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Zack Snyder’s Justice League
  • Composed by Tom Holkenborg
  • WaterTower / 234m

In the end, the Snyder Cut was released, to great fanfare. While opinions varied on the final product, most agreed it was superior to the version of Justice League that had been released in cinemas four years earlier, and for what it’s worth (i.e. not much) I found it a surprisingly enjoyable experience, and quite refreshing to see one of these comic book movies that’s clearly the result of a director’s vision rather than a corporate vision.

Composer Tom Holkenborg had started work on the movie back in 2017 before he became one of the casualties of all the post-production turmoil and finally got to complete his own vision for Snyder’s version. He worked as an assistant to Hans Zimmer on Man of Steel and got a full co-composer credit on Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – two scores that it’s fair to say divided opinions somewhat – and this score is his continuation / completion of that line of music. It too has proved to be divisive (no surprise) and I have to say I don’t just prefer it to the previous two, I think it’s in a whole new (justice) league – and easily the finest film music of this composer’s career so far (which had been going on an upward trajectory in recent years).

Tom Holkenborg

I’ve often wondered why the big Marvel Avengers movies never really took a multi-thematic approach, with themes for each of the heroes – Alan Silvestri himself said that it was because the scores would have become too messy – but here Holkenborg finally allows us to experience that approach, with themes for Batman, Superman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman alongside one for the villain Steppenwolf and an overarching anthem for the Justice League. It works just fine (though the movie’s rather unhurried approach to its storytelling in comparison with its Marvel counterparts does admittedly give a bit more breathing room for such an approach).

To deal with the elephant in the room first – the album is just a shade under four hours long. There’s a lot more music here than there is even in the film – and regardless of its quality, from a purely practical perspective there can’t be many people with the luxury to sit listening to a four-hour album of any kind very often. I can understand such an epic release as a deluxe edition, but so far it’s the only release of the music, so most people will need to create their own playlist from it. I’ve created mine, which lasts just over an hour, and will comment on that within this review so you can reproduce it if you so choose (noting that several tracks are moved around, and several of the ones I’ve chosen appear to be suites created especially for the album).

The score’s centrepiece is “The Crew at Warpower”, which is an extended take on the main theme. Like many tracks, it follows a fairly simple formula – a relatively calm introduction, a straightforward melody introduced (often for horns), the rhythm of that melody then taken up by a mass of percussion before all the musical forces at work here (which do include a London orchestra as well as all the synths and samples) take it up. In this case it’s the great central anthem theme, which has far more in common with 1990s Media Ventures music than it does with previous themes in the Snyderverse and frankly is all the better for that – it’s powerful, it’s big, it’s very satisfying.

Holkenborg wrote a theme for Batman in his previous movie – it was as simple as simple gets and didn’t leave much impression so he wrote a new one for him here, heard in extended form in “Batman, a Duty to Fight / To See”. While it still doesn’t quite manage to stick around in the memory, it’s suitably darkly heroic and contains one part (with organ) where the composer gets surprisingly close to the kind of epic gothic feel provided to the character in the Danny Elfman and Elliot Goldenthal scores for one of his previous incarnations.

The Wonder Woman theme written by Zimmer has become quite well-known now and is a clever little device that’s all muscular and heroic – there’s none of the more joyful major key reworked version of it as heard in her last solo movie, Holkenborg instead taking the electric cello version and adding his own powerful synthetic coda to it. One of this movie’s more distinctive (and controversial) musical features is the return of the once-ubiquitous film music device the wailing woman, with an alternative motif for the character being performed in that guise almost every time she does anything notable on screen. All of this is nicely summed up in the suite “Wonder Woman, a Call to Stand / A World Awakened”.

Cyborg is a new team-member in this film and Holkenborg creates one of his more interesting themes for him, heard in full in “Cyborg Becoming / Human All Too Human”. It’s got a strained emotional arc running through it, electronics ticking away throughout but the character’s human side enforced with the orchestra being allowed to sound much more natural than it does through much of the score. When the choir reaches its largest proportions in the middle of the very long track, it imparts a tragic feeling that works really very well.

I liked only one thing about the score for Man of Steel – and that one thing, I liked a lot, which was the theme only really revealed at the end of the score. Superman’s story is central to this movie and Holkenborg uses that Zimmer theme a lot more than it has been used previously – “Superman Rising, Pt. 1 / A Book of Hours” features an extended variant on it, quite soft and tender.

The score has no shortage of gigantic action material and “And the Lion-Earth Did Roar”, split over two tracks and totalling eleven minutes, is terrific. It opens with an electric guitar riff over somewhat industrial synths and percussion which gradually gets larger and larger before we hear some grand, villainous material (possibly Steppenwolf’s theme – I have no doubt someone will point out if this is not the case) combined with the Batman theme and, much later, the wailing woman. I think Holkenborg does a pretty admirable job in these tracks of crafting a rock/orchestral action hybrid and it reaches genuinely vast proportions as it reaches its conclusion.

