Let’s be quite honest here. Marvel’s musical track record is quite horrendous. There are a few bright spots in the past films where composers where able to shine through these corporate-created money-makers. Unfortunately when the producers are calling shots over the directors that leaves the composers in the dust. And whatever great moments they were able to establish would never be allowed to continue. So all we get is the first chapter of something great only to never hear it live on. Marvel is known as a “one and done” company, and will sacrifice creative freedom in order to maintain their brand. That is why none of their heroes have established themes. So far no single composer has composed a sequel to their original score for a Marvel Studios picture, none! Alan Silvestri followed up Captain America with The Avengers, but it seems he’s out of the picture now and will not be back for Avengers 2. Brian Tyler did Iron Man 3, but was a replacement for the rejected Carter Burwell on Thor 2. Djawadi was unjustly dumped after Iron Man, Patrick Doyle went when Kenneth Branagh quit Thor 2, and Debney was dismissed after he didn’t have Jon Favreau pulling for him. So now comes in Henry Jackman, who is probably one of the smartest composers working today. I can imagine he assumed this would be his only shot, so he dared to be fresh and original. He didn’t abide to the expected and instead delivered an edgy, engaging and momentous score that superbly stands on its own as it takes Captain America into his new modern setting.
What I found so fantastic about The Winter Soldier’s score was that Henry Jackman seemed to be able to get away with a lot of things, in a good way. He was allowed to exercise his craft and utilize his style. Most composers would probably have gone the easy route, the expected route. Jackman instead crafts a precise action thriller that never blankets the images on the screen, but instead supports them from underneath like an excellent score should. While Silvestri’s Captain America theme is referenced in the film, this score has its own central motif. Jackman’s central motif is a simple pulsing rhythm woven with heroism that anchors the whole score. From there we get to experience intricate electronic textures that propel the action and for the first time in Marvel Studios history, real gravitas is added. The Winter Soldier's motif is a chilling electronic scream that announces his presence, and it works so damn well. Every Marvel produced film to this point has seemed to take the Saturday morning cartoon route, but Jackman is not that kind of composer. Even in his animated ventures like Monsters Vs. Aliens, Wreck-It Ralph and Turbo he was able to add organic emotion over just shallow studio-built spectacle. This score embraces the modern setting of the story and Jackman wonderfully builds engaging electronic textures. Beyond the action the music carries a sense of wounded patriotism, and from there the music stems some great emotional moments. This of course builds to the inevitable track “Time To Suit Up” where Jackman carries us to our hero stepping into the spotlight to be the titular savior. The climax and resolution follow, but it all carries a hint of tragedy making it resonate even more.
There’s been a lot of negative reactions to this score, and I think they are coming from people who seem to be put off by the new and unexpected. Also to those who haven't seen it function in the film. A good score supports the film, and in this case Henry Jackman does that and then some. He also pushes his score to do things differently and unexpectedly. He incorporates different flavors of patriotism and heroism that call back to classic political thrillers of the genre, but still embraces the kinetic action of this film. He balances somberness and intensity that help craft the arcs. The music never becomes over the top or hokey. In fact in certain areas it can become unsettling and uncomfortable, which is amazing that music can do that. We don’t get any forced fanfare or bloated emotions. Everything is delivered on a precise edge that cuts sharp and resonates deep. Henry Jackman’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier sets a new bar for the next composer to walk through the constantly revolving door of the Marvel Studios composer hot seat. And more impressively is that his style and approach were on full display showing a creative growth as a composer. If Henry Jackman makes history and isn’t replaced for Captain America 3 it will be interesting to see where he takes it, but if he goes the way like those before him he will still have left a lasting mark.
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