He's back, again - not Marvel's model muscle mountain Captain America but composer Henry Jackman, who is making his sophomore appearance in the MCU with the score to much-anticipated costumed showdown Civil War.
Back again alongside Cap is villainous fugitive Winter Soldier, whose ear piercing of a theme also returns. Cap's brassy and heroic theme from the previous movie also appears, but while there's an occasional nod to Alan Silvestri's Avengers, his Cap theme is nowhere to be seen. What we do get is the usual from Jackman, flashes of brilliance amongst what feels like score interchangeable from your average blockbuster. Perhaps because of the higher stakes of the film, and it being more like a big punch-up versus the conspiracy thriller of Winter Soldier, but it does go for a more traditional orchestral palette at times, which is why it's all the more disappointing how bland it is.
I mean, it's not dreadful. I'd still take this over something like Batman V Superman because it sounds like it's attempting to be something other than a battering ram, and there are some interesting parts. 'Ancestral Call' introduces an ethnic motif on woodwind that tries to put something new into the mix, and there's a somewhat haunting five-note motif that comes in the mix with some of the darker toned pieces like 'Zemo'. But it's few and far between. The action stuff is what you'd expect, functional but nothing above that. This is somewhat of a Marvel trademark though; much of the action scoring in these films is quite dull outside of the picture (which obviously is the primary concern), and the ones that are able to puncture that are either abandoned (Silvestri) or made to change it (Patrick Doyle's Thor).
It may be because of the large cast of heroes, but there's very little to grab onto here emotionally, which seems a waste but not surprising. Considering the Marvel films are all one big connecting story, themes change from movie to movie, and only Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman's Avengers: Age of Ultron really made any effort to bring any themes back that weren't previously written by any of the composers, such as Silvestri's Avengers theme that Elfman used to great effect. I dislike having to go back to previous scores but in a fight Ultron would kick the living shit out of Civil War.
The thing is, where is the endgame? The directors (Joe and Anthony Russo) obviously like what Jackman has done in their two movies together, but does this mean he'll be along for the ride on Infinity War Parts I and II, scoring a movie that is ostensibly a gigantic cosmic epic? How is Marvel going to treat that approach? Tyler Bates did a good job on Guardians of the Galaxy with that, but could he handle something like that? Are Marvel going to put together their own super-team of composers? It's a valid question with the direction presumably coming from Kevin Feige and co, and certainly even more so across action scoring in general where wallpaper seems to be the modus operandi for most films in that ilk.
The thing for me is, I don't find it enjoyable. These movies can be serious and deal with big themes and concepts while not sacrificing colourful music - both Avengers movies have proved that - especially when these heightened movies kind of need that musical push, and often if we're grabbed by the music we get into the movie more. It's like the change from Kansas to Oz, where the method of colour is used to make the journey into the fantasy world as smooth as possible. And with all these different heroes musicial identification is important - When you hear the Superman fanfare or those four ascending notes of Batman '89, or the brassy Silvestri Cap theme, not even the full theme but just a snippet, you get maximum impact for minimum effort. You know who these characters are, you know what they represent. I'm not sure I know who anyone really is in Civil War. -CB
Captain America: Civil War is out on April 29th on Hollywood Records