Why You Should…
If you were bedazzled by the explosive war theme for Wonder Woman from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and seek an interesting collation of restlessly engaging action cues to go with her fierce strength, as well as a welcome change of tone in the DCEU.
Why You Shouldn’t…
If some of the generic material is capable of putting you to sleep, despite some decent emotionally engaging moments.
Release Date: June 2nd 2017 (GENERAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Rupert Gregson-Williams
Label: WaterTower Music
Additional Music By: Andrew Kawczynski, Paul Mounsey and Tom Howe.
Electric Cello Performances By: Tina Guo
Vocalist: Tori Letzler
Percussion: Peter Gregson
Conducted By: Alistair King
After a culturally divisive prior year, the DCEU continued to explore unknown mythology of the DC Comics superheroes. Building on from the character’s long-awaited cinematic debut is the demigoddess prequel WONDER WOMAN, helmed by Patty Jenkins, with Gal Gadot reprising her role as the Amazonian warrior-princess. The feminist cultural icon was widely reported to have stolen the show in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the overarching story-line envisioned by cinematic universe orchestrator Zack Snyder dials the timeline a hundred years back to the troubled times of the First World War. Fighter pilot and spy Steve Trevor (a magnificent Chris Pine) inadvertently crash-lands his plane on the secluded, mythical island of Themyscira, home to the Amazons- an ancient, seemingly immortal and courageous warrior civilisation. Protagonist Diana Prince’s curiosity is piqued by the arrival of the man, and her silver lining is well and truly shattered when she learns of the war raging on in man’s world, defiant and hopeful in setting out to end it. The superhero’s naivety, however costs her greatly as she learns of the cruelty men pose upon each other, and the looming entity that orchestrates events hidden from view. A welcome change of pace was widely received positively in Wonder Woman, and Jenkins’ return to directing is a timely comeback in her filmography, yielding a stellar product to establish the character’s origins and outline to an otherwise oblivious general audience. The marketing campaign for the film was concentrated in terms of teasers and trailers, and the film’s hype was considerably backed by the titular character’s war theme from the prior year. Composer Hans Zimmer announced his retirement from superhero films, with the condition of his return being only when a phenomenal entry in the genre is given to him. Zimmer left behind an auxiliary theme for Wonder Woman that quickly evolved into the runaway worldwide phenomenon last year, its exponential popularity showing no signs of slowing down with casual listeners and film score enthusiasts alike. As such, Wonder Woman is the second DCEU film not to be scored by Zimmer, following Steven Price‘s Suicide Squad, and is instead courted by Rupert Gregson-Williams, a protegee of the composer.
Gregson-Williams has mostly circumnavigated the better part of his career through animation films and questionable entries in the comedy genre (see: Adam Sandler), and was finally given a deserved break in acclaimed war drama Hacksaw Ridge. The success of his score for the latter, coupled with a passable work for The Legend of Tarzan is the most obvious answer for his involvement in Wonder Woman, and at any rate the composer now has a better range of projects to choose from. The aforementioned theme is loyally scattered throughout the score, continuing the DCEU’s otherwise superior thematic continuity in their musical tapestry. It comes off as a surprise in some respects, that Tarzan’s theme from the latter score is repackaged and morphed into the main character theme for Wonder Woman, utilising the same rising 4 note brass patterns. For the most part, however, it exudes the same sense of optimism and larger-than-life heroic fanfare, a return to some of the more hopeful aspects of Man of Steel. The war theme is heard almost immediately on coy electric cello, courtesy of Tina Guo, at the outset of “Amazons of Themyscira”. At 1:11, a mild variation of the Batman theme from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice makes an appearance to represent Wayne Enterprises’ omniscient presence in the early scenes of the film, showing musical continuity. The track also briefly engages with the rumbling 7/8 rhythm at the beginning, with counterpointed layers of string ostinati and double bass sliding, accompanied by suitably ethereal choral vocals. One could easily make a killing describing the usage of noteworthy solo female vocals in film scores within the 21st century, and this tactic has since became a guilty pleasure of sorts. Here it’s actually relevant given the background of Themyscira and its women, so it’s futile to cry cliche. The main theme for Wonder Woman could easily be synonymously attributed with Themyscira, highlighting Diana’s childhood and loving upbringing by Queen Hippolyta. An assortment of specialty instruments, including the ethnic flute variety (ney, oud) and dulcimers add some flavours of Amazon. The brass and pounding percussion ensemble are key here, with mute guitar segueing into the war rhythm every now and then, as Diana trains with her aunt, Antiope, to become proficient as a warrior.
