A key part of any blockbuster movie is the musical score, which is typically composed of classical tunes that set the mood for a particular scene. The likes of John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and countless others have demonstrated how music can effectively be used, invoking an emotional response out of the audience. If everything falls into place, a certain theme from a film will become so iconic and recognizable, that it will stick with moviegoers long after the credits roll and they’ll find themselves humming the notes while working.
It goes without saying that not every tentpole can boast something as memorable as the main Star Wars theme, but a majority of the biggest franchises in all of Hollywood have at least one song that’s broken into the zeitgeist. However, there is the odd one that doesn’t, and over time it’s become apparent that the Marvel Cinematic Universe fits into that category. Despite having 13 films to its name and billions upon billions of box office dollars, very few moviegoers can sing a track from the MCU. A new video essay from the YouTube channel Every Frame A Painting (watch it above) explores this very topic.
Beginning with a series of man on the street interviews, several casual viewers are instantly able to recall cues from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and James Bond. When asked to hum a theme from any of the Marvel films, everyone is left speechless. Even self-proclaimed huge MCU fans are stumped. This obviously has not hurt the commercial viability of the films, but it makes for an interesting discussion as to why this is.
One of the biggest issues addressed is that the music struggles to truly connect with the audience. For instance, the sequence in Iron Man where Tony Stark learns to fly plays the same way with and without the music. The soundtrack doesn’t add anything to the scene. There’s also the matter of the filmmakers going with “safe” and “expected” choices. In the original Thor, there’s a comedic moment where Lady Sif and the Warriors Three reunite with the Son of Odin in New Mexico, and it’s set to a “humorous” song. When scored with something more dramatic and Lord of the Rings-esque, the same scene becomes emotionally richer, but as it’s presented in the final cut, the impact of the moment barely registers with the viewer and we quickly move on.
The video also details the use of temp scores in the post-production process. For those not in the know, temp tracks are usually music from other films directors use when assembling their first cut. When presenting this version to a composer, it gives the composer an idea of what the director is looking for. There are times where the director flat out tells their collaborator to emulate the temp score within the legal boundaries, since they’ve become so attached to the music they can’t see the scene any other way (and sometimes edit the film to the music). This creates a landscape where many Hollywood scores sound eerily similar. Instead of being bold and original, the constant repetition desensitizes audiences and the score becomes background noise. The MCU movies use music the way several other tentpoles do.
It’s worth pointing out that the makers of the essay are not criticizing the original scores that are in Marvel movies, just analyzing the techniques in which they’re executed and presenting methods filmmakers could use to improve. As the narrator says, it’s not bad music, but in his words, it comes across as “bland and inoffensive.” To date, no MCU installment has received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score, which is somewhat telling. It will be interesting to see if Marvel movie music evolves as Phase 3 expands the universe and makes it grander, but for now, it’s one area where they’re lacking.
Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming– July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; Untitled Avengers – May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.
Source: Every Frame A Painting