[WARNING: Spoilers for Justice League below.]
Justice League composer Danny Elfman spoke candidly in a new interview about his desire for a richer musical history in superhero movies. Joss Whedon brought him in as a last-minute replacement for Batman v. Superman’s Antonius Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL), and fans of Elfman’s work likely noticed his usual traits. The composer’s frenetic pace and eclectic mix of deep bass and high-pitched bells and strings were on full display.
One of Whedon’s requests for Elfman ended up delivering an unexpected thrill for fans of his work on Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. The instantly recognizable flourishes from the composer’s classic Batman theme popped up during some of the Dark Knight’s biggest moments, and Elfman was happy to add it to the score based on his latest comments.
Speaking in a new interview with THR, Elfman had some pointed remarks for recent DC movies, which have frequently scrapped old themes in favor of new ones with little musical continuity. He revealed that Whedon encouraged him to incorporate his own famous Batman theme “on the nose” as a crowd-pleasing moment, which happens most notably during the Justice League’s climactic battle with Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Despite his excitement to bring back the theme, he’s disappointed that DC franchises don’t have more of those moments due to a scattershot musical history:
“The whole concept that every time a superhero franchise is rebooted with a new director, then you have to start the music from scratch is a bullshit idea. It’s only for the ego of the director or the composer. They need to learn the incredible lesson that Star Wars and James Bond have known for ages, which is that keeping these musical connections alive is incredibly satisfying for the people who see those films.”
Elfman also integrated one of John Williams’ famous Superman themes into a darker scene with the Man of Steel. Fans of Wonder Woman likely noticed that her theme can be heard as well, but it’s also more understated as he shied away from its distinctive guitar sound. Elfman’s eagerness to include recognizable themes goes back to his distaste for the inconsistency of other superhero series, citing recent Spider-Man reboots (he scored Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3) as an example:
“There’s like four different Spider-Man themes at this point, and as a result, he doesn’t have a recognizable sound. I told the guys at DC, you have a great musical heritage that you should be proud of and you should keep it alive. And they agreed with me, which is refreshing.”
Clearly, the composer agreed with Whedon that DC had some classic themes that should be a big part of Justice League. This particular bet paid off, as some of the movie’s most thrilling moments came with help from famous music for Batman and others. Elfman is certainly hoping that his work on Justice League will signify a move toward DC sticking with proven motifs and establishing a stronger musical identity.
Elfman’s harsh comments about “the ego” of composers could be interpreted as contradictory, considering that it’s a clear message of support for his own Batman theme. They could also be interpreted as criticism toward Hans Zimmer, who scored Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and Junkie XL for trying to create his own new theme with BvS. It’s also ironic, because his Batman and Spider-man themes, while iconic, are also not the first theme either of those characters had. But to be fair, he’s obviously a fan of Zimmer and Junkie XL’s Wonder Woman theme. Still, Elfman’s Batman music is arguably the most recognizable of any for the character and one of Justice League’s clear musical standouts.
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