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.
iTunes Album Links – Standard Edition, Deluxe Edition
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!
1 Comment | tags: Batman, Christopher Nolan, clark kent, flight, general zod, hans original sketchbook, Hans Zimmer, henry cavill, John Williams, krypton, kryptonian, kryptonite, man of steel, michael shannon, mr. zimmer, Superman, terraforming, this is madness, zack snyder, zod | posted in 5, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews
Note: As always, this will be as spoiler-free as I can make it. If the need arises, I will warn of spoilers before they are given.
Superman is not my favorite character. I have never much cared for the character, whether it was just a lack of interest or a disdain for the character’s so few weaknesses. Admittedly, I am not entirely familiar with the comics, having only read the original Shuster/Siegel Superman comic from Action Comics vol. 1 #1 from 1939 and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics vol. 2 #1 for DC’s New 52 revamp. I have seen one or two of the older Christopher Reeve Superman films, but, aside from the few flashes of those films that I remember, Superman Returns (2005), and the two comics I have read, I just don’t know much about the character. All that goes to say that you should take my opinion of Superman as a character with a grain of salt. Anyway, despite all of this, I was anxious to see Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel because it is the first live-action reboot of the character in film since Christopher Reeve donned the suit in 1978’s Superman, and I hoped that it would change my opinion – or, at least, my interest – in Superman. Having seen the film, I can definitely say that I am now interested.
As I mentioned, Man of Steel is a complete reboot of the character in live-action film, so this film acts as an origin story for the character. We are introduced to his parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer, respectively), and we witness Kal-El (Superman’s birth name) escape with the aid of his parents while General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a coup against the Kryptonian government in anticipation of the looming demise of the planet due to its unstable core. Kal-El escapes to Earth, where he is found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and Zod and his followers are banished to something called the Phantom Zone (according to this Wikipedia page, it is “a fictional prison dimension featured in the Superman comic books”) before the planet’s destruction. The rest of the film follows Kal-El/Clark Kent’s (played by Henry Cavill) quest to discover who he is meant to be. He comes across familiar faces such as Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), and he must decide who he is going to be in order to save the people of Earth from the wrath of Zod, who has come to take his revenge.
This movie avoids the convention of most superhero origin stories by interspersing Superman’s childhood with the present-day, only flashing back to those important moments that featured a moral decision that helped to make him the man he is today; in other words, the origin story is told in the same way that Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins (my review) is told, which makes sense because Nolan produced this film while the screenwriter, David S. Goyer, wrote the scripts for both this and Batman Begins. That being said, this in no way feels like a rehash of Nolan’s earlier work, and the feel of the two films are completely different. This Superman movie is not by any stretch of the imagination a “gritty” reboot, a term which has often been used to describe Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Rather, it is a more grounded interpretation of the world’s first superhero…with “grounded” being a figurative term since we see quite a bit of flying to be enjoyed. The universe is more optimistic, the character is not haunted by his past in the same way that Bruce Wayne is, and the film as a whole is much more fun.
The first three-quarters or so of this film are much more of a character study than anything else. We don’t see Superman flying around in his suit saving the world, but we see a suit-less Clark Kent travelling the world, helping people however he can, trying to find his purpose on Earth. He is faced with moments of anger and must decide whether to throw a punch or walk away, and he is confronted with the imminent death of innocent people and must decide whether to save them and reveal his powers or let them die and keep his secret. These moments always feel very honest and quite intimate. Henry Cavill does at great job at playing Superman; not only does he look the part, but he plays the character with the proper innocence, conviction, and nobility. Amy Adams as Lois Lane brings an interesting spin to the character, as she’s no longer the damsel-in-distress type, but rather the type who will travel the nation on a scoop and will be a part of the action instead of a simple observer of it. Lane has a palpable confidence in herself, and her relationship with Superman feels genuine. Michael Shannon as Zod is fantastically maniacal, though he plays so much more than a madman; as the character explains later in the film, he is a man who has had all purpose in his life stripped away, an argument that brings a compelling moral perspective to the discussion of right versus wrong or, rather, good versus evil. Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent is an admirable father figure, helping Clark to make sense of his powers and what he is meant to be. In short, the entire cast does a fine job, including the lesser-known cast that makes up the military personnel and Zod’s followers.
The last quarter of the film has me conflicted. Basically, it turns into an all-out superhuman boxing match, with Metropolis as the ring. Sounds awesome, right? Well, parts of it are, but parts of it are just entirely gratuitous. I mean, I’m talking more buildings destroyed by two Kryptonians than were destroyed in New York by the six Avengers and an entire army of hostile aliens in 2012’s The Avengers (my review)! I understand the need for an all-out super-battle for these characters, but leveling a city seems like the wrong way to go about it…I just don’t see what it accomplishes. I have also heard of controversy over Superman’s decision at the end of this battle (if you’ve seen the film, you know what I am talking about), but here’s my opinion: it was led up to appropriately and seemed like a realistic outcome to an impossible situation. Whether the decision is out-of-character for the comics version of Superman or not is irrelevant because this is a new movie version of Superman, not the comics. The entire film is about him making moral decisions and having to choose to preserve Earth or to preserve Krypton, and this final decision seemed to me to be an appropriate climax.
One final aspect of note is the Christian allegory present in the film. Superman has always been seen as a Messianic figure; like Jesus, he was sent to Earth by his father to eventually become a sort of savior for mankind, though, of course, this is a different sort of savior. There are all sorts of references to the story of Christ, from Jor-El’s statement at the start of the film (“He will be a god to them”) to Jonathan Kent’s statement later (“You have another father who gave you another name. He sent you here for a reason”). At one point, Clark asks his Earth-father why God set him apart and gave him powers, and at another point he asks a priest for advice on how to approach the situation at hand. These parallels are well-done and give us Christians at least another reason to admire Superman as a character.
Overall, this movie is quite a bit of fun and is largely what I was hoping for. The ending fight may be a bit over the top for me, but the slower parts of the film are just along the lines of what I wanted: a Superman who isn’t absolutely sure of himself or his abilities, a Superman who is still trying to find his place in the world. There is no gimmicky kryptonite to weaken our hero, but he is instead given a worthy opponent who can match him punch for punch and make him question his sense of right and wrong. Nothing feels like a rehash of what has already been done, bringing a new breath of life to a franchise that really needed it. Henry Cavill is a wonderful Superman, and, with Hans Zimmer’s incredible score accompanying him, Man of Steel gives us (or at least me) the Superman film we’ve been waiting for.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer, here!
4 Comments | tags: action comics, amy adams, ayelet zurer, batman begins, batman trilogy, brandon routh, christian, Christianity, Christopher Nolan, christopher reeve, clark kent, daily planet, david s. goyer, diane lane, general zod, grant morrison, gritty, grounded, henry cavill, jerry siegel, jesus christ, joe shuster, jonathan and martha kent, jonathan kent, jor-el, kal-el, kevin costner, krypton, kryptonian, kryptonite, lara lor-van, laurence fishburne, lois lane, man of steel, martha kent, messiah, messianic, metropolis, michael shannon, new 52, perry white, phantom zone, richard donner, russell crowe, Superman, superman returns, wikipedia, zack snyder | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores