Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

 

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Why You Should…
If you wish to see Zimmer return to the DCU with another violently outplayed score for superheroic conflict, and are willing to test your patience for some hidden highlights.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If dark and doom isn’t your preferred method of choice, or you’d rather hear more pleasant writing in your scores, a huge opportunity gone amiss.


***

Release Date: 18th March 2016 (PHYSICAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL
Length: 71:37 (STANDARD EDITION)
90:26 (DELUXE EDITION)
Recorded At/By: The Eastwood Scoring Stage, Warner Bros., Burbank CA & The Streisand Scoring Stage, Sony, Culver City CA.
Label: Watertower Music

Additional Information:
Additional Music By: Steve Mazzaro, Andrew Kawczynski & Benjamin Wallfisch.
Conducted By: Nick-Glennie Smith and Junkie XL.
Soundtrack Produced By: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL, Steve Mazzaro and Alan Meyerson.
Score Mixed At: Remote Control Productions, Santa Monica, CA.

Featured Musicians:
Electric Cello: Tina Guo
Solo Violin: Ben Powell
Drum Orchestra: Curt Bisquera, Bernie Dresel, Sheila E, Peter Erskine, Josh Freese, Jim Keltner, Toss Panos, John “JR” Robinson & Satnam Singh Ramgotra.
Vocalists: Hila Plitmann, Dominic Lewis & Tori Letzler.
Synth Programming: Hans Zimmer
Choir: The Eric Whitacre Singers
Choirmaster: Eric Whitacre
Choir Orchestrated By: Eric Whitacre & Gavin Greenaway .
Choir Conducted By: Gavin Greenaway
Choir Recorded At: Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London .

 ***

After 75 years’ worth of illustrious, reverent history in the many pages of comic books worldwide, the three greatest and most iconic superheroes of our knowledge would converge onscreen in the hugely awaited epic, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.  Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman would unite onscreen to provide a great deal of exhilarating entertainment (the latter marking her feature film debut), ambitiously expanding on the narrative arc provided in 2013’s Man of Steel.  For director Zack Snyder, the gargantuan expectations placed upon him were mighty indeed, having pulled a great deal of resources and near-perfect understanding of the characters to present them in a conceivable fashion that would explain their unity in a justified manner to the audiences. Far more surprising (and inadvertently more aiding in its indirect promotion of the film) was the bitter backlash that Ben Affleck would face for his casting as The Dark Knight, as well as subsequent furore for Gal Gadot and Jesse Eisenberg as Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor respectively.  Some time after the widespread, terrifying destruction that resulted as a consequence of Clark Kent’s attempt to defend Metropolis from the virulent General Zod, the witness that Bruce Wayne bears to this act of palpable carnage sets him on a driven path to bring Superman to his knees, to account for his dangerously perceived presence as a threat to mankind. The inclusion of Lex Luthor proves ideal in utilising the escalating conflict between both heroes, and to manipulate their clouded misjudgement of one another for his own devious ways, and together, the two men put their differences aside and fight with a newfound ally to preserve what little peace hangs in the balance. Without a shadow of doubt, one of the most genre-defining, crucial entries in the ever expanding canon of superhero films, much split praise and criticism would find their way to Snyder again, with consistent praise for the performances and stylistic action sequences, and meandering reception for character development and tone.

