Man Of Steel- Score Review

Man of Steel Logo

Release Date: 11th June 2013
Composer(s): Hans Zimmer
[Additional Music By: Junkie XL, Atli Örvasson, Andrew Kawcyznski, Steve Mazzaro and Geoff Zanelli]
Length: 87:49 (standard edition)
118:18 (deluxe edition)
Recorded At/By: Eastwood Scoring Stage, Burbank, California
Label: Watertower Music

Why You Should…
For Hans Zimmer evokes a degree of awe and muscularity with his befitting new, action packed efforts for the titular character.

Why You Shouldn’t…
The startling lack of subtlety, romance or indeed, intelligent writing will detract the more learnt listener.


The notion of rebooting a franchise has transcended into second nature within the illusive world of Hollywood. Whether it be superheroes, heralded action thrillers, or even the more relaxed genres of filmmaking, it is somewhat of a disguised pleasure to see these characters materialise onscreen once more, and the audience is inevitably lead on a trail of nostalgia, and conventionalisation. Since the reboot of the Batman franchise, many other franchises followed suit, vigorously conditioning said characters and mythos into perceived standards of today to re-earn the “cool” status once more. A prime example of this is Zack Snyder’s polarising but ultimately eye-opening superhero feature, MAN OF STEEL. Perhaps no other attempt in the colourful realm of superhero-based filmmaking has ever ripped the critics and audiences away from each other, with both praise and punishment being hurtled from multiple angles. Drawing upon the panels of an American cultural icon, Superman’s origin story was adapted to suit to contemporary times, proof that the “most revered in the pantheon” (echoed by Henry Cavill, who convincingly won acclaim for his transcendence upon Christopher Reeve’s legacy) still thrives due its timelessness even today. Snyder’s take on the Man of Steel revolved around the internal conflict of Clark Kent, and as to whether he should unleash his mysterious powers if he is to defend Earth from a seemingly sinister General Zod, now hellbent on avenging Krypton’s demise. With more than enough gross generated worldwide to accumulate plans for a shared universe, in the vein of their counterpart, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, albeit to engineer that universe in reverse to provide contrast, Man Of Steel opened the doors for audiences to begin exploring the DC comic mythos in detail.

With Man Of Steel’s release, came a more healthier appreciation of Superman, though not without its detractors. Lack of character development and pacing were the main issues that both critics and audiences alike shared with one another. Where the film succeeded however, was its casting, the attention to comic book mythology, and visual effects. The score, by Hans Zimmer, elicited an array of responses- quite simply put, favoured by the masses, chastised by the elite. Speculation initially flew rampant of the composer’s involvement with the project, though Zimmer was quick to dismiss the claims. It’s interesting to think that when the composer seems as if he’s about to settle for something a bit more on the lighter end of the spectrum, out come the giants in the industry to pull him back for more explosive output! Argued Zimmer, that his fear of being compared with the iconic John Williams was his main concern, Snyder must have coerced him a great deal to accept the project. In some regards, Zimmer’s concerns were understandable- the daunting responsibility of stepping into the most prolific composer of our generation, and altering the compositional DNA for one of cinema’s legendary characters is no mean feat. To which degree Zimmer performed this, is arguable.

A neutral standpoint to this score is undoubtedly the safest tightrope to walk on. The clash between old and new arises again with this score, ironically, his trilogy of efforts for The Dark Knight Trilogy garnered similar mixed bags. The original score to Richard Donner’s Superman was heralded by the audiences for its iconic stature, easily recallable titular theme and several other majestic parts to the equation. In an interview for the making of Williams’ score, said a member of the film’s crew , “I swear to God, if you listen to the music carefully, literally, the music…speaks the word.” The syllabic identity for Superman was indeed a truth. There was a certain element that Williams had to his advantage- the lively exuberance of the original. The composer was never afraid to hide his affinity for all films in that tone, a “fun manner”, and hence, it could be argued as to why so many of his themes are fully of brass momentum, and speak optimism to the full. The march and love theme were arguably the selling points of this classic score, though there were several highlights within innocuous cues to be found if you looked carefully enough. Was it inevitable that this work of orchestral fanfare would eventually set the golden standard for all superhero films to follow by? To carve a memorable thematic identity so evocative that heroism (in any manner, be it genuine or parodious) would surface within the listener? Indeed it was.

