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Avengers: Age Of Ultron by Brian Tyler / Danny Elfman (Review)

posted Apr 20, 2015, 4:36 PM by Kaya Savas   [ updated May 4, 2015, 4:23 PM ]

In what is one of the more headline nabbing soundtracks of year, always leave it to Marvel to cause some film music drama. Brian Tyler has been Marvel’s go-to composer for a while now, and has done some rather impressive work for Marvel. Iron Man 3’s score was a superb orchestral action score, while Thor: The Dark World was a satisfactory if maybe a little generic take. Brian even composed the Marvel fanfare that opens every film. So what exactly happened on Age Of Ultron? Where did Danny Elfman come from at the last second? Whatever the reasoning is, this hybrid score ended up working out better than one would expect. It’s a vast improvement over Silvestri’s subdued effort, and Elfman does an admirable job at filling in the gaps to Tyler’s bravado.

Okay, so here’s the story according to my speculation. Brian was signed on to do Furious 7 and Avengers: Age Of Ultron, but when it came to scheduling it seems like the two films would be at the scoring point closer together than realized. Simply put, the workload was a bit much for Tyler to handle, and another composer had to be brought in to patch up the missing pieces. Danny Elfman’s named popped up as an additional composer on the billing block of the final poster, but then rumblings were afoot that Danny’s role had grown. My guess was that they needed Danny’s role to expand to create a natural ebb and flow instead of it being a patch job. So what is the result?

The result is a decent orchestral action score done in full adventurous flair. To be honest though, it’s not terribly different in structure and elements from Silvestri’s. Which can be seen as a good thing I suppose. Tyler embraces his past thematic work for Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, while both Tyler and Elfman quote Silvestri’s theme throughout. I know continuity is a big goal for Tyler, which is what he was trying to bring to the Marvel universe. Thematic continuity does come to a fruition here, even if I found the dramatic builds to the thematic flourishes a bit lacking. Then you have another problem that arises in that you have Silvestri’s theme and this predicament. Should you reference Silvestri’s main theme boldly and unashamedly? Or should Tyler and Elfman focus on not leaning too much on it? They seem to be somewhere caught in the middle. Then one would ask, why not just ask Alan Silvestri to come back if the first film's main theme will be the center of attention? If Marvel’s business politics were that simple then maybe he would be back, but that’s a conversation for another place and time.

As you move through the album you can tell that Elfman is trying to mold his sound to Tyler’s soundscape, and he succeeds mostly. I mean, he can’t hide his musical voice. Danny Elfman is one of the most unique auteurs in the business and Tyler is one as well. But luckily they do not clash. Elfman provides some great character moments that help round the rough wandering edges. Not all the emotional beats stick though, which has always been a problem for Marvel. The material never lends itself to emotionality in that their characters are meant to be watched, and not really related to. Audiences want to see what the characters will do or say more than they project themselves into the narrative, which is an issue that no composer can fix. So, the score tries to be as big and bold as it can be. By the end of it all, it’s a fun ride for sure.

As you’ll notice on the album cover, there is no “And/&” between Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman’s names. While Elfman has elevated himself to co-composer credit, the two didn’t write hand in hand together. This more unique collaboration had Elfman come in late in the game to finish the job due to bad timing with Brian’s schedule with Furious 7. The end result works. It’s a boisterous and bold action score done in that classic orchestral fashion. I do think it suffers from an “orchestral wash” of sound from time to time, or in other words the score doesn’t have a desired graspable shape. Themes and variations provide great continuity, especially since Brian Tyler has composed for 2 of the characters in the Avengers before. Silvestri’s theme gets some good milage here, so much so that it begs the question of what went wrong that Silvestri didn’t come back. But in the end, I appreciate fully what Brian has been trying to do with his Marvel scores by bringing that old orchestral adventure spirit back. There’s plenty to admire here, and plenty of flourishing thrills to be had even though at the end of the day all the creative work on a Marvel film is meant to serve the studio vision of the franchise. As a piece of summer escapism, there’s plenty to enjoy even though scores like Iron Man 3 or Captain America: The Winter Solider are way more memorable and impactful. I expect Henry Jackman to take over given the Russo brothers are directing the Infinity War Parts 1 & 2, so we shall see where the Marvel musical snowball will roll next.