“If we can’t protect the Earth … you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.”
Well, I’m elated that The Avengers has smashed box office records around the world and Joss Whedon’s outstanding team-up has put the fun well and truly back into cinematic superheroics. Whilst Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight cycle taps into much more serious issues, and tries to say something about the nature of the world and the scars of injustice, and is immensely successful at doing so, the Marvel cavalcade has, on the surface, a far simpler agenda – which is to bring those fantastic comic-books to life in the manner that we always wanted to see them up there on the big screen. And now that technology, budgets and great casts have become available, this is no longer a fanboy pipe-dream.
The Avengers is, to put it bluntly and with a whiff of what is actually geeky understatement, the best bonafide superhero movie that I have ever seen. But I feel that I must quantify that statement, if only to set my own conscience at rest. I have been, and always will be, a greater devotee of the Bat than anybody that Stan Lee ever created. And, to me, the first two instalments in Nolan’s epic trilogy of crime-fighting are sombre masterpieces, with The Dark Knight quite possibly one of the most powerful and haunting odysseys of corruption and criminal psychosis that I have ever studied and sat enthralled and moved by. To compare The Avengers, or any of the Marvel film adaptations made thus far, to that is ridiculous. They are separate beasts entirely, in terms of style, substance, execution and emotion. Where Batman has grit and realism and psychology, the Marvelites are all about action, colour, simple honour and bravery and mass recognition. They don’t churn about in the blighted wasteland of ghosts and tragedies and death and grief all that much. They are flamboyant and over-the-top and, as such, their entire demeanour is startlingly apart.
They are supposed to be fun. People die, villains threaten us and the entire world with enormous evil, and there is undeniable collateral damage caused by their rampages, particularly with regards to Spider-Man. But, essentially, and fundamentally, the Marvel books and movies reflect a heightened sense of courage and derring-do. And, what was it I said before? Oh yes, of course … fun. A whole lot of fun.
And this, naturally enough, is reflected in their scores too … which, in this genre, is actually one of the most important and downright vital elements in making us buy into these oversized, valiant hunks of modern mythologizing and hero-worship. So let’s don mother’s Asgardian drapes, black skin-tight PVC, patriotic spandex, rust-proof, nipple-snug battle armour or just paint yourself green and run around in a pair of shrunken pants (whatever turns you on) and go swooping, soaring, spinning and smashing through the musical legacy of Marvel before we plunge headlong into saving the world accompanied by Alan Silvestri’s score for The Avengers.
“It looks like Christmas … only with a bit more ‘me’.”
The track record of scoring these Marvel pictures has been largely very successful, with some big names brought forth to capture the might and the magic of these costumed trailblazers. Michael Kamen gave some synthy SF sizzle to the first X-Men, whilst John Ottman gave heart and soul to X2. Yet the best score for the X’s came courtesy of John Powell and his ball-busting, pulse-racing work for the third and largely unappreciated offering. Henry Jackman would capitalise on this with further good work on X-Men: First Class, whilst Harry Gregson-Williams would totally botch the already woeful Wolverine: Origins. Danny Elfman and Christopher Young did exceptional work on Sony’s original Spider-Man trilogy for Sam Raimi, with awesome themes and terrific action set-pieces, and, from Young, a simply outstanding and very moving theme for Sandman in the third instalment. Young also did some fine work for Ghost Rider, blending the supernatural with an enjoyable Western twang. Elfman did middling work for Ang Lee’s unusual approach to Hulk, but Craig Armstrong only added to the sheer dross of Louis Letterrier’s utterly rubbish take on the same character in The Incredible Hulk with a typically generic and unoriginal mush that went nowhere fast.There was further ignominy fromRamin Djawadi when he goofed-up the first Iron Man which was, in my opinion, too thoughtlessly loud and rock-infused, too blandly brash and too dully industrial without any sense of character or heroism blended into the mix. But John Debney’s barnstorming score for Tony Stark’s second outing was undeniably the best thing about the film … apart from Scarlett Johanson’s pvc-clad Black Widow decimating a corridor full of goons, that is. Debney’s work was frequently camouflaged by the sound effects and rock cues, which was a tactical error on director John Favreau’s part but, man, it is a thing of true power and absolute, fired-up, anvil-clanging adrenaline when you get to hear it properly. His cue for the aforementioned scene of profound Russki assassin ass-kickage is a definite standout piece from the entire Marvel musical canon. The score album for Iron Man 2 is, therefore, very highly recommended.
