. It’s the most exciting species for me. I mean, like, I’ve not seen the work yet, because I like to think freely before I write music. Music is a dream come true and relaxation for me, especially this kind music for movies. Soundtracks fan made. I’ m self thought composer, without any music schools, music studies. I write music without any music programms. I write with my harmonium, with my hands, my music mind and my music soul. If you want review my music work. Thank you very much. sorry for my english. I haven’t listen yet, the original soundtrack, sorry. Anastasios 99.
    https://youtu.be/QKHm4bxaoxg.

  16. […] […]

  17. Peter (Reply) on Monday 7 March, 2022 at 04:54

    Listening to the soundtrack right now. Pure magic. Agree that this is so far Giacchino’s best work. Maybe helped by the fact he was in no rush and had time to work-out all the details and kinks.

    In the theater, I was moved at times due to how perfect the music was along with the visual storytelling, mostly in character moments.

    For me, this is a perfect score, atmospheric, layered, great themes, but it’s not blasting through the headphones or my ears as many modern scores do.

    Exceptional work from Giacchino.

    For me, the movie overall as a whole is big surprise, I think the filmmakers delivered big time and found a new take on the Batman universe that’s interesting. Pattinson definitely has the best Batman voice, Zoe Kravitz is IMO the best on-screen Catwoman, Dano was great as the Riddler, despite the three-hour runtime, the movie just worked and was interesting. Great job by all involved.

  18. Rory (Reply) on Tuesday 15 March, 2022 at 21:21

    I have to agree with Tom, James– this is already one of my favorite reviews you’ve ever done. Wonderfully written, and a perfect complement to your Man of Steel rebuttal from a few years ago.

    The score itself is sure an interesting beast. Initially I really didn’t care for the singles save “Catwoman,” but listening to how the themes are utilized in the film and the brilliant “Sonata in Darkness” have brought me around on them quite a bit. In a weird way, it reminds me of a better-developed version of Howard Shore’s “Se7en” or a Steve Jablonsky score in how it uses repetition of such simple themes to such effect. Maybe the album could use a trim and it doesn’t reach the highest highs of “War for The Planet of The Apes” for me, but I did think it was more consistent overall and head and shoulders above his Spiderman scores.

    I thought the extended Bruce Wayne theme was critical to the success of the Batman theme– those four notes are an incomplete, “damaged” quotation of the Wayne theme’s opening, which fits perfectly with this interpretation of the character. Maybe he’ll graduate to five or six notes in future sequels?

    P.S.– Likely you already know, but The Thin Red Line and The Iron Giant are back in print with expanded releases! I think your review of the latter holds up splendidly, but I know I’d never say no to hearing you revisit either one.

  19. Will Larsen (Reply) on Sunday 20 March, 2022 at 05:05

    In 2022, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror is 100

    In celebration of the centenary of F.W. Murnau’s gothic masterpiece, Rasa Daukus and Will Larsen, as contemporary classical duo Tess Said So, are releasing a new, fully orchestrated version of their award-winning live film score.

    Reimagined in the unique format of a double concerto for piano, percussion, prepared electronics and symphony orchestra, the complete film-length album includes 27 individual tracks synchronised to 27 chronological film cues.

    On 15 March 2022, the 100th anniversary of the cinema premiere at Berlin’s Primus-Palast, Tess Said So digitally released the first track,
    Nosferatu Cue 1: Opening Titles – Nosferatu’s Theme.

    View Cue 1 here: https://youtu.be/qQxJmVb6VBw

    Over the following 26 weeks, each subsequent track will be released every Friday.

    The complete album, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror Reimagined by Tess Said So, will be released on 30 September 2022.

    Please get in touch if you’d like to chat. We’d love to hear from you.

    Tess Said So

  20. John Stephen Walsh (Reply) on Sunday 20 March, 2022 at 07:08

    Had zero expectations for this, as I do for all contemporary scores, and almost immediately said, “Holy cats, this is music!”

  21. Tim (Reply) on Wednesday 23 March, 2022 at 02:44

    Uhhh… what about the 1960’s “NaNa NaNa NaNa NaNa NaNa NaNa NaNa NaNa BAT-MAAAAAAN!!!”?

  22. Rich Sims (Reply) on Thursday 24 March, 2022 at 16:16

    Giacchino works wonders with themes and motifs. He weaved a 4 Note theme throughout “Super 8” remarkedly well. The Batman is exceedingly dark & gloomy.

    • Rich Sims (Reply) on Thursday 24 March, 2022 at 16:19

      Giacchino works wonders with themes and motifs. He weaved a 4 Note theme throughout “Super 8” remarkedly well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzP9-HEC6nY
      The Batman is exceedingly dark & gloomy.