It's often said that comparison is unfair and that a work should be able to be judged on its own, away from preconceptions and any thoughts of what has come before. But does that become invalid when the work in question is a sequel or part of a larger connective piece? Take Henry Jackman's score to THE WINTER SOLDIER, the latest Marvel Studios explod-o-rama and the newest CAPTAIN AMERICA adventure.
One of the issues surrounding this new score is the previous Cap picture, 2011's THE FIRST AVENGER. An old-fashioned period romp with a sly sense of humour and a big sense of fun, one of its biggest assets was a score by Hollywood mainstay Alan Silvestri, and notably the Captain America March. A bold and brassy theme for an iconic hero, the theme was lauded from all corners. So you can imagine that when WINTER SOLDIER was announced, the first words to come out of film music fans' mouths was "Are they going to use the theme?"
Things were muddied further by THE AVENGERS, which - perhaps as a result of Silvestri also scoring the film - featured the theme, as well as Brian Tyler's score for THOR: THE DARK WORLD, which had a cameo of the theme for a funny scene involving Loki. And while Jackman's score for the film does have at least one snippet of Silvestri's theme in its opening, it's nowhere to be found on the album. This would not be an issue if, well, there was another theme in its place. That's not to say there isn't any thematic material present - there certainly is, but there's no central piece for the hero to stand up to, no fanfare for the audience to get behind.
There's no Captain America theme. No real one.
I'm very much of the opinion that this is a massive mis-calculation by the people that call the shots, whether it's Marvel themselves or the directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, or even Henry Jackman himself. The thing is, Captain America is Marvel's equivalent to Superman. Bright primary colours reflecting the flag and the country he protects, a bold symbol, a boy scout to the point that Steve Rogers and Clark Kent could have a nice-off that would make Tom Hiddleston look like Charles Manson. Both represent hope, men who have been given extraordiinary talents and have chosen to use them to benefit mankind.
So imagine Superman without a theme. Even Hans Zimmer thought better than go down that route, even if what he gave him wasn't amazing. Now I know in WINTER SOLDIER there seems to be a whole deal about the lines being blurred, where our world is grey when it used to be black and white. What I'm trying to say is, that even when the heroes are villains and we're not sure who to trust, heroes like Cap represent a ray of light to break the cloud and stand up for what's right. And they sure as hell need a stirring theme behind them.
I'll mention now that I haven't seen the film, so I am only working on my interpretation of the score plus what I've read on the web and seen through clips etc. I can only comment on the music on the album. But what's on the album just doesn't work. It's funny, because it all seems to build a lot towards where you'd expect it to start kicking into thematic material, but it doesn't, and just kind of peters out. The setpiece cues are pretty standard for modern action scores - as usual it feels like someone temped it with THE DARK KNIGHT - and while some of it sounds okay, it just blurs into nothing after a while. There are a ton of electronics used, which is not a bad thing in itself, especially as it's potentially relevant with S.H.I.E.L.D. and all their technology, but it's not used particularly creatively.
In terms of themes, there are a couple of motifs that return, with interestingly enough what seems to be the Winter Soldier's theme being more identifiable than any Captain America theme. It has a strange electronic whine that sounds like a human voice being tortured into a synthetic scream - a pretty good idea to be honest, although hard to listen to on album. There's also a wistful and nostalgic Americana theme which seems to hark back to Steve Rogers' earlier times, and this is the one point where the album held me. It's a shame because I like Jackman, and he's composed music in the past which has really made an impact.
I don't want to assign any blame because I don't know the real story, and I also know that while he's scored some huge films, he's still not one of the top-tier like a Silvestri so I don't know how much clout he has (and there have been tales he's been through this before on X-MEN: FIRST CLASS). And as I said before, I haven't seen the film so it could work there. But CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is a massive missed opportunity. Generic, dull, predictable, and paper-thin musical characterisation for one of the most iconic superheroes in history, making Hans Zimmer's MAN OF STEEL look like John Williams' SUPERMAN. Sure, comparison isn't always fair, but it's hard not to look back when someone has done it so much better previously.
In related news, does anyone know if Amazon gives refunds on mp3 purchases?
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is available now in digital form from Hollywood Records. A CD release is forthcoming from Intrada.