But the generation has changed. It’s difficult to re-adapt the tendencies of old meticulously to suit today’s needs, and hence, convention occurs. Zimmer’s greatest identity was both his commendability and fall from grace. There is, perhaps, one single way to look at the score for Man Of Steel, to simply compare alongside to the film itself. Both exhibit significant amounts of potential, but never seemingly utilise said capacity to the greatest possible extent. The raised expectations and mass hype surrounding his involvement didn’t help either- any educated filmscore fanatic knew this was a battle that Zimmer simply couldn’t win. He succeeds in creating a powerful new identity for Superman, and brutal action sequences with full percussive force, but lacks the elegance of his idol. The daring attempt to create a new theme must be lauded, and the final track, “What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World?” displays a growing sense of bravado and muscularity. If one really seeks to fully differentiate the work of old and new, then look at it as such. Williams succeeded in giving Superman majesty and dashing courage. Zimmer succeeded in his own right by employing force to signify the character’s pumping muscularity (strength has been weakly conveyed onscreen as one of Superman’s greatest assets until Man Of Steel), and also an ideal of hope. The obnoxious reliance on percussion and frenetic string ostinati, however serve as his key weaknesses in the score. Zimmer has seen better days in terms of hitting the right notes to seek the emotional core of a character. Granted, there are some soothing passages within the score, but the miscalculated proportion of action and humanity mask said efforts to bring Clark’s struggle to light.

 This time, there’s no love theme for Lois Lane either, and despite her contextual presence onscreen, the use of a milder character suite would have perhaps helped in enunciating better contrast between the hero and his love. The composer instead fires his concentration towards Superman and his twisted counterpart- Zod. Using a violent C-minor series of ostinati and low registered horns to show his brute nature, Zimmer repeats the idea several times, in cues such as “I Will Find Him”, “General Zod”, and “Arcade”.

In terms of instrumentation, Zimmer indulges in a cross-experiment of orchestral and synthetic elements to earn his pay. It’s comforting to know that the horns, strings and raw elements are there, occasional piano touches and necessity to craft special instruments to aid in sound design showing a modicum of commitment. It is worrying that the absence of a trumpet plagues the score, though one would not be ostracised for pointing otherwise in the bonus cue, a 28 minute Steelbook of conjoined ideas that eventually form the basis of the film. Zimmer used an imposing combination of twelve drummers to help pound the scenes out to required muscularity. The basis was to merge creativity and to create a unison groove that would eventually become the calling card to Superman- a rather tribal but commendable rhythm that builds and roars when the main theme blasts victoriously. In its extended usage, the eardrums do boil, but it becomes clear that that’s exactly what he wanted. There are some impressive highlights, however, that cannot help but make an impression, “Tornado” and “I Will Find Him” proving such examples. Electronic growls are also heard in certain cues, alluding to the grating alien presence of good and evil Kryptonians that walk Earth untouched, perhaps a polarising touch.

The main album begins with “Look To The Stars”, a cue that occupies the prologue of the film, from the opening logos to Krypton’s war. The central identity for Kal-El is teased upon with two note phrases upon the horns, amidst an eerie whispering echo (alarming in frequent preference, favourable when the payoff is reached). A crescendo times well with the gradual insertion of ethereal female vocals (proof that Zimmer’s nostalgia of Gladiator is well and truly intact)- and a huge blast of brass signifies Krypton. The sudden slip of strings and bass plucking is one of the more creditworthy writing in the score, and the abrupt end is innovative. “Oil Rig” flips the switch entirely, and the menacing drums are introduced here, ruthless in their execution alongside the synths. The well rounded mixing shines, and abrasive horn blasts are aplenty to end the cue on. Zimmer captures the strength of Kal-El particularly well, albeit using atrocious technique to do so.

The softer side of Clark is first touched upon in “Sent Here For A Reason”, the meditative aura of the background ambience evoking calm in the listener. Lonesome, free-time tapping of the thematic identity evokes innocence in his youth, but the sole reliance on piano could have been altered to suit some jangly guitars and/or violins. Smallville contrasts heavily to Gotham- there’s more simple natured humanity, so a more familial essence could have been acquired. Timpanis gently muffle under the horn’s weight. The non-complex chord progression isn’t infuriating in the slightest- think of the part as an extract from an easy listening cue. There is a depth of emotion, and that itself suffices, as the glowing synths return. “DNA” utilises more of the alien synth brigade, rising to a deafening ultimatum as the wailing slide guitars enter. These tweaked implements otherwise do fit in with the retelling of the Kryptonian mythology, taking on a rather industrious tone. The violent ostinato from the first track returns with added percussion, a welcome change of pace. Those drums do become a bit grating with their presence, but the varying tonality in the strings and the overall otherworldly sound balance this. Zimmer reinstates the main theme again, with clicking heard in the background, and ends with an eerie echo.