With the continuation of the franchise’s technicalities, comes the return of Hans Zimmer as composer. Or, at least, co-composer. It stands to great, questionable degree that the furious debate over the composer’s polarising approach to scoring superhero films for the modern era still continues, and with a score like Dawn Of Justice, you can’t help but see why. The inclusion of some thematic elements from Man Of Steel is indeed a positive, proving advantageous for DC over Marvel in terms of establishing thematic continuity right from the initial days of labouring. But even in the predecessor score, there were several fallacies that contest the positives of the score, and unfortunately, the balance this time is tipped to unfavourably deplorable depths. Is this score representative, perhaps, of all future entries in this franchise to come? Maybe. But there is always room to improve, as the composer puts it, stating “You never really finish a score, you abandon it.” For Zimmer, his attachment to the previous Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Trilogy stands as his cause for concern when approaching Dawn Of Justice as a singular entity. The composer has repeatedly stated his fear of betraying Christian Bale and the efforts he produced for eight years for the narrative’s heralded tenure, and you can’t help but empathise with that concern, no other composer having tackled the same superhero twice with entirely different casting and new structural constructs. The evolution of his material is interesting, to say the least, as his rising two-note minor third horn burst is now replaced by a much more violent, proclitic identity to suit this Batman’s disillusioned, more brutal tendencies. The new theme for Batman is a series of six loud horn bursts, with synchronised bass drum plodding and paranoid choir. It is more closer to the gothic imagery that was once associated when Danny Elfman explored the character in his early days. There is a longer-lined theme hiding in sly horn and low cello development, with potent results, and that identity does serve well in the quiet dramatic scenes of the film, but the limitations of this new theme to just two chords (Cm and Em) is disappointing on many levels. Is the rage of the Batman really that repetitive? The only time you hear the full theme is in the final track of the first disc, “Men Are Good – The Batman Suite“, which oddly features some Superman material too. The gradual build-up is indeed a payoff to a listener’s patience being tested for fourteen minutes,  but in a film where one of the titular characters embodies an equal screen presence to the man he fears so  much, ultimately, Batman deserves more than this.

But Zimmer didn’t entirely conceive the Batman theme- much of that identity is actually a work of co-composer Junkie XL (or Tom Holkenborg, if you wish to identify him by his true name). Zimmer’s immense faith in Holkenborg speaks volumes of the content of the score, and is material is even more uninspired and insipid for the project. The split responsibilities of the project are overt, with Zimmer handling the Superman and Wonder Woman themes, and Holkenborg focusing on the Batman theme. Needless to say, their divergent angle of tackling the project goes to waste for the majority of the score. Listeners will be disappointed to discover that there is no substantial fight cue between the two superheroes. “Black and Blue” is perhaps your best inspection of the gritty, thunderous percussion that paves way for more lower brass emphasis and frenetic strings, but it never matches the exciting calibre that Zimmer is known for with his action music. In fact, it’s more of a step down. A variation of this material in “Fight Night” perhaps serves as a shorter idea of the material, but you still can’t help but feel disheartened by this.  There are various glissandos injected at multiple angles throughout the score, making you wonder whether the composers shift focus from being a dark superhero confrontation to a more outward horror score that reflects post-modern sensibilities. Also of a major disadvantage is the precedence of synthetics, ranging from subtly effective to hugely discomforting, and for a lack of better wording… annoying. Some of the electronics are actually quite efficient in weakened attempts to produce a synthetically sonic palette, but the obvious mixing of the percussion in the forefront only elevates dismay in not being able to hear a coherent sound. There are some moments within the score which make even diehard Zimmer fanatics sink low into their chair in despair. “Must There Be A Superman” is a perfect example of where this score takes a turn for the worse. The choir are tuned to shrieking, representing the Knightmare sequence that takes place in small doses throughout the film. The addition of an uneven meter in the synthetics and a choral crescendo being brought to a halt is indeed effective, and the heartbeat sounds accelerating are also of mention, but the cue otherwise remains intolerable.  “Tuesday” also incessantly continues with sound design, with more monstrosity perhaps representation of a certain creature of destructive proportions…  The formerly mentioned cue also contains some brutal, pumping sounds that in many ways evoke a much more weighted bat-flap from the previous Batman franchise.  Dissonance is high, the electronics surprisingly taking a step towards the trance realm (welcome back, Chappie!). To limit the score down to its flaws, however, is unjust. Believe it or not, there is at least 40-50 minutes of score worth salvaging in this disjointed product.

The opening cue, “Beautiful Lie”, extends the material for Batman, with some strings and piano evoking sparse emotion after the ear-popping slamming of the drums. A gentle motif of sorts is repeated by Holkenborg for good measure, with cyclical progression in it minimal presentation, and a solo soprano voice shines at the last minute, with some synths actively tapping underneath. Some restrained beauty lies within the piece, with tubular bells and trumpets heard, but for the more familiar listener, the cue may sound akin to Zimmer’s material for Bruce Wayne in the previous franchise. This motif also appears in Black and Blue, at the very end, and that makes for a refreshing listen given the violent grating of the percussion and malevolent choir.  The unsettling atmosphere presented segues straight into “Their War Here”, where a slippery violin motif leads to a gloomier statement of Batman’s theme on solemn horns and timpani, before the maniacal drums from Man of Steel return, gleefully storming with Zod’s destructive ostinatos. In many ways, this cue serves as a guilty pleasure, with some more energetic strings reprising the Zod motif. A thunderous arsenal of percussion takes solo momentarily, with elevating, heart-pounding dread. Why does the choir sound so restrained? Look at what Zimmer accomplished with the Kung Fu Panda franchise- the sheer depth of the vocal precision gave the three scores godly reverence in their epic writing. Would it hurt to apply that here too? One could argue that perhaps the overall volume may serve as a waning point, but at least the mixing would bring the voices out better. Some lower string ostinatos are also of intensity, before ending with an overblown, melodramatic choral and string epilogue of his mother’s theme, echoing the similarities between Martha Wayne’s death and a now orphaned child.

