I am often critical of Hans Zimmer’s work due to the tendency of his music to often sound the same. I was especially skeptical going into his score for director Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel; not only did he face the challenge of coming up with original material that didn’t sound too much like his scores to Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy, but he was also following in the footsteps of arguably the best film composer of the twentieth century, John Williams, who composed the now-iconic theme to Superman (1978). John Williams is my all-time favorite composer, so Zimmer was up for quite the challenge indeed: could he impress me?
This score contains an outstanding amount of variety. The first track, “Look to the Stars,” is appropriately ethereal as it plays during a scene taking place on Krypton. It contains hints to the main theme, which doesn’t appear until later, and it ends with a driving string melody that builds anticipation into the upcoming fight scene. Other tracks on the album have this sort of supernatural quality as well, including “Sent Here for a Reason” and “Krypton’s Last,” the latter of which also contains an emotional lament played on what seems to be a viola. This music serves as Clark’s tie to his home world.
Emotion is expressed in all sorts of ways in this music; we hear the aforementioned lamentations for a lost planet (which is later heard in “I Have So Many Questions” as Clark interacts with the “ghost” of his Kryptonian father), we hear the anger felt by Zod through a string ostinato overlayed with heavy brass and aggressive percussion (“You Die or I Do,” “I Will Find Him,” “General Zod”), and we hear Clark Kent’s curiosity for answers regarding his past in the form of a juxtaposition between the ethereal music heard on Krypton with an early piano iteration of what will become the main theme for his Superman persona. It is this conglomeration of emotional themes of all shapes and sizes that makes this score so effective as both a companion to the film and as an affective stand-alone work, helping you to envision what the characters are experiencing without the aid of a movie screen.
Regarding the main theme, Zimmer has somehow managed to capture everything that I thought and felt about Superman as a character and as an American icon in a simple piece of music. On the soundtrack, this theme is first heard in the track “Sent Here for a Reason,” but it appears more entirely on the track “This is Clark Kent.” It starts out as a simple theme on the piano, but it eventually falls into what can best be described as a “groove,” joined by percussion and gaining an extra layer of fullness as the character becomes more certain in who he is meant to be. It gains even another layer as Superman becomes a fully-realized hero, consisting of strings playing sixteenth notes, brass fanfare, and screaming electric guitar, bringing both the theme and the character full-circle in an incredibly satisfying way.
No superhero film score would be complete without its action music, of which there is also plenty to be heard here. Fueled by a team of twelve of the world’s best percussionists, the action music here is aggressive, impactive, and powerful. It always drives the movement on screen forward in a way that is more supportive than obtrusive, but that’s not to say that Zimmer doesn’t have his moments of glory while you watch the film; tracks like “Terraforming” and “This is Madness!” pack as literal a punch as Superman does in the film (in a good way), and “Flight” features a different type of action music that is driven as equally by the resonant French horn choir with voice accompaniment as it is by the percussionists.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beast of a track titled “Man of Steel (Hans’ Original Sketchbook),” which essentially serves as a suite for the entire score. Sitting at nearly half an hour long in length, it is jam-packed with just about every bit of music that you hear in the other tracks, but here they flow together into a giant, coherent work of art. Dare I say it? This track is a masterpiece – a true testament to Hans Zimmer’s complete capabilities as a composer.
So, did Zimmer impress me here? The answer is a resounding “YES!!!!!!” This score is ultimately my favorite score that he has ever composed, and it even surpasses my love for Williams’ original Superman theme, which is quite a feat in itself. Though you likely won’t be walking away from the theater with the theme stuck in your head as might have been the case with Williams’ theme, Zimmer has managed to capture all of the hope, nobility, and power of Superman in his score to Man of Steel; Williams’ theme accompanies Superman well, but Zimmer’s theme IS Superman, and I look forward to his work on the inevitable sequel. Bravo, Mr. Zimmer. Keep up the outstanding work.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Note: I purchased the Deluxe Edition of this album on iTunes, which is what the following track list is from. I highly recommend the Deluxe Edition, but the link to the Standard Edition is provided below as well.
Disc 1 – Flight
1. “Look to the Stars” 2:58
2. “Oil Rig” 1:45
3. “Sent Here for a Reason” 3:46
4. “DNA” 3:34
5. “Goodbye My Son” 2:01
6. “If You Love These People” 3:22
7. “Krypton’s Last” 1:58
8. “Terraforming” 9:49
9. “Tornado” 2:53
10. “You Die or I Do” 3:13
11. “Launch” 2:36
12. “Ignition” 1:19
13. “I Will Find Him” 2:57
14. “This Is Clark Kent” 3:47
15. “I Have So Many Questions” 3:47
16. “Flight” 4:18
Disc 2 – Experiments from the Fortress of Solitude
No. Title Music Length
1. “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” Hans Zimmer 5:27
2. “Man of Steel” (Hans’ Original Sketchbook) Zimmer 28:16
3. “Are You Listening, Clark?” Zimmer 2:48
4. “General Zod” Zimmer, Junkie XL 7:21
5. “You Led Us Here” Zimmer 2:59
6. “This Is Madness!” Zimmer, Junkie XL 3:48
7. “Earth” Zimmer 6:11
8. “Arcade” Zimmer, Junkie XL 7:25
Total Length: app. 119 min.
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!