While The Fantastic 4 have not fared so well at the movies, John Ottman, again, provided workmanlike material for the flow-rung first adventure, but spiralled up into some genuinely exciting stuff for the vastly improved second one, with the Silver Surfer making an appearance. Grahame Revell has always toiled-away in the background of blockbuster scores, though he has never reached any real level of acclaim or recognition. His sporadically exciting, but grunge-heavy score for Daredevil would do little to alter that.
But possibly my favourite soundtrack out of this run is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the amazing work that Patrick Doyle supplied for his pal Ken Brannagh’s wonderful interpretation of Thor. This did everything right. His major theme for the film and the Asgardian hero could be played for out and out glory, for reflective emotion and sweet regret, for high drama, for burgeoning love and, of course, for pure, unadulterated and bombastic action, and it worked sublimely on each level. Hell, the main theme even played before the FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Chelsea – the Reds were robbed there by a lousy disallowed goal! But he also provided lots of colour, passion and the sort of swagger that Thor needed as his anthem. So far, nothing has topped this work (although I have a profound and growing love for James Horner’s music for Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man reboot, actually his first bonafide superhero score after The Rocketeer) and, sadly, this extends to Alan Silvestri’s scores for Captain America and The Avengers.
Regular readers will already know of my enthusiasm for Silvestri’s work. I’ve covered a fair few of his more cult-honoured scores, especially Predator and Back to the Future and I will not refute the claim that he is one of action cinema’s greatest musical practitioners, his signature percussive wallops, brassy cannonades, sheer muscular force and blood-pounding dexterity gracing the likes of Stallone’s Judge Dredd, GI. Joe, Beowulf, Eraser, The Quick and the Dead, The Abyss and, for Stephen Somers, The Mummy Returns and the awesome Van Helsing (poor movie, but amazing music) amongst many other pinnacles of symphonic testosterone. But although I liked his score for Chris Evans’ origin story for the First Avenger, I felt that it didn’t really contain anything that was particularly memorable. The Captain America March, which was inarguably an essential facet, did not even feature on the released score CD, and was only available for download. Curious marketing, that, when this ebulliently nostalgic track was the best thing about the score, and the cue that fans most clamoured for. He nailed the bombast all right, which was fine and very agreeably retro-militaristic, but somehow his action set-pieces seemed a touch lacklustre to me, blurring into one perfectly rollicking set-piece after another but with little distinction between them. They just didn’t have that irresistible repeatability that the material he used to put out would regularly pack-in like the super-serum coursing through Cap’s veins. Everything seemed a touch too rushed for me to pick out any individual motif or phrase as being exciting and playable in its own right.
I play music all the time and, more often than not, it is action music. I work out every day, and I frequently find myself writing reviews about people who obviously work out every day for their movie roles … and this sort of music is always playing in the background – disgruntling the wife no end. And Silvestri’s stuff has always figured quite prominently in these routines. Unsurprisingly, given the huge popularity and non-stop procession of them, I have become totally obsessed with these superhero scores, but whilst I am almost always spinning Iron Man 2 or Thor as I hoist weights around, I scarcely give Captain America a thought. I like the score a lot, but it just doesn’t grab me with the appropriate sort of addictive rush that the others do. Or many of his earlier action scores, for that matter.
I was, however, still very pleased to hear that he had landed the gig The Avengers and prayed that this time out he would deliver something sensational. It is in his blood and he is a master of the surging, powerhouse orchestral approach. You might as well as label up his music as IN THE EVENT OF WAR, BREAK GLASS AND RETREAT TO A SAFE DISTANCE. I prayed that this would be the one to bring him crashing back to the forefront of large-scale action music.
I’ve seen The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, if you live in the UK) a number of times now (as you’d expect from me), in both 2D and 3D, and I feel that I have to concur with the comments that many score-fans around the globe have made regarding Silvestri’s work on it. There appeared, at least whilst watching the full throttle wrath ‘n’ thunder of the movie, to be very little that here that stands tall and screams out to be noticed. The film is all about being big, brash and larger than life, yet the main themes sort of bubbled away in the background, never leaping to the foreground with the same vigour and zeal as the characters we see on the screen. Was it because there was simply too many of these heroes involved and that Silvestri’s bludgeoning style of aggression was just lost in the all-out clamouring to be top dog and victorious? Did the raw and exhilarating sound mix drown out his subtleties as had happened to John Debney on Iron Man 2? Was there simply too much going on that we were distracted from his frantic fusillade?