Perhaps the Superman theme variant in “Superman Rising, Pt. 2 / Immovable” is a bit too cheesily melodramatic for some, but I love it – this is the side of this style of music I enjoy, when it has joy at its heart (as this piece does). The barrage of percussion adds to the feeling that it could be the music for a deodorant commercial featuring lots of beautiful people doing very energetic things without sweating.

The pick of the many action tracks is “At the Speed of Force”, whose name alone tells you most of what you need to know. It isn’t just big, it is Big. Guitar, horns and trombones, strings, all the keyboards you can think of – they come together in an onslaught of noise, an onslaught with melody at its core which makes it effective and very satisfying.

“Your Own House Turned to Ashes” starts with some piano crashes, a dark and twisted variant on the Superman theme, and I took a while before I finally worked out what it reminded me of – which is ABBA’s “Chiquitita” – but as soon as thoughts of Benny and Bjorn turn to Agnetha and Frida, they drift away again as the music takes on a much bleaker field with throbbing pulses painting a grim picture before the horns and choir rise again, accompanied now by very forcefully-played violins swirling around. It’s all good.

The second lengthy suite devoted to Batman (which oddly appear as consecutive tracks on the released album despite being very similar to each other and very long) is “Batman, an Invocation to Heal / To See” which is perhaps slightly darker than the earlier one but is essentially another long musical journey departing from the same melody. My own playlist ends with “The Foundation Theme” which is a much shorter, pure version of the score’s main theme from “The Crew at Warpower” and brings it to an end in epic, rousing fashion.

There are several other decent pieces on the album too which didn’t make my own playlist – “We Do This Together” might be a bit grim for some people but it’s a stirring piece; “Flash, the Space to Win / Our Legacy is Now” closes the score on the album and is almost as long (and perhaps it could even be an alternate version of that previously-mentioned cue) and while there doesn’t seem to actually be a theme for Flash, it’s also good. I’m sure anyone who manages to find the time to listen to the album will find their own favourites that I haven’t mentioned.

I think Tom Holkenborg has been putting out decent music for the last couple of years – there seems to be a keener dramatic sense than in his earlier scores, and certainly a more accomplished musical palette. This score tops the lot – it isn’t for orchestral purists, it isn’t like the comic book scores of yesteryear, but it’s an ambitious work that’s well-realised which (much like the film itself) has exceeded all my expectations.

Rating: ****

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  1. Benjamin (Reply) on Sunday 9 May, 2021 at 03:32

    HEEEEEEE’S BAAAAACK!!!!

  2. Drax (Reply) on Sunday 9 May, 2021 at 06:43

    This is because Hans yelled at you, huh.

  3. Peter (Reply) on Sunday 9 May, 2021 at 07:42

    Yes! Welcome back James!

    I liked the score too, I listen to it at work, mostly because I like the atmosphere. I don’t think the score is perfect, but I think it shows Holkenborg has come a long way since his early scores. I actually think it’s quite impressive how well-rounded the score ísť considering its crazy length.

    Favorite cues – World ending fire, Cyborg becoming/Human all too human, At the speed of force and others I can’t remember off the top of my head.

  4. Marco Ludema (Reply) on Monday 10 May, 2021 at 16:37

    Good to see you’re back, James. I kinda anticipated this score would be reviewed upon your return, but I am both surprised and very pleased you enjoyed it.

    By the by, Your Own House Turned To Ashes actually reprises the Lex Luthor theme from BvS. Don’t know if you missed it or forgot the theme, but there you go.

  5. Trey (Reply) on Monday 10 May, 2021 at 23:54

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. Holkenborg, much like Snyder, is pretty hit or miss with me. They both have a strong flavor that is often overwhelming, but sometimes not in a good way. But both of them, when given the chance to really spread their wings with this film, put out a version of their style that is somehow both unfiltered and refined. It made me go, “Oh, so THAT’S what they’ve been going for the whole time!” Holkenborg’s rock-synth-orchestral bombast plays well with the larger than life characters on screen, he builds well on what came before, and he finally gave Batman a theme I quite like. It’s a symphony in excess, but it works. (And agreed, Superman Rising Pt. 2 is the perfect kind of cheesy for the moment in the film.)

  6. Rob (Reply) on Saturday 15 May, 2021 at 04:25

    Now I say to anyone who endured the Snyder Cut. You have no excuses now to not review Lord of the Rings Extended(Complete Recordings).

    • Tom de Ruiter (Reply) on Sunday 6 June, 2021 at 19:48

      I like this comment. And it’s a shame there are no reviews for the 3 Complete Recordings!!!