Title: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Release Date(s): April 28th 2015 (DIGITAL)
May 19th 2015 (PHYSICAL)
Composer(s): Brian Tyler & Danny Elfman
Recorded At: Abbey Road Studios & Air Studios
Label: Hollywood/ Marvel Music
Why You Should…
For Tyler’s continued investment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe felicitates well with the rise of the superhero genre, and Elfman’s magical, arguably superior input elevates the soundtrack to new heights.
Why You Shouldn’t…
If you are becoming all too familiar with Tyler’s mannerisms for scoring action blockbusters, or if the lack of subtlety in this monumental effort exhausts you.
The MARVEL juggernaut continues with Joss Whedon’s follow-up to 2012’s biggest success, The Avengers, with the duly and aggressive AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, the 11th film in the MARVEL Cinematic Universe. When the first film opened to positive reception, it not only helped further solidify the place of superhero films within the film industry, but also opened a new door: the idea of creating a shared universe that paid off in the third most successful film of all time. For over fifty years, these larger than life characters have entertained and held a place dear in the hearts of many, and the ever-increasing public interest should float for the following years to come.
During a raid on a compound hidden deep within the foliage of fictional province Sokovia, Iron Man encounters a sentient, highly intelligent yet sinister artificial intelligence, with which he convinces Bruce Banner to reactivate their failed desire of creating Ultron. The plan backfires on an increasingly wild, exponential level when Ultron claims that in order for justice to come to fruition, all humans must be eradicated.
Ultron soon takes advantage of the desolate Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and as he begins plotting aforementioned global domination, the men and women Nick Fury believes in must raise their game if they are to win the fight against what could be their end. The film opened (to no surprise) to positive reviews, though mild criticism has been offered for inconsistent flow.
The most interesting thing about the infamous MARVEL cinematic canon is the soundtracks. The music behind the muscle, the heroism, and the inevitable danger that it tags along was this time yielded by Marvel favourite Brian Tyler, who has quickly risen to be a calling card (his previous efforts for TMNT, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3 were bombastic surprises), but with additional input from veteran composer Danny Elfman. The resulting amalgamations calls for some solid, praiseworthy moments, and as is the case for ANY superhero score, singular individual highlights help elevate the score. The score itself was recorded with the aid of the Philharmonia Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios.
Tyler’s new title theme is brooding and polyphonic, and frenetic strings flourish in a grandeur ending, toying with the 4 note theme for Ultron. Then, Elfman resurrects his power in the superhero genre with ‘Heroes’, a rousing, unabashedly heroic piece that stomps the new stunning main theme, but also integrating Alan Silvestri’s uplifting 5-note theme into it. Propulsive celli, metallic clanging and a march like rhythm helps this theme linger on in the mind. One can safely assume, however, as it isn’t featured within the film itself, it served better for the charlatan studio executives to pick and mix ideas from.
And just when you think the orchestral majesty stops, Tyler’s piece,entitled ‘Rise Together’ evokes a sentimental, Williams-like feel to the listener. The serenading strings are a highlight, and major-minor changes are another given welcome. Here, the meter varies, and the choir begin to explore treble regions. Woodwind trills truly make you feel as if you’re taking flight, contributing to some of the more intelligent, finer moments in Tyler’s promising career.
‘Breaking and Entering’ is where, however, the minimal negatives begin. The tense violins slide their ostinatos, but the piano towards the end is clichéd (and sounds vaguely reminiscent of his ‘Brake’ theme). Tyler does, however provide thematic references aplenty, and the addition of Taiko drums contrast well with the somewhat milder mid-section. Harps are heard, and an eerie atmosphere is cast. Elfman continues with ‘It Begins’, reinstating his new theme with choppy movement and staccato strings, and trumpet semiquavers too. A bass drum resounds with a thud, and Elfman takes us back to his old days, with flutes huffing and puffing (akin to his surprisingly dismal effort for Ang Lee’s Hulk). In the film, however, this is the first track heard, playing over the Marvel logo, and occupying the scenes where Wanda and Pietro Maximoff escape a damaged Sokovia.
