"Tolja Marvel's Movie Themes Were Boring! Tolja!"

You know that feeling you get when you've been saying something for years and all of a sudden someone much wiser and far more credible says the same thing (and says it in a way that both far more complete and more convincing than you could have?)

Well, I'm feeling that feeling right now.

The wiser/more credible one in this particular case? Tony Zhou, of the aforementioned and undeniably-great "Every Frame A Painting" series. And the thing he's saying? That the melodic underpinnings of Marvel's cinematic universe are entirely too safe and entirely forgettable; rather than being musically risky or memorable, they're "bland and inoffensive."

So, what is missing from Marvel music? Risk. The kind of risk that creates an emotional connection with the audience, so that they carry the music with them.

Preach on, Tony; preach on.

Great stuff, and not just because I've been saying something along these lines for years.

The most amazing part of that whole clip, though, at least for me? Not the suggestion that Marvel's music is boring (because I already knew that). Nor the claim that temp music is terrible and ruins just about everything (because I already knew that, as well). And it wasn't even the "bombshell" that modern, non-linear editing was the real root cause of the ruining (which I'd never really thought about, but which makes some sense to me). Instead, it was the moment when Henry Jackman's sped-up Captain America: The Winter Soldier score was revealed as the melodic skeleton behind the insane action of Mad Max: Fury RoadWow.

To be fair (and as Tony points out himself), efforts to mimic temp music aren't exactly a failure of imagination on the part of the composers. I still think the MM:FR score is fantastic; Junkie XL manages to create something with just enough sonic divergence that he makes Jackman's piece (at least somewhat) his own. Somehow, it builds in a different (and more melodic) way that I think actually makes it both more effective and more objectively enjoyable. (Also, anyone that uses Hans Zimmer as an example of someone whose work has been over-borrowed/copied is hilarious to me. Hoisted on one's own petard, perhaps?)

Oh, and I should probably admit that I think there is a legitimately memorable, melodically emotive Marvel score; a single one, whose existence makes the paucity of its siblings sting even more. It's one that Zhou speaks about at length in his video, in fact:

Patrick Doyle's score for Thor.

The particular way in which Zhou uses it is very instructive, I think: he's presenting it as an example of the music's potential power rather than of its blandness. Sure, the particular scene in question is being criticized, but he's using a musical queue from the very same film as an example of the approach one might take if one were willing to be a bit riskier. I take that as a sign that while he thinks that Doyle's efforts are being used incorrectly/too safely, he's still a fan of the music overall. (That's how I want to interpret it, since that's my reaction, as well.)

Either way, this is great music. And also (I think) not music that would fit particularly well with (almost) any of the other Marvel efforts. It's too "throw-backy;" too "old-school." It's the perfect fit for Kenneth Branagh's film, because its heroic melodies and Branagh's straight-forward story-telling tendencies are without sarcasm or snark; they are entirely sincere. (Incidentally, this is why Branagh and Doyle were the perfect fit for Cinderella, a film which would have jarred badly in more sarcastic hands.)

Joe Johnston's work on Captain America: The First Avenger (and Alan Silvestri's accompanying heroic score, which is clearly referenced in that Smithsonian scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier Zhou breaks down) is as close to a sarcasm-free film as we've gotten this side of Branagh, but it's probably not surprising that anything helmed by such snarky stalwarts as Whedon or Singer, Gunn, Miller or Black is not as focused on "sincerity of tone" as is Branagh or Johnston. (That's also part of why I think Thor seems so out-of-place in the Whedon universe. Joss is really not sure what to do with a character that requires so much sincerity.)

Interestingly, Thor and and Captain America were both given new composers (and new, less distinctive themes) in their sequels. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both moved far away from their (refreshing) "Golden Age of Hollywood" roots into a more modern, cynical present (especially Cap, whose cinematic references shifted from the sometimes-naive but ever-heroic war films of the early-40's to the paranoid conspiracy films of the mid-70's). And both suffered as a result, at least musically -- unless their producers were looking for "safer" and "more predictable" and "less meaningful" music, in which case they got exactly what they wanted. I like Bryan Tyler and Henry Jackman well enough, and I think they both do a fine job of delivering on what they were asked to do. I just wish they'd been asked to do something else. Something more creative.

My only regret when it comes to Zhou's video? That his discussion the risk-free music of Marvel begins after the problem is already well-established, thus avoiding the mention of one of its most formative (and at the time, exceedingly risky) predecessors: the decision on the part of Christopher Nolan to shift from the easily-identifiable (and memorable) super-hero themes of his youth to a more motif-driven, sonically-overwhelming work of James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer. While the sizable success of this decision may have led us straight to the Safe-and-Symphonically-Barren world of today's superhero blockbusters we all dread today, it was an example of the very "High Risk, High Reward" approach Zhou wants to see.

Attribution(s): "Mixing Bored" via Visualhunt.com; "Thor Promotional" via WindKoh and Visualhunt/CC BY-NC.