Mick and Marvel’s Infinity Playlist: A guide to the music of the MCU (Part 1 of 3)

Face front, true believers!

Avengers: Infinity War is now less than a month away, and while I am awaiting the film’s release about as eagerly as anyone possibly can, I can’t help but get the sense that I’m doing so in a slightly different way than most. My thoughts keep coming back to, of all things, one of the least praised, least successful aspects of the MCU: its music.

Quite a few videos can be found on YouTube examining Marvel music’s success — or lack thereof — and while I don’t agree with the conclusions drawn by the video that is largely credited with starting that discussion (Tony Zhou’s “The Marvel Symphonic Universe,” which mostly blames temp tracks 1), I do agree with the theories put forth by several of the rebuttal videos. To paraphrase those videos, they posit that Marvel music is ‘unmemorable’ largely because the viewer is never given a chance to remember it. And that is, sadly, true. The themes featured in the MCU are inconsistent from film to film, and almost completely absent from all marketing.

But the ads for Infinity War finally changed that. Thanks to them (and with more than a little thanks to the place where I work), I now hear the Avengers theme at least a dozen times a day. And being the amateur soundtrack enthusiast that I am, I love that fact. All the Marvel themes should be able to stand up to that kind of use. And Infinity War is as good a place as any to start them along that path.

So, with this article, I’m going to be going through a list. Unlike other fan lists popping up lately, it’s not about what I want to SEE in Infinity War. It’s about what I want to HEAR in Infinity War. And under the guise of that list, we can explore the rich tapestry that is the themes of the MCU, and maybe even learn a little something along the way. (Like… you know… what some of them actually sound like.)

Excelsior!

#1 — THE AVENGERS’ THEME

This is the big one. If you can only hum one Marvel theme, this is that one. And it’s not very hard to see why. Not only is it a great theme on its own merits, it’s downright invasive within the MCU. Written by the great Alan Silvestri, who will be returning to score Infinity War, the theme pops up in multiple key moments of The Avengers. It plays over the title card. It plays over the end credits. And, of course, it plays over this:2

NO ONE walked out of that movie confused about what the Avengers’ theme sounds like, I can promise you that.

The Avengers’ theme reappeared in their first sequel, Age of Ultron, in which Brian Tyler took over scoring duties. It continued to represent the team throughout Phase 3 of the MCU, playing alongside brief excursions to the Avengers’ compound in both Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming. And by 2017, it had become familiar enough that you could take a stripped-down, piano version of the track and play it over a trailer, making it the first and only theme to actually be used in an MCU film’s marketing!

That is what the life cycle of a character or movie theme should look like. It is also entirely distinct from what the life cycle of any other MCU theme looks like.

So we’re in for a fun ride.

WILL WE HEAR IT IN INFINITY WAR?

This is the only theme on the list that I can confidently say will appear in the film. Which, again, says a lot. But yes. It will be in Infinity War. No question.

#2 — THE CAPTAIN AMERICA MARCH

Cap’s march is my favorite theme in the MCU, and probably its second most memorable. (Surprise, surprise, it was also written by Alan Silvestri.) Here again, it’s not difficult to hypothesize that the key is all about repetition — this thing is ALL OVER The First Avenger.

The march reappears, briefly, during a few scenes of The Avengers, and is notable for being the only one of the Phase 1 themes to do so. Perhaps Silvestri has a hang-up about incorporating other composers’ work into his own (in which case, the rest of this list is going to look pretty bleak).

Thankfully, as we saw above, Brian Tyler has no such qualms, and he actually uses the Cap march in TWO different films! The motif is incorporated into his scores for both Age of Ultron, during the truck chase scene3, and Thor: The Dark World, coinciding with Chris Evans’ brief cameo. Henry Jackman also uses it to score the first meeting of Cap and Falcon in The Winter Soldier, though it is conspicuously absent from the rest of that film, as well as the entirety of Civil War.

Winter Soldier’s soundtrack does include another piece of music that is perhaps meant to serve as a new, less ‘aw shucks’ Cap theme for a new, less ‘aw shucks’ Cap movie, but… I don’t like it. It’s not very melodic — more of a three-note motif than anything — and this is my article, so I hereby disqualify it.

Civil War’s soundtrack includes no instances of any Captain America theme that I could pick out. Bucky’s theme — er, metallic shriek — is in there, and there’s a clear repeating motif that is meant to represent… Zemo? But it’s a pretty formless score overall.

WILL WE HEAR IT IN INFINITY WAR?

I’m optimistic. If anyone is going to bring the Cap march back, it would be Silvestri, who wrote it, and it’s familiar enough for its use to pack a punch, but the cold hard truth is that it hasn’t been associated with Cap in the MCU for going on three years now. I do see the potential for it to be re-orchestrated as a more Taps-esque piece, should worse come to worst.

Oh, I made myself sad.

That’s all for Part 1! I have a lot more to say, but I don’t want to hit you nice folks with all of it at once, so come back tomorrow when we Journey Into Mystery! And unfortunately encounter some problems along the way…