“Goodbye My Son” uses soothing ethereal vocals to add a disfigured sense of beauty amidst all the percussive rampage, and the relationship between the soloist and the backing, as well as the more noble variation on Clark’s own personal theme is a highlight. This theme is further used in “Flight”, and while this track is never truly overwhelming in terms of emotional reach, the overall package and quantity it delivers in such a short time deserves a mention of sorts. The next track, “If You Love These People” is actually heard much later in the course of the film’s narrative, and is used as the duel track when Clark, now embracing his newfound identity as Superman, must keep Zod from annihilating all in his defeated rage. A turbulent series of distorted synths give way to a crescendo, before the 12-drumkit ensemble brutally stomps an engaging action rhythm, and the short brass bursts of the main theme add to the tension. Zimmer does at least provide tonal variation between Clark Kent and Superman, (C major and A minor), a move which wasn’t present at all in his Batman efforts. The raging choir shine particularly well in their layered approach, and a solo violin echoes Clark’s inevitability to end Zod’s life to protect an innocent family. “Krypton’s Last” features the first primary statement of Clark’s hidden identity in full length, a solo violin against that of a whispering sonic template of warm synths, before an ugly, intense barrage of drums  and monstrous horns reign in to illustrate his Kryptonian pod hurtling down to Earth at tremendous speeds.

Where Zimmer’s bland tendencies begin to take over is “Terraforming”- built around a stagnant drum groove, though the strings and growing tonality provide at least some optimism. The two-note phrases of Superman’s theme are evident, and the groove eventually morphs into a frantic march of sorts, with ominous electronic synths giving way to a villainous horn sequence puffing gleefully against the snares and bass drum thuds. The whispering effect heard is functional, and strangely enough, parts of the track resemble “160 BPM” and “Mombasa” from Angels and Demons, and Inception respectively, the chase-like adrenaline still intact. Some impressive sounds of doom are due to a shift in key, though the scraping of the cellos and bass strings stick out akin to several sore thumbs. Zod’s eerie theme is stated well, an unexpected highlight recurring throughout the score. The grinding of the bass that plays the two note phrasing could have been swapped for something a bit more active to occupy the running time in place, but bleak strings are a welcome change before the required “epic” tendencies are stated. The weight of the choir and the strings echo particularly well. Lamented vocals are heard by the group vocalists, as Clark reaches to the sun in a paralysed move of hope. The sequence at the end, where ascension on the wailing and crescendo strings illustrate Clark’s eventual gain of power as he shoots up to destroy the World Engine is tastefully handled.

“Tornado” resurrects some momentum into the score’s pulse, as the drums stomp and crush the weight around them, in a jaw dropping percussive riff against ticking effects and frenetic strings of a wild calibre. A higher region is explored by the strings and piano tapping conveys Clark’s anguish in having to sacrifice Jonathan Kent. The eventual re-venture into moodier soundscapes returns in “You Die Or I Do”, the flapping sound effects of a cape beating steadily against muffled, clamped horns. Zod’s initial outburst of rage is unleashed with more percussive pounding, as the eventual confrontation begins, with streamlined string writing and bombast from all angles. The synths growl in all their aggression and the wild rampage of the drums leads to an exciting payoff. “Launch” continues to repeat the emphasis on the thematic two-note phrasing, with agitated shrieking from the strings and further drum slamming. Monotonous, but effective, one may find themselves wishing for more fluid percussive stamps. As always, in any superhero score, the choir are welcome, and the re-introduction of electric guitars are ideal. Vocals add a softer end.

“Ignition” truly ignites the rage seen onscreen. A heavy dose of masculinity is understandable, but in staggering proportions such as this, the rate of exhaustion is mentally draining upon the listener. A brief but grimacing piece, that leads into “I Will Find Him”, perhaps the more adrenaline based cue to suit the villainous promise Zod makes with Kal-El’s mother, before banishment into the Phantom Zone. The growing crescendos, and more melodious sinister strings are more favourable in their application here, and the ending drum barrage is frightening to a fault, with choir, synths, and raging horns accompanying the tension.
“This Is Clark Kent” at long last pushes the listener into milder waters, with an eventual merging of both the human and superhuman themes of the protagonist, with infant-like piano and faint strings, more homely in their nature. What a relief this track brings post the carnage given by Zimmer, this track becomes far more appreciable in its contrasting intensity, and the weightless feel of the drums, as the piano reverberates gently is relaxing. Uses of lower octave slamming is a better way to induce some action material. “I Have So Many Questions” encompasses the more questioning, curious vein of Lois’ fascination with Clark’s reclusiveness, and the cold tonality and bleak icy puffing is innovative in their touch. Colossal brass blasting is aplenty in this score, with more solemn vocals, echoing the fabric of Kryptonian legacy that Jor-El left behind for his innocent son to answer. The solo violin returns to reanimate the human theme.

