This is Part 2 of my MCU aural history-slash-Infinity War soundtrack wishlist. For the first installment, which goes into more detail on numbers 1 and 2 of the list, click here.
#1 — THE AVENGERS’ THEME
#2 — THE CAPTAIN AMERICA MARCH
#3 — ONE OR BOTH OF THOR’S THEMES
So, yeah. This is a good place to demonstrate a problem that comes up in the MCU, and one that I think is THE big problem with the MCU’s music.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that you can’t hum Thor’s theme.
The reason you can’t hum Thor’s theme is not because it’s bad, or bland, or was composed using a temp track. You can’t hum it because he actually has two, and even though Thor has appeared in five different MCU movies, you probably haven’t heard either one of them more than a handful of times in your life.
This is Thor’s first theme, composed by Patrick Doyle:
And this is his second, composed by our old friend Brian Tyler:
To play Devil’s Advocate, I can get behind what’s going on here. I happen to like both themes, but Doyle’s, to me, only captures half of who Thor is. That first track is triumphant, practically joyous. You can score the aftermath of an action scene with it, or maybe the finishing blow, and it’ll work like gangbusters… but you can’t score the action scene itself.
That’s where Tyler’s theme comes in. I choose to see it not as a replacement theme, but as a supplementary one. Because it, too, is nice and bombastic, only this time it has a bit of an edge. There’s just the slightest undercurrent of danger running through this one, or at least adventure. If Doyle’s theme represents Thor as the heir to Asgard, Tyler’s theme represents Thor as the God of Thunder. You need both to make Thor who he really is.
And I’m not the only one who seems to think so, given that both themes have been reprised in the years since The Dark World, one in a more-or-less expected capacity, and the other in a very surprising one.
Tyler’s theme — the God of Thunder theme — can be heard in Age of Ultron, as Thor rescues a woman whose car falls off the edge of Sokovia. Commendable, albeit somewhat boilerplate.
But then. Ohhhh, but then.
Picture this, true believers: There I am, sitting in the theater on the opening night of Thor: Ragnarok. We arrive at the final minute of the film, in which Thor — for the first time in his millenia-spanning life — turns to the people of Asgard and addresses them as their king. And what do I hear?
I hear MARK FRIGGING MOTHERSBAUGH coming in with the save, that’s what!
I was beside myself. It was as if he had hidden a little gift in the score, just for me. 1 He took a theme that was literally seconds away from becoming permanently obsolete, and instead single-handedly rescued Thor’s musical identity from the pits of Muspelheim. This remains the only instance in the entire MCU where a character’s theme has returned following a multi-film absence, and in case you still can’t tell, I find that very exciting.
WILL WE HEAR IT IN INFINITY WAR?
I don’t know. Both themes are (now) recent enough to still be in play, but the very fact that there are two themes means Silvestri may opt out of choosing, if he even considered it in the first place. Gun to my head, I would say they’ll be absent, though if one were to appear, I’m going to give Doyle’s the edge in a shocking upset.
#4 — AN IRON MAN THEME
Yes, I said AN.
We’ve already seen two instances of the systemic problem that Marvel has regarding musical inconsistency. Cap’s theme slowly began to fall out of use, leaving later composers to flirt with the idea of giving him a new one. Thor, meanwhile, flat-out has two themes.
Iron Man has gotten a different goddamn theme for every goddamn movie that he’s been in.
The first Iron Man was scored by Ramin Djawadi 2, who provided Tony with this fun little number, titled “Driving With the Top Down”:
I really like this one. It’s heavy and industrial in a way that suits a character named Iron Man. It’s guitar-based, which reflects Tony’s character (we often hear him listening to classic rock, and especially AC/DC). And the fact that it’s mostly strings means that, looking forward, it could contrast nicely with Cap’s traditional brass fanfare, taking a character conflict and giving it actual, musical form.
Iron Man 2, for no reason that I can understand, threw it out for this:
It’s fine. It’s definitely the most traditional superhero theme anywhere on this list. And it’s not even that bad. But nothing about it says Iron Man to me, and to this day I have trouble remembering how it goes. It barely made a blip in the grand scheme of things.
The Avengers actually does okay, and it does so by sidestepping the issue completely. As I said above, we know that Tony is a fan of AC/DC. The very first time we see him, he’s listening to “Back In Black,” and when he makes his grand entrance at the Stark Expo in IM2, “Shoot to Thrill” is blasting over the speakers. So when it comes time in The Avengers for Tony to make yet another grand entrance, Joss Whedon… just plays “Shoot to Thrill” again. 3 That’s completely valid. A character like Tony can absolutely have a pre-existing song as his theme. You’re sacrificing a bit of versatility, but it does its job. When Black Widow sees that her Quinjet’s PA system is being overridden, and that song starts to play, you smile. It works.
Iron Man 3 gives him this:
Again, it’s fine.
Actually, no, that’s not fair — as ridiculous as it is to give a character three different themes in three solo movies, I do like this one too. (Especially the groovy version I linked there, which plays over the end credits.) Once again coming from Brian Tyler, it features still more brass, and has a melody that’s very easy to confuse with several other themes on this list, but it’s easily one of Tony’s top two themes. I wouldn’t even argue with you if you called it your favorite.
And lo! There’s finally a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, as the IM3 theme is briefly reprised at the very beginning of the Hulkbuster scene in Age of Ultron. 4 Even Civil War, for all the mild flak that I gave it in Part 1, does feature a minimalistic motif that could (generously) be called a derivation of this theme. Could we finally have landed on a keeper?
Spider-Man: Homecoming gives Tony his FOURTH FREAKING THEME.5
This one… this one makes me angry. Because this is Michael Giacchino. Michael Giacchino, who should know better.
If a well-established character is in your movie for a relatively short amount of time, you use a theme that already exists. Even Thor: The Dark World got that right. Instead, Giacchino writes a brand-new piece of music that I have to assume will only be used twice, ever. And it’s prominent in the mix. Both times it plays during the film, there’s no dialogue being spoken, so you’re given an opportunity to really listen to this melody that you’re completely unfamiliar with and have no emotional connection to.
So yeah. Iron Man’s musical identity is, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent.
WILL WE HEAR IT IN INFINITY WAR?
Not a chance. In fact, let’s give him a fifth new theme that will play exactly once, right before he dies, because what incentive is there not to?
That’s all for Part 2! Come back tomorrow for the finale, where a bunch of a-holes will stop by.
And also the Guardians of the Galaxy will be there.