Monthly Archives: May 2015

Music in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

I spend the last months discussing female Comic book character, specifically the ones from the MCU in my main blog, Honoring the Heroine. And watching those movies I noticed something: The strong connection a lot of those movies establish between the character as a certain kind of music. I am not speaking about main themes here. For some reason none of the characters has his own “theme” which carries through all the movie. There is The Avengers-theme, but not isolated themes for the characters. That’s not necessarily a weakness, just something I noticed.

The movies of the MCU often get criticized for their supposedly weak soundtracks. I can’t agree there. I think it is the kind of snap judgement which doesn’t really do the isolated movies justice. Yes, most of them have very understated soundtracks, but like with everything, some composers do better than others.  Personally, I am particularly a fan of the Captain America soundtracks. But that’s not what I want to write about today, but about the music taste of the different characters.

It already started with Iron Man. I got the feeling that when the movie was developed, the first thought on everyone’s mind was: We have to make it modern! So they got rid of the butler, added a lot of futuristic gadgeds and a modern sound. Though I think the main reason they ended up with Heavy Metal was that there already was a song called “Iron man” (even though it had originally nothing to do with the actual) character and the pun. Naturally Iron Man would like heavy metal. But it also fits Tony’s loud and attention-seeking character. Through the first two movies and The Avengers, the writers are really consistent about the connection, Tony is even wearing AC/DC shirts. The only movie which for some reason ignores this is Iron Man 3. And I really don’t get it. The first song in the movie makes sense. After all in this one, it is not Tony who picked the music for the Silverster party, and Mambo Nr. 5 was a big hit in 1999. But when Tony is in the workshop? Yeah, I get that they want to establish that it’s christmas, but there are Heavy Metal versions of christmas songs. If they really wanted Jingle Bells in the movie, why not playing the Charlie Parra’s version?

The Incredible Hulk lacks something along this line. They do play the “lonely man” theme from the TV show at one point, but Bruce himself doesn’t listen to music. This does change in “Age of Ultron” though. Here Bruce is listening to opera music from Bellini. And Bellini just happens to be a musician which is notable for his melancholic themes, and for connecting the romantic with the tragic in his work. That is basically Bruce to a T. He is a tragic figure. While his actions are usually motivated by doing something good, making the world better, he is doomed from the get go. And he acts rarely optimistic about anything. If he were a Winnie-the-Pooh character, he would be Eeyore.

The concept of connecting characters with a special style of music is very strong in the Captain America franchise. Less with the first movie. “Star Spangled Man” is clearly inspired by the original Captain America title song, but that’s the “sound of patriotism”, it is a musical expression of his public persona, but not of himself (I, btw, love the song, but then, I had always a soft spot for Alan Menken). Steve himself doesn’t really listen to music. In The Winter Soldier, though, it is shown that he has a collection of old Jazz. Jazz is also what is mostly used in Agent Carter, which is certainly a good fit for the period, but  not the only choice possible. Apparently Peggy and Steve are connected through their taste in music, too. And in Steve’s case the music is a gentle reminder that he is very much a guy out of his own time.

One of the first things we learn about Falcon is that he is a Marvin Gaye fan. And why am I not surprised that the guy who spends his time helping Veterans to sort out their psychological problems likes Soul? It’s a good fit on so many levels, even though the main reason might have been to have a reason to play a fitting song over the montage at the end. Just knowing that this is the kind of music he likes suggests to the audience that he is a very laid back character.

Do I really have to say what the predominating music in Guardians of the Galaxy is? Peter Quill  and by extension his team is obviously connected to 1970s music. Loud and sometimes silly, but always fun.

Thor is so far lacking a theme song, though he does tend to get connected to triumphant and bombastic scores played on fanfares. Clint and Natasha are, not surprisingly, lack something in the direction, too. But there are enough characters overall which do have such a connection that it is worth noting.

Why do I bother pointing all this out then? Because it is an interesting way to tell the audience something about the characters without spelling it out. That even works with Ultron, who is immediately connected to Pinocchio. There are no strings on him indeed, but he is also constantly trying to become more human during Age of Ultron. It is not unusual for a movie to add a certain song to a specific scene in order to give it more layers. But giving a character layers by connecting him to a specific style of music or a song in-story is way more rare, and usually done in a very predictable and therefore boring way. I mean, how many villains or Nazi’s are there which are totally into German classical music, preferable Wagner? Marvel is guilty of that cliché, too, they used it for Red Skull. But they also did it in a very clever way. So the soundtracks might or might not memorable. But someone certainly put some thought into the music nevertheless.