Conversely, the most fruitful theme to be established in the score is for the devious Lex Luthor himself. Introduced in “The Red Capes Are Coming”, a battered piano highly reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes gives way to a retrograde inversion of Superman’s piano theme, and admittedly, Zimmer does earn some points for some intelligence showing through. Rather operatic in its tongue-in-cheek construct, the crashing and pressing of the pianos remind the listener amusingly, of a rather joyful hydraulic press. Ticking is also present, and this theme does indeed standout- whereas Zimmer’s villainous escapades for superheroes in the past have bordered on straightforward villainy, here, he takes a much more subtle, covert approach, hinting at the character’s hidden respite. Whining strings and low octave piano help effectively convey tension in the latter half. A fluttering solo violin streak of 5-note bursts add extra quirk to the core. Some further exploration of his material would be heard in “Problems Up Here”, and the operatic sly string construct is extended for more deviousness. In that cue, the gentle, cooing hum of Martha Kent’s identity returns, distorted to represent her position of danger at the hands of Luthor, another commendable touch.

For a score that has Superman in the title… very little of his material is developed. The most any listener can come close to pointing out some progress lies in “Day Of The Dead”, a tender working of the piano identity heard, and in a score like this, perhaps a bit of tenderness can be appreciated more often!  A guitar-aided and tremolo lower string continuation is present, with the horns more clearer. The choir and cello are more subtle in their input, and pizzicato plucking are ideal. The sorrowful progression and wistful nature enraptures the fragmented hope that the world’s view of Superman holds. The highlight of this score involves two of his themes in “This Is My World”, ranging from grand strings and piano performing his tertiary identity heard in “If You Love These People” from the previous score. You get the notion here that the confirmation of that statement second time round serves as a sacrificial motif for Superman of sorts, given the context in which it is in applied in… The weight of the elegiac strings is stronger than before, with more urgency conveyed in the layered writing, and a gorgeous, soulful soprano voice coos an interlude that will melt your heart, at the very least. The choir are more mournful and religious compared with their prior applications in the score, and this moment of beauty is not to be missed. If you were to take at least one cue from the score and add it to your personal collection, perhaps this one would be the wisest choice in terms of emotional response. The primary identity for Superman is  given to strings, with the whirly ambience making a mark. Then there’s the Wonder Woman aspect to observe- a wielding motif played by an electric cello to arguably chaotic results. You can’t really distinguish between the electric guitar and cello here, so any minor confusion would be forgiven. Her theme is presented in the cue, “Is She With You?”, a raging 7/8 meter on an arsenal of drums and wild strings signifying all hell broken loose. Now this is indeed, a better measure of action material to come from both men, the adrenaline-induced pumping of the percussion and mild thematic interplay of all three superheroes a definite highlight in the overall scheme of things. Counterpoint and blending of multiple presences are a plus, but the notion of a quick identity for Doomsday would have been equally enticing. The score concludes with the aforementioned “Men Are Still Good- The Batman Suite”, which leads Superman’s tender theme into an aura of gloom, laced by exploration of Batman’s construct. Some variation in chord progressions in the middle portions are noted, with more intensity given to the rising horn motif shared with the strings. The outburst of the final identity, in all its gloomy noir rage is a plus, in its contrapuntal textures, though one is left asking for more of a developmental extension.