Well, quite crucially now that I can step away from the film and listen to his score on its own merits, I find that Alan Silvestri has actually remained very true to his core style and stuck rigidly to his musical muscle and soaring sense of valour. There is, indeed, much more here than first meets the ear and, after a couple of listenings, I like to think that I have found its inner heartbeat, and discovered its thunderous pace and relentless power to be a pulverising delight. I still prefer Patrick Doyle’s Thor andHorner’sAmazing Spider-Man, but this is definitely a rollercoaster ride of blood ‘n’ fury and tempestuous might. It is Alan Silvestri through and through, and even if it ultimately offers little that is particularly striking or new to a genre that he has pretty much steered, it hits the ground running and rarely stops to admire the view. It takes on all-comers and leaves them in a broken heap. It is a headlong rush into orchestral chaos and righteous carnage.
So let’s dive into it and go avenging!
Be warned – as with all my score reviews, I will be going in-depth to follow the onscreen action as it flows with the music. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet, which I find hard to believe … you’d best check back once you have.
Like so many of Silvestri’s scores, The Avengers is crammed with action, suspense, brawn … and more action.
The main theme for the heroic team-up is drip-fed to us over the course of the score, but its secondary motif, used primarily for Nick Fury, is delivered in Track 1’s Arrival. Here, Samuel Jackson’s cyclopean military man arrives at the SHIELD research facility that houses the supreme power-source of the Tesseract, that cool blue cube that the Red Skull waged war over and the Asgardian secret energy portal that brought grief to the Frost Giants and a rift between Thor and his adopted brother Loki ... and the magnificent Marvel McGuffin that the plot pivots around. Stellen Skarsgard’s friendly boffin is working upon the eerie device whilst Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) keeps tabs on the proceedings from his perch in the rafters. There is a great little “bop-bop-bopping” from the clarinet at one point, implying that everyone at SHIELD moves at a brisk pace. Silvestri conveys not only the size and complexity of the base with a typically militaristic stance, but he also invites awe and apprehension at the weird activities going on within. The staff are being evacuated as the Tesseract is “misbehaving” and we hear long, low tones that are suggestive of grim, unpredictable tidings ahead.
Track 2 is full of slow-burn menace. As the Tesseract goes live, Hawkeye ominously warns Fury that it is a doorway to the other end of space and that Doors Open From Both Sides. Something or somebody is coming through and Silvestri cranks up the tension as the cube goes hyper and Loki (Tom Hiddlestone) arrives in a blaze of fizzing blue light. The theme for the rogue Asgardian is a slowly stretched two-note rise and fall that slides in a dark, low tone of all-out sinister intent. It’s nothing unique or original – countless villains have been signified by something similar – but its very simplicity makes for an economic but immediate means of mood-setting. A horn calls, an anvil clangs, dark strings coalesce, bass thrums with the sense of growing power. An eerie phrase for strings highlights Loki’s ability to possess the hearts and minds of mortal men, with both Hawkeye and Dr. Selvig falling under his dominating spell. Silvestri still maintains a degree of lilting mystery as Loki and his new disciples abscond with the Tesseract, putting Nick Fury down … but not out … in the process. But he launches into the first of many strenuous chaos cues straight afterwards.
The gorgeous Cobie Smulders leaps into action as SHIELD Agent Maria Hill, tearing after the renegade Hawkeye and his puppet-master, Loki, in an armoured jeep as they make a getaway with the Tesseract. Tunnel Chase races alongside them as they trade fire, spinning their vehicles around and going nose-to-nose with metal-grinding flair. Lots of percussion, with churning strings and hooting brass are punctuated by clashing cymbals as the vehicles thunder down the underground passageway. Silvestri ramps-up the orchestra to a crescendo that then simmers down to a stunned hush as Fury brings the entire installation down under the desert floor and goes in pursuit of Loki in a helicopter. A heavy, thudding beat glistens with a metallic edge as Loki uses his spear to bring Fury’s aircraft down. In the smoking rubble of the crash and with one eye glaring in anger at the escaping villains, Nick Fury pumps futile rounds after them and then informs us that we are now at war. Even if he doesn’t actually give the command we are all expecting from him, the film’s title suddenly comes in and announces The Avengers as the only possible solution, andAlan Silvestri gives us a taste of the burgeoning team’s anthem with heraldic brass and urgent strings. It only lasts for a couple of seconds, but the intent to rouse is crystal clear. And that has been our first taste of their addictive main 8-note theme.