Where Tyler excels, however, is his identity for Ultron: ‘Birth of Ultron.’ A cold, tingling piano motif is better applied here. It’s solemn, curious, and even hints at Iron Man’s own power anthem- perhaps an indicative reference for its hatred towards its creator. Electronic manipulation, a five note string motif that bubbles until it hits boiling point and a sudden finish enunciate Ultron’s escape. One can begin to realise that Tyler’s previous mannerisms are heard here too, but no composer is free from this, especially when veterans are capable of doing so, thus there is no reason to ostracize Tyler.
‘Ultron Twins’ benefits from some European influences. Tubular bells and choir are imminent (much like another superhero we all love), but there’s also poignancy, and alas, emotion results. This is what Elfman is known for, what he does best. He creates a vacuum using delicate strings and sucks the tears from your eyes.
(How about that for an expression?)
A solo cello helps reflect their innocence before siding with Ultron (in the film, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff are angry with Stark for the deaths of their parents that resulted from usage of his weapons), but the poignancy slowly deteriorates. That 4-note motif creeps its way back in and high strings and even an old favourite: the la-la choir are heard, the cellos carving sorrow into the piece, and it’s bittersweet.
Tyler’s brute force of orchestral mayhem returns. But it’s not a bad thing, especially when you consider how he’s utilised it the past; in the Marvel franchise thus far, he (and to a lesser extent, Silvestri) have finally slapped some sense of thematic continuity into the directors’ heads. Iron Man’s theme is stated midway in, and it times perfectly with the closing and sealing of the Hulkbuster armour. Or, Veronica, for short. An unclear motif for Hulk is heard, and there’s definitely some menace. Light, clanging, box-like percussion, a myriad of effective suspense and terror, and some abrasive percussive rhythms keep Zimmer enthusiasts entertained. Ethnic instrumentation felicitates the foreign locale well, and the snare rips the cat right out of the hat, gentlemen. The only truly disappointing thing about the track (and the films so far) is the complete lack of abandonment for Craig Armstrong’s theme for Hulk; Armstrong having provided a definite identity for the raging monster, so it’s a shame that Tyler nor Elfman (or Silvestri for that part) have integrated it in.
Elfman takes centre stage with three continuous tracks; ‘Can You Stop This Thing?’ (A gothic start and some ostinatos propel this), ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘Farmhouse’. Whilst the former prevails in colours of sorrow, and anguish, as well as a bittersweet statement of the Maximoff Twin’s theme, the latter induces soft guitar, an amalgamation of his more subtle, tender methods for Real Steel and the Spiderman films. In an age where everything sounds all too familiar, throwbacks are the hidden guilty pleasures indeed.
Tyler returns. (How about that for a cue title?)
‘The Vault’ makes use of his fast-paced, delirious bravado, and the pounding percussion, whining strings, brooding lower range of celli, mild brass, tense tremolo strings give way to an eerie silence, before the barrage resurfaces. Not much can be said for ‘The Mission’, but cleverly counteracting against those ostinatos is a sense of duty, a noble soundscape. Tyler hits full swing in ‘Seoul Searching’ (10 points to Gryffindor for that pun) and he gets straight to the point; clanging metallic percussion, tense semiquavers, brass echoing terror, some slippery strings, harp and woodwind ornamentation and slapping percussion give weight to the ground the Avengers stand on.
‘Inevitability-One Good Eye’ hints at some Goldsmith/ Star Wars style-mannerisms, Elfman taking control once more, the flute adding mild tension, and thematic cohesion is prevalent. Brutal, military style-snare rhythm and valiant heroism erupts at 2:30, to emphasise Nick Fury’s belief in a shaken team. It actually starts off with faint, ticking electronics that grow to suit the dramatic tension on screen, but ends with a tense string slide.
