Soundtrack Review (Flashback): Thor: The Dark World

Marvel are getting quite a lot right at the moment in terms of their filmic output. They’ve got great special effects, top quality directors, and spot-on casting all down to a perfect T. It is for all of these reasons that they’re now an unstoppable cinematic juggernaut, churning out hit after hit and making it look easy while they do so. But there’s one area in which the studio seems to repeatedly stumble. There’s one thing that they never seem to get quite right (besides villains that is). Indeed, whilst they seem to nail almost every other aspect of production, for whatever reason Marvel just cannot find a distinctive musical voice. The studio is currently 13 films into its cinematic universe, however it is still lacking a properly iconic superhero score. They’ve come close a few times (Alan Silvestri did a pretty solid job with Captain America: The First Avenger), but nothing has truly popped yet. No matter who is on composing duties, Marvel soundtracks consistently feel stale and rather generic.

Nowhere is this more apparent, than in the lacklustre OST for Thor: The Dark World. Composed by Brian Tyler (The Expendables, Now You See Me) this particular soundtrack epitomises everything that is wrong with the MCU’s musical catalogue. It’s vanilla, repetitive, sometimes obnoxiously bombastic, and is generally lacking in emotional heft. That’s not to say that it is a bad score, just that it’s fairly boring and by-the-numbers.

First, a bit of background. The original Thor’s soundtrack was actually composed by Patrick Doyle, who brought a palpable sense of majesty and grandness to what was effectively a very camp and silly fantasy film. It might not have attained iconic status or rewritten the rule-book on comic-book scoring, but it was inspirational and effective enough to leave a fond impression. Meanwhile, Brian Tyler already had a background with the MCU, having worked on the studio’s 2013 release, Iron Man 3. In that position, he did what most other composers have done for Marvel; a totally serviceable job (the end credits music was kind of fun though).

So just to recap, Doyle, who did fine work with the first Thor, was annoying replaced by the competent-but-bland Tyler. That’s not all however, as the new composer appeared to have decided against reusing any of Doyle’s previous themes. So much for series continuity right? Isn’t one of the most exciting parts of writing a sequel’s soundtrack the chance to develop and build upon older material? After all, one of the functions of motifs and themes in the first place is to chart character and story development over the course of a narrative. It therefore makes so much sense to carry these pieces over to a sequel, especially if the foundation is solid, as it was with Doyle’s work. Why wouldn’t you do that!?

Nevertheless, we’ll just have to accept the fact that Tyler is starting from a totally blank slate here. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it does at least allow for the composer to go in his own new direction, and perhaps experiment a little more with the material. Unfortunately, that is not what happens here, not in the slightest. Instead, Tyler manages to bring us something that is remarkably unremarkable.

The main anchor of this soundtrack is a central heroic theme for our protagonist, one that is instantly familiar to anyone who has ever seen a comic book film. Seriously, you could spend all day listing the modern soundtracks that have this identical sound: from Tyler’s own Iron Man 3, to Guardians of the Galaxy to The Hunger Games. This almost sounds like what you’d get if you asked someone to record ‘a superhero theme’ and gave them about 5 minutes in which to do so. It’s stock, assembly line blockbuster music, with extreme volume and overt force compensating for the lack of imagination or a memorable hook.

Indeed, for the most part, this score is as middle-of-the-road as they come, and no matter how ridiculously loud the volume is cranked up to on certain tracks, it’s very easy to just completely zone out. In fact, I did this exact thing at one point, and totally forgot where I was in the playlist. I then spent a good 15 minutes trying to find the last piece that I could remember listening to, but it all just sounded the exact same and I start again! This is just a relentless succession of repetitive,  fast tempo percussion blasts and bombastic brass sections, and as a result, every track begins to roll into one.

The entire collection follows a stupidly rigid structure as well. First we get a sample of the heroic theme, followed by a protracted heavy percussion segment, then a serviceable strings movement to round things off. Then, the next track begins and it’s the exact same thing all over again; and we just rinse and repeat after that. It’s reminiscent of an album comprised solely of filler tracks, without any memorable deviations or strong motifs. Worse still, there’s next-to-no dynamic range, as everything is always blasted out at full intensity, with barely any lower texture pieces to even it out. You subsequently begin to long for any kind of variation, something to break away from the strict pattern that Tyler has imposed upon the music.

This is problematised even further by the fact that almost every single cue involves a reprise of the bland main theme! It crops up in ‘Thor, Son of Odin’, ‘Escape the Realm’, ‘Asgard’, ‘Thor the Dark World’, ‘Lokasenna’ and ‘Battle of Vanaheim’ to name but a few. Evidently Tyler wants us to remember Thor’s theme, but that isn’t going to happen when it’s so damn forgettable. Instead of thrilling us as it’s meant to, the piece just becomes monotonous from hearing it over and over again. I’m all for consistency and developing themes, but when a piece is this bog-standard, and the variations are so minor, it really starts to grate on the ears.

Of course, it’s not a terrible score, just a bland one. There are a couple of interesting tracks, in particular, Deliverance’, which manages to incorporate the overused theme into a more emotional context by relying mainly on sorrowful vocals, instead of the full orchestra. Regrettably, this refreshing take on the theme is over far too quickly, squandering any of its potential. Meanwhile, ‘Untouchable’ showcases our villain’s war-drum theme fairly effectively, even if it does sound suspiciously similar to ‘Gotham’s Reckoning’ from The Dark Knight Rises, minus the ominous chanting.

In short, I’d be lying if I said that I hate this soundtrack. It’s actually rather inoffensive and safe, which is perhaps its biggest flaw. Whilst Doyle unashamedly embraced the pompous and grandiose nature of the first film, Tyler renders the whole thing a frustrating shade of beige. It needs to be more adventurous. It needs more of a personal stamp. It needs something. Anything! As is the case with most Marvel scores, Thor: The Dark World’s soundtrack is a stark contrast to its filmic counterpart; in that it is boring, lifeless and falls kind of flat.

RATING: 5/10- Far from a horrid listening experience, this is just devoid of personality or fun.

 

 

 

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