The DC Extended Universe is one of the most divisive movie series in recent memory; for every person who seems to hate the franchise a little bit more with each release, there’s a flag-waving fan ready to defend them. This has led to some questions about the franchise’s long-term viability, although the box office numbers speak for themselves in that regard.
One area people do seem to agree on is their ability to make memorable music choices. Modern Hollywood (especially rivals Marvel) is dogged by criticism of bland scores (which may have something to do with directors’ over-reliance on temp music), but across the three movies the DCEU has made an impact. Man of Steel‘s signature theme couldn’t match Williams’ Superman, but it comes close. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s electric Wonder Woman intro stands out and, love it or loathe it, there’s no denying the choice of pop songs was defining in Suicide Squad.
Back in February, when the score for Batman v Superman was released, DCEU fans pointed out on Twitter that they thought Lex Luthor’s theme, “The Red Capes Are Coming,” was actually a backwards perversion of the main Man of Steel theme. It was curious then, but now there seems to be proof: Junkie XL, who worked with Hans Zimmer on the score, has retweeted the theory, showing at the very least he approves. Take a listen of the evidence for yourself:
Lex Luthor is traditionally Superman’s arch-nemesis, a self-professed perfect human affronted by the arrival of an alien god, and having his nefarious, unsettling theme be a direct reversal of Kal-El’s message of hope works as an excellent cue to that. Of course, the film expands Lex’s character to more modern comic book standards, placing him as a more far-reaching villain (he seems as concerned with Batman as Supes), but music choices like this ground him. It’s a small touch, but a welcome one.
Meddling with and reusing note arrangements to subtly convey ideas is something a lot of great composers have done over the years: John Williams’ closing music for The Phantom Menace, “Augie’s Great Municipal Band” was in fact an upbeat version of Return of the Jedi‘s “Emperor’s Theme”, an elegant way to hint at the darkness lurking just under the surface; for Inception, Hans Zimmer (him again) slowed down wake-up song “Non, Je ne regrette rien” to create the film’s iconic boom. Examples like those and Batman v Superman go to show how important music is not just in establishing mood, but in actually telling the story.