‘Ultron Wakes’ hands the villainous responsibility over to Elfman, with a suspense-filled start, as a solemn horn plays the main theme, albeit fragmented… the Ultron theme hits at about 1:20 and terror brass punctuates this well.
‘Vision’ is somewhat of a highlight. Tyler intelligently conveys the animosity of the synthesised life-form, who ends up being a pivotal member of the Avengers’ fight against Ultron. Gliding harp movements give way to a tense, string statement that combines treble and bass regions well. The combination of the harp and the eerie strings help better enunciate Vision’s childlike curiosity, yet minimally conveys his subtle power too. The strings have never truly come into play until this track, and it serves well. A four note motif is heard from the horns in the third motif, and concludes in a cymbalic finish.
Tyler continues with ‘The Battle’, a piece that opens with John Barry-like mannerisms. Slow phrasing of semiquavers and harsh brass statements are followed by tense, choppy staccato movements from all areas of the orchestra. At the 1-minute mark, things turn slightly heroic, before things calm down approximately 30 seconds later. A sense of hopelessness and desperation is once again conveyed here, a crescendo giving way to a brief statement of Silvestri’s own theme. Then, the meter varies, and timpani rolls flourish in a troubled statement of Thor’s new theme from The Dark World. Light snare and strings slide under the orchestral weight. There are several generic string crescendos that accentuate that piece, before ending in a monumental C minor finish.
‘Wish You Were Here’ scales the drama down to a more wistful, melancholy feel, though somewhat optimistic in its rendering. Percussion of a stiff calibre and staccato celli build the heroism up further.
Elfman extends his farmhouse motif in ‘The Farm’. Lush guitars twang, and high romantic strings are beautiful and are duly needed after all the crashing and bashing. The woodwind section puff along with the new hybrid main theme, and this too is a brief highlight, the downside being its short length. Tyler’s ‘Darkest of Intentions’ lives up to its title, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. Tense strings again give away to a thunderous statement of the main title theme, but sorrowful celli and high violins contrast this perfectly, emphasising the growing bond between Romanoff and Banner. ‘Fighting Back’ begins eerily, with the motif from ‘Rise Together’ being reassembled for good measure, and an extract of Stark’s anthem is heard once more. Zimmer-like percussion rumbles underneath strings and brass, and snares tap mischievously. Some fast-paced brass riffs are heard, and Ultron’s theme comes back in full-bodied flow, more antagonizing than ever.
Brilliance is finally achieved to the maximum in ‘Avengers Unite’. It’s a cue that Tyler could have composed in his sleep, but Elfman’s ingenious handling of the theme and the interpolation of multiple, pounding percussive layers is remarkable. By far, this is the highlight of the whole album. The theme is more victorious as ever, as the new Avengers defend the core from Ultron and his likeness army in a slow-motion fight scene worthy of multiple jaw drops, though the jaw-dropping is entirely due to the track. Delirious bravado and fast strings lace action into the scene, and Silvestri’s own theme is stated quite wondrously towards the end. The track deserves multiple hearings.
‘Keys to the Past’ is handled by Tyler, with Ultron’s 4-note motif resonating at the start. Solemn horns and uneasy strings are added to the equation, with low, rambling piano octaves plodding along in unison. A mild timpani rumble helps the piano become more prevalent, before brass accentuates the growing terror. ‘Uprising’ is an ambitious extension of Tyler’s action material, with Williams-like march and snare tapping complementing the coy horns and strings. Staccato movements serve as a better embodiment for the tension in the 1 minute mark, before bittersweet material for Romanoff and Hulk is heard nearing the two-minute mark. ‘Outlook’ continues this, as the strings are resonant and melodious in their approach, and several motif are reinstated here. When Tyler said he used Star Wars as an influence, he wasn’t lying; parts of this soundtrack could have very well influenced his output. Halfway through the piece, another victorious build-up statement of the theme appears, and the serenading strings from ‘Rise Together’ appear here too. The piece then finishes in yet another grand orchestral flourish. Tyler finally plays his last cue in ‘The Last One’, presumably the music accompanying the scenes where Vision confronts and eliminates the last Ultron AI. The strings have become weary, and a sense of finality is signified. Yet another bittersweet statement of the love theme is present, only this time it’s more sad, as a devastated Hulk leaves a broken-hearted Black Widow behind. Vision’s motif then rings in, the high, bleak strings backed by the ever-brooding cello, as Ultron and his plans finally come to an end.
