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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Hans Zimmer)

June 4, 2014

cover_amazingspiderman2THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

Hans Zimmer, 2014, Columbia
32 tracks, 1:58:13

The, allegedly, amazing Spider-Man returns. This time he is accompanied by the music of Hans Zimmer… and six co-composers… and just as many additional composers… and all their assistants… oh, and the tea-lady. With so many fingers in the pie… what will happen to the pie?!
Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” tells the tale of young teen in New York who, entirely by accident, ends up with super powers… spider powers in fact! Anyway, you know the story. Marc Webb (who else!) takes his place on the director’s seat once more and points his cameras at Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spi…. oh sorry, no spoilers), Dane de Haan (Harry Osborn/Gre…. I said, no spoilers), Jamie Foxx (Max Dillon/ la-la-la-la-la) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacey…. hm, no alter ego? Most boring girlfriend ever!). So, the Goblin guy and this Elektro dude come along to cause some trouble in the neighbourhood and Spidey has to save the day. I haven’t seen the film yet, but something tells me it’ll all be alright on the night.

Hans Zimmer takes over scoring duties from James Horner who wrote his most adventurous, eventful and energetic score in ages for “The Amazing Spider-Man”. Though, when I say Hans Zimmer, I mean him and about a dozen others. To provide the score with a contempary sound, similar to what Peter Parker would be listening to in real life, Zimmer invited Junkie XL, Johny Marr, Andrew Kawczynzki, Mike Einzeiger, Steve Mazzaro and Pharrell Williams to co-compose the music with him. The result is a fusion of orchestra, rock and dub-step. For better or worse, it sounds as crazy as it reads.

What does it sound like?

Whilst Zimmer provides an orchestral brass-driven main theme for the titular character, it is the opening track “I’m Elektro” that sums up the score most accurately. Dub-step beats and harsh synthesizer chords; possibly doubled with electric guitars (if not here, than certainly elsewhere). “There He Is” offers various arpeggios (synth and guitar) running alongside each other. It evokes a vague sense of speed, but nothing in terms of scope. The main theme is first heard in “I’m Spider-Man”, which oddly and totally unnecessarily opens with city noise (traffic, sirens, etcetera). A trumpet performs the theme. It’s sort-of heroic; and it’s not a million miles away from Horner’s theme (or perhaps even something like Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”). It’s not a bad effort and many have praised Zimmer for it, but for me it just doesn’t do much at all. It’s just a simplistic trumpet line against more synthesized arpeggios. There is no depth, no real drama about it. And don’t think that it may come later on, because it won’t; not really. Abel Korzeniowski once told me that “a theme is much more than a melodic improvisation on top of a harmonic progression“. I’d like to pass that advice on, if I may.

A further element of the score is introduced in “My Enemy” which features Pharrell Williams delivering an ominous, whispered rap. Not so happy now, eh Pharrell? To be fair, it sounds pretty menacing and, more importantly, it sounds cool. This is then combined with an almost comedic ostinato for bassoon and a pseudo-classical line for clarinet. Oddly, this is closer to Zimmer’s quirky scores like “As Good As It Gets” or “Sherlock Holmes”. All of a sudden, the menace is gone and when it returns it just sounds silly. Even film reviewers have commented negatively on the ‘plinky plunky’ style of the villain’s music. Cool? Yes, sort of, but it sounds like the composers were going for nothing more than ‘cool’, and I’m (again) missing any real sense of drama or danger.

“Ground Rules” offers an introvert variation on the main theme. A piano is accompanied by slow chords. It’s not too dissimilar to the piano cues from “Man of Steel”. It’s simple and effective, but short. It soon makes way for a reprise of the comedic villain’s theme in “Look at Me”; whilst “Special Project” reprises the arpeggios from track 2 and combines them with Zimmer’s typically dense string chords. “You need Me” sounds like “Rush” at best, or like an homage to the 80s at worst. “So Much Anger” offers ostinatos for synths and woodwinds, with snippets of the main theme layered on top of them. “I’m Goblin” offers a manic 7/4 rhythm, which I do like even if it’s fast becoming a cliché (if it isn’t already). Really, it’s a cacophony, but surprisingly I can’t help but enjoy the aggression in this cue.

“Let Her Go” and “You’re My Boy” offer a brief respite from the noise, though both are still heavy on synthesised techniques. “I Need To Know” offers a three-note theme accompanied by a bunch of smooth synth arpeggios. It’s a cool sound, which seems to harken back to Zimmer’s early days. I can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or not. Is it retro chique, or does it sound dated? I’ll settle on the former. Various tracks like this come and go. Some harbour some nice ideas; some don’t. What they all have in common is a strong reliance on synths, computer production techniques and a dense over-produced sound. I understand Zimmer prefers it this way. I’m cool with that. Equally, it’s not my preference. “We’re Best Friends” contains a nice thematic idea which resembles “Divergent“, making me think this may be one of Junkie XL’s cues.