“Flight” moderates Clark’s understanding of his powers in synchronisation with the screenplay, ranging from acknowledgement, majesty, failure, realisation, weight and eventual perseverance. The electric guitar is far more favourable, adding a “cooler” touch against the fleeting percussion. More cooing and piano tapping shows restrained humanity amidst a growing template of heroism, and at once, the listener is taken to new heights, as Superman finally makes his first full flight. The more palatable packaging of instrumentation, actual dependence in part to the orchestra and choir give the track its soaring motion, arguably one of Zimmer’s career highlights that will eventually be added to his compilations. Zimmer finally gives the score some degree of a selling point in the bombastic theme track, “What Are You Going To Do When You’re Not Saving The World?”. Had Zimmer invigorated the longer-lined horn identity in place of turgid drumming and infused a bit more optimism, the score would have yielded a far more attractive product. The full weight of Clark’s infantile obliviousness to his father’s legacy, the struggling notions with his powers and how he eventually soars above all is defined in full by this track. Slow, gentle drumming gives way to rising seas of string layers, before a majestic series of horns belt the thematic identity out. Full of bravado, and by far the highlight of the album, Zimmer’s theme allows some worthy creditability. The fading out to end the overall score is a definite final touch.

The polarisation that Man Of Steel yields is highly fascinating in terms of social divisiveness and effectiveness of construct. Perhaps the association with nostalgia is what forbids listeners from embracing newer concepts. Sure, the lack of intelligence in percussive spectrums and next-to-zero themes for other characters is a frightening demonstration of understanding, but regardless of his unscholarly methods, Zimmer earns his pay fairly. Where Ottman opted to simply reinstate William’s original theme in Superman Returns (the reapplication of all things old was the downfall of that film), he at least had the audacity to forge something new from his laborious studios. My only fear with this soundtrack is if any of Zimmer’s protégés were given the task instead; time and time again, their inferior efforts prove an age-only truth. Only Zimmer can write music in his branched, unorthodox style, and anyone who chooses to emulate otherwise will normally yield an unfair amount of criticism, as well as lament on not placing their own style forward in place. That being said, there is a fair deal to lament in this soundtrack. Why didn’t Zimmer indulge in creating several subthemes for the occupant characters? Lois, Martha, Perry… Perhaps even an industrial theme for the urban complex of Metropolis, with lush guitars (a Brian Tyler feel) or momentum strings (an Elfman touch)? Contrary to the perceived opinion, there was plenty of humanity within the turbulent screenplay. Making Superman darker was in no sense an incorrect view of tone; the inability to render a fully engaging screenplay and hence a wild mix of musical output was guaranteed.

Zimmer does address some aspects of filmscoring (as sickeningly patronising as it sounds) and the new theme is a delight. The new-age formula of placing more emphasis on blinding percussion is a tricky tightrope that even composers of old must now walk. Granted, there are some strong action highlights to be sought in this score, and action aficionados will not be disappointed. The increased presence of choir and triplets and tremolos would have evoked a better emotional realm. For the most part, Zimmer enables Superman to fly unperturbed by the incidents of mortals below. When he returns to ground, however, he may find a great deal of raised questions to address. For example, where did some of the additional music in the film go? (Recall the scenes where Superman zooms down to rescue Lois from the hurtling pod, or the war of Krypton with the thundering rage of Zod, also exhibited in “Superman Saves Mother” and “Battle Of Smallville”)  The separation of the tracks into several collective CDs only adds growing frustration from his part. Thankfully, the composer had the decency to allow fans access to what he calls the “complete score”- a near two hour lengthy arrangement of nearly all cues to be heard in the film, with additions of those that weren’t released on any of the albums.  Brutal ways aside, Man Of Steel succeeds in its contextual applications, and allows newer ground for muscular sequences to create an impact.

Music in connection to the film: [****] 4/5
Music as a sole listening experience: [*** 1/2] 3.5/5

Overall Consensus: [*** 3/4] 3.75/5

Track Listing:
1) Look To The Stars         (all tracks composed by Zimmer, with additional writing from cowriters)
2) Oil Rig
3) Sent Here For A Reason
4) DNA
5) Goodbye My Son
6) If You Love These People
7) Krypton’s Last
8) Terraforming
9) Tornado
10) You Die Or I Do
11) Launch
12) Ignition
13) I Will Find Him
14) This Is Clark Kent
15) I Have So Many Questions
16) Flight
17) What Are You Going To Do When You’re Not Saving The World?

Author: Hari Haran

Fan of films, TV shows and film composers en general. I'm a fan of you too.

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