Hans Zimmer has announced he is to ‘retire’ from superhero films, revealing that he really struggled with coming up with a new angle from which to tell the story of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice musically. Sad news for fans of Man of Steel and Christopher Nolan’s superb Dark Knight trilogy, both served excellently by the veteran composer. But at least he gets to go out with a bang – because unless you’ve been living in your very own bat cave, you’re probably aware that Dawn of Justice has not been favourably received by movie critics, and that comic book fans have been at each other’s throats with their opinions of the film. Thankfully, Zimmer and his collaborator, producer turned composer, Junkie XL, deliver another great soundtrack, which is actually more enjoyable to listen to on its own, without the visually spectacular yet slightly ridiculous film.
My main gripe, as a great lover of film music, is the need for superhero films to constantly reinvent themselves musically. Take the Star Wars films as an example: every single film from the franchise has always used John Williams themes, to the point where it would be unthinkable if they ever didn’t. In the case of Batman and Superman, Danny Elfman and John Williams have previously written themes for these characters which are so iconic that they really should be accompanying these two heroes in every single outing. That would really raise the goosebump factor for films such as this one. However, Zimmer has made a point of not even reusing his own themes from the Dark Knight trilogy.
With that being said, take nothing away from the new themes by Zimmer and Junkie XL (surely the least ‘composer’ name ever). Beautiful Lie introduces the new Batman motif, while Superman’s is heard in Day of the Dead – the Man of Steel theme making its comeback in this sequel. Despite my grumbles, it’s all great music and suits Zack Snyder’s very dark and serious tone in the movie. While Batman’s musical material has always been dark for good reason, it’s a bold and interesting decision to give Clark Kent a more mellow, introspective piece of music, led by guitar and cellos rather than fanfare French horns. There has also been criticism saying that Lois Lane is little more than a damsel in distress in the film, but at least her inclusion as a character means the gorgeous, ambient piano love theme for herself and Clark is heard a few times.
Another big sticking point was Jesse Eisenberg’s erratic performance as Lex Luthor. But it’s fair to say the Luthor theme is one of Zimmer’s best character themes for some time – using the most booming bass notes on the piano and prepared piano on the higher strings and a very aggressive string section. It’s ludicrously characteristic. And last but not least, Wonder Woman is also treated very well, musically speaking, with a primal piece of music led by tribal sounding guitar and huge drum section.
It really is these themes that carry the music, as they are the moments that offer interesting instrumentation and fresh ideas. The incidental music is all decent, but mostly well trodden ideas in terms of film music, with the exception of electronic cues such as Must There Be a Superman?, presumably handled by Junkie XL, which is a relatively challenging listen.
So if you’ve seen the film and weren’t that impressed by the music, I would suggest you listen to it as a purely auditory experience. After all, it’s hard to appreciate a good piece of music when you’re audibly sighing at a plot point that makes absolutely zero sense. And if Hans Zimmer really is hanging up his superhero scoring cape once and for all, the upcoming DC Justice League films will be worse off for it. Hopefully these brilliant character themes will live on, and will most likely be placed into the capable hands of Junkie XL. And at the time of writing, Dawn of Justice is devouring the box office, meaning millions are being treated to this music.
Review by Adam Protz (4/5)