Interestingly, Silvestri doesn’t pass up the opportunity to provide Black Widow with a delicate, Soviet-laced theme of her own. It is subtly introduced in Track 4’s Interrogation, as we find the eminently luscious Scarlett Johanson, dressed in a sexy little black dress, lashed to a chair in a deserted factory at the apparent mercy of a trio of Russian gangsters. Delicately plucked strings are suggestive of the exotic, and a hint of the harp undulates softly against a simmering tone of mystery.
When Natasha Romanov is summoned by Agent Coulson by cell-phone, disturbing her important work with her nasty captors, she flips into combat-mode and decimates the lot of them in a Jackie Chan/Jason Statham combo. Suddenly, Silvestri goes down a synthesised route with rapid loops and a cyclic beat that sounds curiously reminiscent of something Michael Kamen did for the first X-Men. This seasoning of synth is not unwelcome, and melds intimately with the more lyrical theme for Black Widow. Silvestri will mesh these elements together throughout the score, tainting the organic with the technological to form the hybridised symphony of brains, brawn, emotion and mechanoidal-might. Importantly, this exotic theme for Romanov will return with greater impact to become one the score’s most unexpected rewards. As with Captain America, though, the blistering action contained in this little set-piece does not particularly set the pulse racing or linger in the mind.
Next, it is time for us to catch up with Iron Man in Stark Goes Green. There’s relative peace and harmony here, as the smart-mouthed billionaire succeeds in the first step of creating unlimited sustainable green energy – at least for his own gleaming skyscraper. A sizzling drone echoes the lasers that Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr.) is using to fuse underwater pipes and circuitry together. This dissipates and the track becomes mellow, lighter and more carefree as he returns to the fold and a cosy tête-à-tête with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts. Here, as well as in the previous track, Silvestri conjoins electro-pulses and synth-loops, signifying Stark’s hard-wired intellect and innovation, with the warmer, more romantic strains of violins, harp and plucked guitar that gently sweep the two characters together in admiration of Stark’s newest concept-cum-reality. Idling piano notes suggest a fragile moment of intimacy, but then darker tones and dread close in with the undeterred arrival of Coulson, the SHIELD shepherd, to recruit Stark for the coming campaign.
The album does not include the subtle underscore that accompanies Black Widow’s recruitment of the “Big Guy”, Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), from his self-imposed exile in the shanties of India, which is full of ethnic instrumentation, and a topped-off with a dark undercurrent of distrust when Romanov reveals that she didn’t actually come alone to collect him. Nor does the album contain the snatches of music for Captain America’s painful memories of his former life in the 40’s as Nick Fury, likewise, pays him a visit. This material may well have been culled for the movie from Silvestri’s previous score. We also lose some swirling tones of evil as Loki crosses dimensions to talk tactics with his war-mongering alien Chitauri allies who are poised at the edge of the galaxy.
And even if the opening build-up is missing from the disc’s presentation, it is hard not to feel roused and patriotic when you reach the exultant might of Track 6. As Banner and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) are brought aboard the Helicarrier, Silvestri strikes up the band with a truly heroic and defiantly militaristic stance of patriotic fervour. Cymbals clash, strings surge in little repetitive sweeps that are akin to hordes of bolts and mechanisms, circuits and engines all rising as one vast and cohesive unit, and brass pumps like a thousand galley-slaves heaving Fury’s pride and joy up out of the ocean and high into the sky. Drums roll with military precision, the big bass emphasising the power of the craft as it takes to the air. Rapidly jutting strings provide the sense of giddy height and baited anticipation. Waves of middle-range brass give the sequence and the image of the Helicarrier a nautical essence of nobility, grace and power. This track is also reminiscent of material he composed for similar imagery in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.After some mysterioso with swirling strings and glissandi, and menace with icy chimes and jarring percussion, at the start of Subjugation, there’s nice vein of elegiac tragedy that sobers things up and adds richness and texture. Loki has gate-crashed the prestigious gala in Berlin, elaborately slaying a dignitary for his retinal identity, casually upending a police-car and causing mass panic of the suited and booted. He stands tall and proud, in full horned regalia to proclaim his dominion over the human peasantry who are now on their knees before him. One old man, clearly a survivor of the Holocaust, refuses to bow down to another dictator, remarking with sad disdain that he has done so once before to a man just like him. The music is pained and reverent, yet shot through with a tired acceptance of repeated bigotry and fascism. Trembling violins and a tearful harp issue a lilting lament. But Loki wants to make a mission statement out of him. “There are no men like me,” he smirks. “There are always men like you,” the old man returns with grim resignation. Loki obligingly raises his spear to smite the man down, but Silvestri and Cap arrive with heroic fury at the same time to deflect the energy blast with the aid of a vibranium shield and that gloriously dominant and pride-filled brassy theme from the First Avenger. Tuba belches and then driving brass and demonic statements from trombone describe the tussle that ensues between Loki and Captain America, with Cap clearly coming off the worst until Iron Man arrives with magnificent bravado to put the Asgardian in his place. In the film this sudden appearance is accompanied, very fittingly, by AC/DC’s Shoot To Thrill, which was already established as Iron Man’s unofficial theme tune in his first movie. The song is not present on this album, but it remains a very cool moment in the movie. Silvestri’s track title of Subjugation, therefore, applies to both the frightened citizenry bowing before Loki, and Loki’s own submission to the apparently greater firepower of the Avengers.