“History Lesson” expands on the solemnity of Themyscira with gentle, undulating strings. There’s a considerable amount of synthetic backing and ambience underneath, the early parts of the score heralded by a rising two-note series of horn progressions. The duduk makes an appearance in its nasal tone, with timpanis and brass rips. “Angel on the Wing” incorporates glockenspiel and a sense of wonder (see: appallingly appropriate wordplay), for when Diana sets eyes upon Steve in lilting fashion. The material can be inoffensively safe at times, though the general hopeful tone compensates. In “Ludendorff, Enough!”, the innocence is slowly torn apart as the atrocities of the villainess Dr.Poison and her role in the chemical warfare is referenced on low cellos and basses, mute trumpets and a repeating ground bass. The action finally comes to life when the tingling percussion and Diana’s theme undergo chord mutations in a surge, before annoying dying down again for more obscure tension. The character of General Ludendorff is given brutal, harsh brass and slapping drums as well as a triple note ascent on eerie strings. “Pain Loss Love” returns to the solemnity of the war and Diana’s perspective, with the duduk showing up again. Diana’s theme is stated gently on strings and horns as she prepares to leave home to end the First World War, a tinge of maternal pleading from Hippolyta obvious in the cue. It receives a more outwardly inspired treatment, in spite of the pedestrian romantic material for her growing alliance with Steve. Much of the underscore is bland and inoffensive, a consistent trait that occupies the score’s first half. “No Man’s Land” expands on this, its bubbly pleasantness not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but falls short of expectations. In that cue, however, we hear some engaging crescendo strings and percussive grooves as she journeys to London with Trevor. At three minutes into the cue, the war theme finally kicks off- the war theme locks in tandem with a bubbling synth loop and drum rhythms, coupled with sixteenth notes. Ludendorff’s eerie theme briefly flirts with Diana’s, undergoing chord mutation even more, with a consistent change in meter.
“Fausta” returns to brooding territory with tubular bells and a slower ostinato for Poison, with the Wonder Woman war theme truncated onto cross rhythm on dulcimer. “Wonder Woman’s Wrath” begins tepidly with growing war like percussion and horns embodying the 7/8 rhythm. The cue injects some vivacious energy brilliantly, with electronics well incorporated here. Tempo acceleration amplifies the ensemble, before Diana’s theme explodes on brass. In “The God of War”, Ludendorff’s tritone is heard on cello, with rippling snares. Tepid underscore is interrupted by some mild brass dissonance, and a consistent propulsion on strings, and the latter half tests your patience greatly. Are’s theme debuts here, as his reveal is symbolised by a series of string wails and slurs. The tritone receives bass choir backing, heightened dynamics. “We Are All To Blame” takes a more thoughtful tone, and a horn motif for Steve Trevor is implemented. “Hell Hath No Fury” expands from this, with minor-major key synths and horns, venturing gently into new age music. The emotion is decently conveyed, with a bombastic key change highlighting the simplified Poison ostinato on minims, and Steve’s theme is given urgency. “Lightning Strikes” shows Trevor’s theme conveyed poignantly on duduk and cello, in a bittersweet, tragic manner that induces goosebumps and Diana’s war rhythm closes the track commendably well, as Diana learns the truth about her birth and uses it to bring Ares’s end. “Trafalgar Celebration” continues the bittersweet strings, with trumpet refrains and lovely pathos, and a gorgeous statement of Diana on violins. Watch out for the war theme exploding at the end! “Action Reaction” incorporates 7/8 bass guitar slapping, offering one of the more engaging tracks in the score, with its relentless sense of aggression and energy. The track serves its purpose during the ending credits, with a series of bull-like grunting, reflecting war-hungry aggression. If it had been more inspired in the first half, the score would have merited a higher rating, with too much emphasis on the optimistic string-based ideas. The villainous motifs are weak and are neglected in development for anonymous ideas that take repeat listens to uncover, and the war theme is where the score mostly rides on. Parts of the score are generic, and it brings down some actively engaging action moments. Trevor’s theme and the subsequent emotional cues are however, a catch, and the war theme cues are awesome enough. It’s all too clear that there is missing music, a practice growing increasingly common in most score releases today. Bootleg releases might solve the answer, but until then, is this mediocrity acceptable? It’s unfair to the composer and the listeners in that regard. To think that Zimmer actively pushed for a female composer to be signed with the film and that exciting prospect not materialising is a shame. Think of Pinar Toprak, Debbie Wiseman, Sarah Schachner… the possibilities are endless. Their fantastic compositional writing would have graced the film immensely. The Sia song at the end doesn’t harm the score, but isn’t necessary either. As things stand, Wonder Woman better functions as a suite-like experience than a whole album listen, so sift out “No Man’s Land”, “Wonder Woman’s Wrath”, “Lightning Strikes”, “Trafalgar Celebration” and “Action Reaction” to compile a playlist worthy of wielding justice. The hopeful and empowered tone is ultimately, what pushes Wonder Woman over the line.
(all music written by Rupert Gregson-Williams)
1) Amazons of Themyscira (6:47)
2) History Lesson (5:16)
3) Angel On The Wing (3:45)
4) Ludendorff, Enough! (7:37)
5) Pain Loss Love (5:27)
6) No Mans Land (8:52)
7) Fausta (3:20)
8) Wonder Woman’s Wrath (4:06)
9) The God Of War (8:02)
10) We Are All To Blame (3:11)
11) Hell Hath No Fury (3:58)
12) Lightning Strikes (3:35)
13) Trafalgar Celebration (4:50)
14) Action Reaction (5:54)
15) To Be Human (Sia feat Labrinth)* (4:00)