So where exactly does the flaws for Dawn Of Justice stem from? Is it the never-ending chaotic stream of monotonous percussion or grinding, gear-breaking synthetics that came into play? Or is it the lack of a coherent voice more than anything? Part of the enjoyability from the score from Man of Steel was resultant of more singular melodic highlights, and a rather reverently muscular theme, which goes dissolved into the dark, unnoticed for the most part. Holkenborg was perhaps the wrong man to co-compose with, and Zimmer himself knows that there are more talented and accomplished composers with whom he’s had an actively successful collaboration that could have been neatly reprised for a smoother listening experience. Of course, this is a darker entry, and as such the grim tone is letter-perfect, but Zimmer has written enough scores in his career to prove his tonal understanding between light and darkness, and to project that effortlessly in his music. Not this time around, it seems. Save for the penultimate track, the choir are criminally violated into bloated outbursts of menace, and the mixing again raises issues. The percussion always takes forefront in almost any track, even the more peaceful ones, and any attempts at emotion are only minimally appreciable. As is the case with his more recent scores, a deluxe edition release contains five additional tracks with more of the incessant shifts of horrid atmospheric progression. To label the material as generic may seem fitting, but the usage of the word itself is a paradox, and perhaps simply labelling the score offering as a disappointment is perhaps most fitting. The bonus tracks, such as “Fight Night” and “Vigilante” offering streamlined, shorter moments of the material on the bonus release, but in reality, all fives cues are barely memorable and largely miss-able, (save for perhaps, Fight Night) no justification to purchase the deluxe edition.  The fact that this represents the standard of superhero film scoring for DC (at least in this stage of their franchise) is nothing less than worrying, and if anything, Zimmer needs to shift the writing focus to himself, and himself alone, and several of the composer’s solo offerings in the past until now have proved more enticing and addictive than some offered by his peers. What would the film score community or his numerous, undeniably well deserved scattered population of admirers give to hear his shameless, more well-conceived horn bravado return to the fore once more? The abundance of style that has enhanced his scores in the past? With rumours of Zimmer having composed a theme for all of the remaining Justice League members, you’d better hope that Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern and Cyborg receive a worthy, singular identity to go by in future films. To entirely label this score as a wreckage so unsalvageable, however, may depend on your view of the content. As mentioned earlier, there is almost 40-50 minutes’ worth of music adding to your collection from this score, and fortunately, they do indeed overshadow the rest of the mess. Again, an ongoing plague with Zimmer releases is the unfortunate piracy of his work several days before the release, and some additional music heard in the film is yet again not available on the products offered. The limitation of heroics is perhaps the biggest downfall of this score, and you can’t help but think of the potential this film had to have produced tremendous music- rather, we segue into a more bleak, outwardly oppressive world filled with horror tendencies and stark writing. And that’s what Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice ultimately is- a weak horror score. Justice may dawn, but it needs an ideal of hope to diverge into, and until we hear that hope, the days of doom are discomfortingly high for a superhero score. So ends Hans Zimmer’s tenure with superhero films, the composer himself having announced a retirement from the genre,and for his fans and admirers, as well as casual listeners,  the wait is on to see the projects he diverges towards hereafter.

Rating: ** 1/2

 

Track Listing
(all music written by Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg)

Standard Edition

1) Beautiful Lie (3:47)
2) Their War Here (4:34)
3) The Red Capes Are Coming (3:32)
4) Day Of The Dead (4:01)
5) Must There Be A Superman? (3:58)
6) New Rules (4:02)
7) Do You Bleed? (4:36)
8) Problems Up Here (4:25)
9) Black and Blue (8:30)
10) Tuesday (4:00)
11)  Is She With You? (5:46)
12) This Is My World (6:23)
13) Men Are Still Good – (The Batman Suite) (14:03)

Deluxe Edition

Disc One:
1) Beautiful Lie (3:47)
2) Their War Here (4:34)
3) The Red Capes Are Coming (3:32)
4) Day Of The Dead (4:01)
5) Must There Be A Superman? (3:58)
6) New Rules (4:02)
7) Do You Bleed? (4:36)
8) Problems Up Here (4:25)
9) Black and Blue (8:30)
10) Tuesday (4:00)
11)  Is She With You? (5:46)
12) This Is My World (6:23)
13) Men Are Still Good – (The Batman Suite) (14:03)

Disc Two:
1) Blood of My Blood (4:25)
2) Vigilante (3:53)
3) May I Help You Mr.Wayne? (3:27)
4) They Were Hunters (2:45)
5) Fight Night (4:20)

Awards:

Nominations:

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