Amidst lightning-streaks and thunder, Thor makes his mid-air appearance, pinching SHIELD’s prisoner from their plane and making off with him for a spot of brotherly dressing-down on a mountaintop. Neither Iron Man nor Captain America are going to stand for this though, and both take off after them. Bass and drums sound off and we get a little brassy flourish as Cap insists that “Gods don’t dress like that, ma’am!” and leaps out of the plane on a parachute, his own superskills somewhat lacking in the flight department. Brooding tones and little synth glimmers underline the angst between the two Asgardians until Iron Man hurls Thor to the ground with a staunch warning – Don’t Take My Stuff (Track 8). Silvestri scores the smackdown between thundergod and billionaire playboy with a swift blitzkrieg of percussion and bass that, whilst furious, is actually over and done with pretty much before you know it. The almost nuclear concussion of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, and Cap’s vibranium shield soon puts an end to what was shaping up to be a spectacular three-way tussle.
“Have care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he’s my brother.”
“He killed eighty people in two days.”
In Red Ledger, we hear a slightly more developed version of Black Widow’s theme, inflected with deeper chords of twisted tragedy and a growing burden of suspicion. Romanov interrogates Loki, who whittles out her innermost secrets, Hannibal Lecter-style in the pretence of some dark, subliminal bonding taking place between captor and captive. But when he turns abruptly nasty, issuing her the terrible threat of what he’ll have Hawkeye, her friend and lover, do to her, she cunningly reveals that she was just playing a game of her own, and nonchalantly thanks him for his “co-operation.” This twisty-turny sequence of buried truths and dangerous half-lies merges both Black Widow’s theme with Loki’s, and is finally given a thrilling, demented crescendo of burning, paralysing strings as the masks drop and the charade comes to an end.
Loki’s plan begins to come together as the Avengers argue amongst themselves and Bruce Banner’s temper starts to flare. Loki’s spear glows malevolently behind them. But Loki understands that the monster needs a little more incentive to spark things off. Thus, the possessed Hawkeye leads an all-out Assault on the Helicarrier in the bruising Track 10. Blowing a huge chunk away from the superstructure with an explosive-tipped arrow and destabilising the craft, he and his commandos storm the ship. With the shock-wave hurling both Banner and Romanov to the decks below, the argumentative team is scattered and bewildered by the sudden attack. Banner will not be Banner for long, though. In a scene that is genuinely scary and reminiscent of the mood many a werewolf-transformation generates, Banner Hulks-out and becomes the primal focus of Loki’s dark scheme to destroy the Avengers from within.
This marks the challenge that Silvestri faces. The action gets divided-up between the heroes and takes place in different parts of the Helicarrier and under differing circumstances, yet he must maintain a momentum and a focus that is larger than any one character. With Cap and Iron Man engaged with patching-up a ruined engine, and Black Widow and then Thor combating the rampaging Hulk, and the SHIELD people fighting running battles with Hawkeye and his commandos, culminating with the surprisingly affecting death of Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson, the track dips and dives, swerves and rolls about all over the joint. Silvestri matches the bullets and the arrows, the exploding machinery, the big green fists and the cosmic might of Mjolnir with searing strings and horns, pummelling brass and kinetic percussion and bass. The cue is violent and riotous, but not as distinctive as, say, the blood ‘n’ thunder of either Predator 1 or 2 or as rhythmically driving as Van Helsing or The Mummy Returns. It is fast and dynamic, and an orchestral rush at times, but it lacks cohesive direction, with lulls periodically separating the mayhem. Silvestri will face the same problem later on, but he will respond with much finer and more satisfying results.
In They Called It, we hear the plaintiff legacy of the deceased Agent Coulson. With his dying breath he assures the one-eyed director that his sacrifice was, in fact, necessary to the creation of the new team. To the sound of drifting melancholic long line strings and subdued, distant bass, Nick Fury informs his crew and the fledgling Avengers, now with Hawkeye back amongst their ranks, who may have saved the ship, but managed to misplace Loki, Thor and the Hulk in the process, of the loss. There is a delicately poignant “hovering” with the cue, the painful poise of the violins quivering like a lump in the throat. At the close of the track, the bass is given more impetus, registering the unspoken allegiance of the Avengers as they come to realise the significance of their group title.
“I have an army.”
“We have a Hulk.”
Loki confronts Stark in his own tower in Performance Issues. Amid the wisecracks, Stark is defiant about how the Avengers will stand against the God of Mischief. The Avengers theme thrusts its way into the pensive underscore, backed by a choral dressing that adds an appropriately optimistic and euphoric swirl. The cue then descends back into ominous threat and counter-threat as Loki’s imprecations turn the mood sour and glowering. This is pretty much the last time we will have any peace – albeit tenuous and tinged with nastiness – in the score, until the very end. So … take a deep breath and hold on tight because things are going to get a bit bumpy from now on.
With a last third that is absolutely dominated by action, every hero gets his or her chance to shine – testament to just how well Joss Whedon has handled such an epic – but this does not mean that each has their own theme making itself heard. Only Cap’s original motifs return from his war-time venture, and that of Black Widow’s new phrase, as well as the brand new Avengers theme. Obviously Silvestri cannot utilise other composers’ work, and it is clearly too much to expect him to rally-up “new” themes for all the members of this crew, which would play havoc with the continuity of their successive individual outings, so he does the only thing he can – he lets rip with ball-busting, wall-to-wall action that manages to assimilate and, ahem, assemble much the same sound as Captain America’s heraldic orchestration. Starting with that little snippet of the main theme in Performance Issues, this pell-mell musical bedlam runs riot throughout Seeing, Not Believing, Assemble, I Got A Ride, A Little Help and One Way Trip.
With the Tesseract opening up the space portal that will allow the Chitauri into our world, and thousands of them pouring through on mini-bombers and colossal cosmic snake robots, the Avengers have to put aside their petty ego-inflated issues and form Earth’s gallant last stand as New York, as always, gets strafed, crushed, blown-up and otherwise flattened by the invasion force. As buildings topple and aliens whizz through the skies, the Avengers hurl themselves into the fray in a fabulous succession of eye-dazzling set-pieces, many of which are linked via seamless camerawork into some of the most amazing breakneck montages ever splashed across the big screen. To keep up with this extraordinary, helter-skelter tsunami of nonstop action musically is a monumentally tall order – but Alan Silvestri is more than qualified for the task. Brass wails and roars, going for gold and providing magnificently militaristic fanfares at every turn. The strings literally soar around the cloud-piercing city blocks, whipping one way and then the other like steroidal whippoorwills, hitching rides with good guys and bad. Percussion carpet-bombs the whole shebang – metal, wooden, ivory, leather, skins … everything that can be struck is struck. Until it bleeds. Bass lends weight to the endless broadsides of turbulence, evoking the scattering of masonry, the flinging-about of vehicles, the Chitauri smashed and bashed by Hulk, by shield, by hammer. Synth permeates the action with fizzing glamour, a hint of celestial effervescence. The cues spiral up into whirlwinds of cacophonous bruising, counterpointed by gleaming harp, piano, cymbals, both clashed and suspended, and by woodwinds. It would be next to impossible to go through each individual cue with its onscreen depiction of the action taking place, so I will just pick a few of the more exhilarating highlights.
Iron Man gets a run for his money as he encounters the first of the armada of Space Whales in Seeing, Not Believing. He parallels the sinuous metallic monster block for block, the brass and the percussion steadily deepening to create the sense of vast, dexterous, eel-like movement through the urban battlefield. Bass drums pound away, a tribal cadence of destruction on a grand scale as whole floors are scythed out of buildings. Cymbals and chimes add pinpoints of metallica that gradually combine to herald the Avengers secondary theme, their “winning” motif, a sturdy, upbeat combat piece uniting trumpets, drums and strings that normally signifies Nick Fury.
Assemble gives us that Michael Kamen-like quick synth-patter as Captain America makes a series of heroic dives and rolls to buy time for and draw fire away from Black Widow and Hawkeye to rescue some trapped citizens from a blasted bus. This is combined with a rendition of the First Avenger’s somewhat innocent own theme. In Assemble we also get to hear Silvestri’s Avengers theme in its most ebullient, swaggering and unassailable. This plays alongside the famous trailer shot of the entire team forming a circle and standing back to back in the devastated New York street. An 8-note barrage of might and superiority that gains strength and character the more you hear it.
