For a film-score fan like me, a film’s musical accompaniment has the ability to foster increased enjoyment of its film. For example, the delightful How to Train Your Dragon. Add in John Powell’s should-have-won-an-Oscar score, and it’s now the utterly delightful How to Train Your Dragon.
Of course, the opposite is true: a film’s score can tarnish or even sink the enjoyment of a film for me. In the case of the former, the later Harry Potter films with their disappointing scores lacking appropriate thematic development and eschewing musical continuity; in the case of the latter (and no pun intended), Titanic with its score’s amateurishly cheap-sounding vocals attempting to ripoff Enya and exceedingly grating overuse of that damn song’s melody.
The former is also the case for Man of Steel (coincidentally partly for the same reasons as the later Potters). The film itself was fairly underwhelming (save for a terrific cast) while simultaneously being over the top. Add in Hans Zimmer’s disappointing score, and the film struggles to earn a three-star rating from me.
Calling Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel score a disappointment, though, is being kind. His score is overly simple, thoroughly generic, and astoundingly devoid of any intelligent ideas.
Once again, Zimmer scores the film he wants to score and ignores what other composers have established for the genre and, in this case, franchise. I’d be more forgiving of Zimmer’s blatant disregard for a film’s musical genre (see: the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Gladiator, Man of Steel, etc.) if the music were actually good (see: Pirates 3, Gladiator). Zimmer’s music used to be a novelty; now it’s just the mark of a lazy composer unwilling (incapable?) of composing anything else.
Jonathan Broxton at Movie Music UK has a thorough review that I’m in agreement with. I’ll add this:
I understand John Williams’s iconic theme for Superman couldn’t be used in this reboot/reimagining of Superman. It simply wouldn’t fit.
But given Zimmer’s affinity for ostinatos, he could have—no, should have—used the Williams Superman ostinato. Here’s the ostinato driving the main titles as arranged by John Ottman for Superman Returns:
The most frustrating part of Zimmer not using Williams’s Superman ostinato? It would have easily fit. Slow it down slightly, and it could have easily been layered underneath Zimmer’s Superman “anthem” heard here:
The track already has ostinatos underneath. Why not replace one of them with Williams’s? Here’s the ostinato paired with Ottman’s Lex Luthor theme (again from Superman Returns):
Sure, the bright-sounding trumpets wouldn’t work with Zimmer’s style for the score, but he could have kept the rhythm and changed the orchestration. John Powell in the two non-Superman superhero films he has scored used the ostinato. Here it is starting at 0:24 in this cue from X-Men: The Last Stand:
…and here it is throughout the first part of this cue from Hancock:
Why couldn’t Zimmer in an actual Superman film use it? Pride? Laziness?
Whatever the reason, Zimmer’s Man of Steel is an enormous missed opportunity and joins the increasing list of his recent scores that have lost most of the intelligence and inspiration that his past scores like The Lion King, The Last Samurai, and even Pirates 3 exhibited—scores, unlike Man of Steel, that he clearly approached not just as a job but as an opportunity.
Curiously, his score for The Lone Ranger sounds more inspired and fits the genre and franchise far better than his Man of Steel score. Not surprisingly, it’s also his most enjoyable and entertaining score in years. But will it prove to be an outlier amongst his recent bland efforts or the beginning of a course correction? Can Zimmer break free from the shackles of his kryptonite: his laziness? I hope so.