The disc (one of two, if you went for the ‘Deluxe’ edition) concludes with “You’re That Spider Guy”, which combines some relatively noble horns-and-strings passages with harsh electric guitar-driven chords. The track ends with a statement of the main theme. The only thing Zimmer seems to do here, to make this theme sound bigger, is simply have more trumpets play in unison. Nothing really interesting happens with this theme; not even during the film’s finale!

Disc two continues with the 12-minute “The Elektro Suite”, which I assume is one of Zimmer’s infamous suites in which he lays out all the thematic and aural ideas. And sure enough, it’s all here. The whispering, the chanting, the big chords, harsh synth sounds and the dub-step effects. I’m no fan of this, I have to admit (which, of course, influences my opinion of this score). It sounds like the stuff you hear on “The X-Factor” and especially “[insert country]’s Got Talent” when a troupe of dancers do robotic movements to … well, this kinda stuff. I’m sure there are plenty of ‘kool kids’ out there who dig this snizzle, but it bores the bejesus out of me.

Most surprisingly, “Harry’s Suite” bores me even more, and that’s a proper attempt at writing some dramatic underscore. And the surprises suddenly keep on coming… “Cold War” opens with an exciting, heavy metal-inspired ostinato and continues to mix these metal chords with synthesizer arpeggios and snippets of the main theme. The villain’s quirky theme makes an appearance as well. Call me crazy, but this cue actually really works for me! Finally I’m getting a genuine sense of energy, action and power. It’s abominably loud, but here it makes sense. “No Place Like Home” continues this style, though contains a reflective mid-section. These two cues, for me, are the highlights of the album.

What follows are eight songs that mix various styles; and on some occasions use some of the score’s material. “It’s On Again” uses a rising motif from the score, whilst “Electro Remix” features the ominous whispering. “Within the Web” contains some warm synth arpeggios, similar to those in the score. The songs are well produced, but not my cup of tea; though I do enjoy the dulcet tones of “Song for Zula” performed by Phosphorescent.

Is it any good?

It’s not for me, to put it politely. I understand the concept of what Zimmer is trying to do, but it feels gimmicky and unnecessary to me. Peter Parker is a young man, a teen with superpowers. What would he listen to? To be fair, he probably listens to rock or R&B; or whatever is riding the charts at the time. Zimmer’s approach reflects that; so he hires pop musicians to co-write the score. I get it. It’s one way of approaching it. Personally, I would’ve preferred a more traditional score augmented with songs; but Zimmer chooses to incorporate the styles of those songs into the fabric of the score. And to make sure he gets those techniques right, he calls upon the very people who work in those genres. Contrary to some of my peers, I don’t actually mind Zimmer’s collaborative approach, but it does baffle me that the composer often makes such a big deal about it. Especially since the results, often, aren’t all that great. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is officially credited to Hans Zimmer and 6 co-composers; and that’s before you start counting the various additional composers and assistants. Probably over a dozen people wrote music for the score alone. I appreciate that Zimmer runs a tight ship, creates all the themes and soundscapes and practically serves as the score’s project manager. Yet, I can’t help but think that people like Brian Tyler, Marco Beltrami or David Arnold can write this sort of music on their own! And would likely deliver something altogether more interesting, better balanced and more rewarding (…but I admit, that’s a big assumption to make). Sure, everyone has an assistant or two nowadays; but how or why does it take at least seven composers to come up with “TASM2”?

Rant aside, the score does have its moments. It has some interesting cues and is not without merits, but it’s too much of a mixed bag for my liking. I seem to appreciate some of the later cues most; but (unless I skip straight to them) I struggle to make it that far. I love electronics and I’m quite partial to a bit of techno and trance myself, but dub-step has never really meant much to me. (Now, if Zimmer calls upon Armin van Buuren I’d get excited!) I can appreciate the technicalities of this score, yet I struggle to find real meaning and real drama; even considering it’s just a comic book adaptation. Overall though, I find it loud and aggressive in a rather obnoxious way, over-produced and gimmicky. That’s just my opinion. Sadly, that is how I feel about many of Zimmer’s recent scores.

Rating [2/5]

Tracklisting

01. I’m Electro (0:46)
02. There He Is (2:54)
03. I’m Spider-Man (1:04)
04. My Enemy (8:18)
05. Ground Rules (1:12)
06. Look at Me (3:10)
07. Special Project (3:14)
08. You Need Me (3:17)
09. So Much Anger (2:12)
10. I’m Moving To England (1:03)
11. I’m Goblin (3:42)
12. Let Her Go (0:33)
13. You’re My Boy (2:57)
14. I Need to Know (5:00)
15. Sum Total (2:51)
16. I Chose You (1:34)
17. We’re Best Friends (2:17)
18. Still Crazy (2:42)
19. The Rest of My Life (2:28)
20. You’re That Spider Guy (5:29)

01. The Electro Suite (12:36)
02. Harry’s Suite (10:07)
03. Cold War (3:28)
04. No Place Like Home (1:53)
05. It’s On Again (3:50) *
06. Song for Zula (6:09) *
07. That’s My Man (3:47) *
08. Here (4:38) *
09. Honest (3:57) *
10. Within the Web (First Day Jam) (4:30) *
11. The Edge (3:03) *
12. Electro Remix (3:27) *

Availability

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