In I Got A Ride, Black Widow’s theme returns with a more heroic slant, swerving into high gear as she gets a boost from Cap’s shield and hijacks a Chitauri speeder to help wreak airborne havoc amongst the invaders. Listen out for the squealing strings at one point – it’s like the Devil stopped by with his fiddle on the way down to Georgia. Little vignettes for trombone and cymbals add raw kinetism.
Track 16, A Little Help, contains my favourite cue from the entire score. As things begin to look bleak for the Avengers – even with their skills and powers, the sheer number of Chitauri warriors and craft are wearing the heroes down – Whedon and Silvestri join forces to celebrate such do-or-die courage as each member faces what could be the end. In another wonderful montage, we see Hawkeye reach for a final arrow but there are none left. In desperation, as hordes of the enemy swoop down upon his high-rise position, he takes an explosive and unleashes a fiery maelstrom to catch them as he leaps in slow-mo from the top of the building and swings down through a window on a rappelling-line. We see the Hulk surrounded by scores of laser-blasting aliens, their amassed weaponry so devastating that even he is gradually dropped to his knees. Thor and Captain America, too, are hopelessly encircled. The music here is fertile with tragic glory, the phrase that Silvestri delivers one of noble gallantry. The passage is enveloped in earnest, driven by sweet chivalric pride, determination and guts. It is amazing how Silvestri suddenly pivots from barnstorming derring-do to such an emotional chapter, yet retains that sense of physicality and aggression. An awesome little set-piece.
In One Way Trip SHIELD’s governing Council (with Powers Boothe and Jenny Agutter amongst them!) order a nuclear strike at the heart of Manhattan, fearing that the Avengers cannot thwart the attack. Silvestri All of this comes together in a passage that is deeply moving and strives for self-sacrificial glory. As Nick Fury cripples the fighter before it leaves the flight deck of the Helicarrier with a rocket, another jet roars away with its dreaded cargo and heads for New York. After it unleashes its missile, the Avengers are informed that they now have another threat to combat. But there is only person who is able to make that fateful rendezvous in time, and he is the last person you would expect to make such a call. Iron Man roars out over the sea at catches hold of the missile. Tipping the wink to Superman, he then carries it high above the city and heads for the portal. In a touching last minute gesture he tries to call Pepper, but she is too transfixed with the spectacle unfolding on the TV screen to notice her phone ringing. Silvestri builds to a climax for singing strings, suspended cymbals and drum-roll as Stark plunges through the portal and out into space. He sends the missile right into the heart of the Chitauri mothership, destroying it and rendering all of its warriors back on Earth useless and dead – which was rather convenient, wasn’t it? With a heavily pregnant pause, illuminated by further cymbals, the Avengers watch as the portal closes over, fearing that they have seen the last of Tony Stark … but then a figure falls back through just before it shuts forever. Famously given away in the trailer, the Hulk then makes the miraculous catch that saves the unconscious Stark from smashing to pieces on the ground … and the team lives to fight another day.
Soft guitar strumming appears beneath gentle violins in Track 18’s A Promise, which gives a different perspective on the score, a sort of homespun, country vibe that sits oddly with the sturm und drang that has gone before. Of course, this is now downtime. The Avengers have not only survived their trial-by-fire and saved the Earth, but they have finally bonded with one another and even become heroic icons for the general public. Loki is being taken back to Asgard, along with the Tesseract … and Nick Fury has gained the very reluctant respect for the Avengers Initiative from the Council. Silvestri is happy to change the tone, then … from muscle-packed heroism to smiling bonhomie. Coming after the last half-hour of rip-roaring bombast, I think he’s right to move down several gears. This heartland take on the main theme then bleeds into the theme proper as we witness another montage that follows the various members returning to their normal (ish) lives.
The score then ends with The Avengers theme in jubilant mode for the final track. Commencing with the same driving military rhythm from track 1’s Arrival, this then goes for an 80’-style retro-fitted rendition of the main theme, complete with drum pads! It’s a surprisingly effective touch.
