Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
Despite the remarkable amount of praise the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have received, two big issues are always brought up: the villains and the music. While the former has recently been rectified due to amazing villains like Vulture, Killmonger and Thanos, many still believe the latter is a problem. Is that the case, though, or is something else going on?
In this article, I’ll explain what I think Marvel’s music issue is, and I’ll share my favorite music from the MCU. Give it a look!
True: Marvel's Music WAS Mediocre At One Point
I’m a huge fan of the MCU, but even I can’t fully deny the criticism of Marvel’s music. At one time, it was completely uninspired and forgettable.
As Phase One moved along, there wasn’t a single movie that introduced an interesting soundtrack. Iron Man 1 and 2 relied on heavy doses of ACDC, which got the job done but didn’t bring anything new to the table. Both The Incredible Hulk and Captain America’s offerings were generic, and Thor Missed the opportunity to do something interesting. In the first phase, Marvel struggled to live up to the original Iron Man, and their music didn’t help matters. Then, something changed.
The Avengers happened.
Alan Silvestri’s Avengers Theme backed the glorious team shot that was years in the making, and it’s stuck with fans for years because of it. I still remember hearing it performed by the band in my high school, and as a kid who grew up reading about Marvel heroes, hearing the Avengers Theme as I walked down the hallway made me so happy. This was the start of something special. Only one more movie would deal with the Phase One struggles (looking at you, Thor: The Dark World), because Marvel had found the formula for both their music and their movies.
False: Marvel's Music Is STILL Mediocre
The idea that Marvel’s music is still an issue couldn’t be further from the truth, as Phase 2 and 3 have been packed with brilliant music. Whether it’s Tyler Bates, Ludwig Goransson or Michael Giacchino, the MCU has been packed with great composers creating tracks to suit the heroes.
The movies no longer blended together musically, with each soundtrack beginning to match each character. Spider-Man’s tracks were playful and captured the youthful tone of his film, whereas Black Panther’s tracks captured the character’s African heritage and brought different-sounding music into the series. As Marvel’s movies began to tackle different genres and become less formulaic, the music did the same.
No films prove this more than Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Each film provides an original soundtrack and a compilation soundtrack of licensed music (the one for the original Guardians won a Grammy) and I can’t think of a movie in recent memory where licensed music is used better. It’s a key part of both films’ plots, essential to Star-Lord’s relationship with both of his parents, and it’s ultimately what makes the Guardians movies special. Combined with the standout original tracks like “Dad” and “Black Tears”, the Guardians films prove that Marvel heard the criticism about their music.
There are many exceptional pieces of music in the MCU, enough to where the idea of the soundtracks themselves being the problem is simply false. Instead, Marvel’s music has faced another issue: replicating the memorability of the Avengers Theme.
Why The MCU's Music Isn't More Memorable
It’s often been said that the thing stopping Marvel’s music from being memorable is that the action/acting/visuals are outstanding enough for the music to become an afterthought. Perhaps that’s part of the reason, but I think the biggest factor is something different.
Think about some of the most memorable movie themes (Star Wars, 007, Harry Potter, etc.). Now thing about how often you’ve heard that theme. These pieces of music are instantly recognizable, and it’s no surprise; they’re genuinely great. They also have one key factor on their side: repetition. Every time Indiana Jones is adventuring or an opening crawl for a Star Wars movie comes on screen, the music accompanying it is the same classic theme fans have come to know and love. Multiple listens are a huge key to making a piece of music stick with someone, but in Marvel’s case, they have to try harder.
Their series is filled with different characters, and said characters’ movies have some majorly different tones and styles. One theme isn’t going to fit all of them. Marvel is forced to create a unique, recognizable theme for every character/group of characters. Then, if they want it to stick, they have to reuse it in that character's other films. When Iron Man got his own theme, it came in the third movie and was introduced too late for it to catch on with anyone other than huge MCU fans. Thankfully Marvel has started to change things up, with Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy both having their theme reused in two films. I can honestly say that it’s working for me. I can instantly recognize both themes, and love listening to them outside of the films they're featured in.
For the Avengers, Marvel can use the same theme, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that their most reused piece of music is their most well-known. The Netflix shows are free to do this as well, and once again, their great themes are easy to identify.
Marvel Studios has some tremendous talent, and they have plenty of stellar music in their catalog because of it... they just need to continue making their heroes’ themes more than a one-off. In a huge movie series like this one, repetition is the key to success.
This article took some time to put together, so I hope you enjoyed reading it! I'd love to know what you think, & feel free to share your favorite MCU tracks in the comments!