Elfman takes responsibility for the final two cues; the first of which is ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’. His trademark, melancholy style of writing emphasises the aftermath well. A noble, slow horn statement of the theme is accompanied by curious strings, and some life is given into the piece. Silvestri’s theme reverberates throughout the staccato strings, and the harp gently whispers as the 5 note motif rounds things off. At last, we come to an end in ‘New Avengers- Avengers: Age Of Ultron’. An oboe softly coos Captain America’s theme, before hopeful strings double the motif. The strings then build, as hope is heard, and the theme is finally played in complete glorious fashion, in E minor, as the new Avengers stand before Rogers. The B minor rendition that it leads up to is gripping, with snare, soulful choir and brass powerfully standing out. The choppy celli movements are prevalent here, and the horn sings the main anthemic theme proudly. A softer interlude serves as a reminder of the tragic material that Elfman is well and truly capable of writing, and the theme gets sequenced into two more keys. The theme then comes to a stunning close, and all is said and done.
Not much else can be said about this powerhouse of an effort. While it certainly contains bravado, heroism, danger and grandeur, one may find themselves wishing for more delicate, softer parts to the puzzle. Tyler’s action material is starting to become synonymous with one another, but his ingenuity in raw, organic composition compensates for that. The Age of Elfman, however continues, with magic. There is delight in his material, and Tyler’s too, for it helps better enunciate the powers these heroes carry under their name, but the irony is that power results in some mild exhaustion. Perhaps a better dose of subtlety in a similar effort would bear well, but they have done just fine. The most important thing to note, is that while there are two composers at play, Tyler and Elfman never interspersed their own territories, instead subtly acknowledging each other’s material whilst creating a synthesis of anthemic, resonating music. There lie typical mannerisms akin to both composers in Age of Ultron, but that can be interpreted in both ways. What is impossible to deny however, that in the result of their labour, fruit has born; Avengers: Age of Ultron is a powerful, masculine score that can be safely added to this year’s highlights. 2015 seems to be a strong year of film music, and with The Force Awakens looming closer on the proverbial horizon, the remainder of the year seems promising enough.
Music in connection to the film: [*****] 5/5
Music as a sole listening experience: [****] 4/5
Overall Consensus: [****] 4/5
1) Avengers: Age of Ultron – Main Title (Tyler)
2) Heroes (not featured in the film) (Elfman)
3) Rise Together (Tyler)
4) Breaking and Entering (Tyler)
5) It Begins (Elfman)
6) Birth of Ultron (Tyler)
7) Ultron Twins (Elfman)
8) Hulkbuster (Tyler)
9) Can You Stop This Thing? (Elfman)
10) Sacrifice (Elfman)
11) Farmhouse (Elfman)
12) The Vault (Tyler)
13) The Mission (Tyler)
14) Seoul Searching (Tyler)
15) Inevitability- One Good Eye (Elfman)
16) Ultron Wakes (Elfman)
17) Vision (Tyler)
18) The Battle (Tyler)
19) Wish You Were Here (Tyler)
20) The Farm (Elfman)
21) Darkest of Intentions (Tyler)
22) Fighting Back (Tyler)
23) Avengers Unite (Elfman)
24) Keys To The Past (Tyler)
25) Uprising (Tyler)
26) Outlook (Tyler)
27) The Last One (Tyler)
28) Nothing Lasts Forever (Elfman)
29) New Avengers- Age Of Ultron (Elfman)