Alan Silvestri has provided a score for The Avengers that is better, and more exciting than it may first appear when you watch the film. It doesn’t push any boundaries and doesn’t break any new ground, thematically, which is a shame, and nor does it elevate itself to the level of the composer’s own classics. Some critics would say even say that he has been playing it safe and composing on auto-pilot. But this is a score that serves as a solid, reliable reinforcement of his own foundation touchstone of Captain America. As an album, it is deliberate, powerful and muscular … and this presentation does reveal that Silvestri tried to balance out the psychological facets with the more overt and thunderous action sequences. With a final third that is governed by pulverising action cues and rousing interjections of main and secondary themes, plus a tremendous “last ditch” motif that suddenly makes you realise what is at stake, this is Silvestri doing what Silvestri does best. Energising and exciting. Doyle’s Thor and Horner’s Spider-Man are both much better and far more inventive scores, but even if Silvestri’s double-whammy sounds largely generic and workmanlike, he doesn’t let the side down at all with rousing, enthusiastic set-pieces that kick all shades of colourful spandex-clad ass when the time comes.
Whether or not he returns for the next Avengers outing is up for question. With two entries under his utility belt already and a firm feel for the characters, he would surely be the most obvious choice.
Intrada are undisputedly the best score label in the business. You know that already, though. I’ve been banging-on about them for years now and reviewing their consistently outstanding releases. But this is now a time for celebration because this package for The Avengers is, without a doubt, their most spectacular coup to date. Working with Marvel and Alan Silvestri, a composer they have long supported, and enjoying their bounteous and ongoing association with Disney, who are in cahoots with Marvel these days, they have produced an album that sounds astonishing, packing a meaty punch and containing glistening high ends and layers of immaculate detail. I miss the liner-notes and Tech-talk from Doug Fake – we have to make do with the more mass-marketed series of character images and a back-patting endorsement for the score and its composer from Joss Whedon – but this is a small caveat when we pause to consider just how important this release is for Intrada and for score-collectors like ourselves.
Two CDs are available for The Avengers. This one, obviously, and one of those usually dreadful “music from and inspired by” efforts that is pure cash-milking. Score-fans please make sure that you obtain the right one. Oh, and interestingly, the download for this score seems to omit Track 4’s Interrogation, which can still be found on the CD. Ha! That’s revenge for the theft of Captain America’s March last time around.
I have reviewed the US release of this score, but the UK edition is exactly the same. This is an unlimited release.
- Arrival 2.59
- Doors Open From Both Sides 3.29
- Tunnel Chase 4.47
- Interrogation 2.38
- Stark Goes Green 4.46
- Helicarrier 2.09
- Subjugation 3.40
- Don’t Take My Stuff 5.06
- Red Ledger 5.10
- Assault 4.25
- They Called It 2.41
- Performance Issues 4.56
- Seeing, Not Believing 4.25
- Assemble 5.21
- I Got A Ride 4.00
- A Little Help 3.49
- One Way Trip 5.50
- A Promise 3.34
- The Avengers 2.03
Total Time 1.16:17
There’s no denying it – The Avengers is an enormous movie. It does practically everything right, and it’s won over not just geeks and the Marvelites, but many people who wouldn’t ordinarily have ventured into the colourful realm of daft and dizzy superheroes. For score-lovers, this production offered a fabulous opportunity for something new to be added to the vast pantheon of musical bombast, ceaseless valour and rousing fanfares. While I concede that Alan Silvestri’s resulting score is more workmanlike than envelope-pushing, it succeeds brilliantly at engaging the adrenal gland and encompassing a rich and varied gathering of wild characters without getting bogged-down with any particularly dominant motif. The theme for the Avengers ensemble may not be as memorable, hummable or instantly galvanising as the best of superhero marches, but it is hard, muscle-bound and appropriately militaristic ... and it does grow on you.
The individual set-pieces are exciting and, during the breathless final third, a continuous succession of murderous action and sky-high adrenaline, and the score benefits from some soul and pathos courtesy of Black Widow’s new motif, the tragic cue for the loss of Agent Coulson, and the heroic last-stand montage.
Now one of the biggest films of all time, The Avengers comes out in a year that sees the grand finale of Nolan’s Batman Trilogy and the beginning of a new Spider-Man saga. The music for each of these highly anticipated, highly scrutinised offerings, as for any superhero movie, is an essential ingredient to making us believe that men can fly, fight, save the day and inspire us to never give in and to always do what is right in the face of injustice, intolerance, corruption and self-doubt. Alan Silvestri does not reach the stratosphere with his score for Joss Whedon’s global blockbuster, but he still manages to deliver enough excitement and testosterone for six superheroes … and that’s no mean feat.
Intrada’s excellent release comes highly recommended.
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