Saturday, November 11, 2017

Justice League by Danny Elfman (2017)

A review of the soundtrack album by Travis Elder
Posted November 11, 2017

Justice League is the culmination of three previous films including Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Man of Steel, and this year's Wonder Woman.  Director Zack Snyder has been in on this franchise from the beginning having directed both Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman.  Unfortunately, he left the project late in its production, due to the untimely passing of his daughter.  Joss Whedon was hired to finish post-production as well as to head some reshoots, reportedly to infuse some of the lighthearted tone that worked so well in The Avengers.  Joss Whedon is no stranger to the comic book genre, having most recently directed Avengers Age of Ultron.  For that project he relied on two composers, including Danny Elfman and so it is no surprise that he chose Elfman to score Justice League.

Danny Elfman's storied history in the comic genre is lengthy and includes a number of notable successes beginning with Tim Burton's 1989 film, Batman.  For that film, Elfman won a Grammy for his Batman theme and for good reason.  It continues to stand as one of the iconic themes in the genre alongside Superman and others.  From there he scored several comic book projects including Batman Returns (1992), Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Hellboy II (2008), and Avengers Age of Ultron (2015).  In 1990, he also composed the theme for the short-lived Flash TV series.

When Elfman was announced the big question was whether he would use his legendary Batman theme?  In a recent interview, Elfman indeed confirmed the use of his theme, as well as Hans Zimmer's theme for Wonder Woman and John Williams' theme for Superman.  At the same time he discounted using Hans Zimmer's rhythmic scoring approach for Batman, opting instead to use his Batman theme.  This approach makes a lot of sense, especially if Warner Brothers is trying to change the tone from the previous films, which have been much darker.  In that case, the much more overtly heroic Batman Theme from 1989 fits the bill perfectly.

Elfman certainly does not overuse the classic themes.  If anything, you are left wanting more because the previous themes essentially make cameo appearances.  The theme for Batman gets not quite a minute and a half.  Zimmer's Wonder Woman get little more than 40 seconds.  John Williams' Superman gets only about 35 seconds and its use in the film is so sparing and even subtle that some moviegoers may not even recognize its use.  When these themes do appear though, their frugal use only heightens their dramatic (and goosebump-inducing) effect.  What really carries the score album for its lengthy run time are Elfman's new themes for the Justice League and the theme for the film's villain, Steppenwolf.

The new justice league theme appears in the first two score cues including the concert arrangement in Hero's Theme. The theme includes everything you might want and expect for a hero's anthem including noble brass, trumpet blasts, brawny percussion, satisfying choral variations, and explosive, inspiring crescendos.  The theme gets substantial airtime throughout the score appearing in thirteen of the 24 score tracks.  The highlight performances though occur in the full-length versions of The Tunnel Fight and The Final Battle (tracks 25 and 26).  Elfman brings to bear during those 24 minutes an onslaught of orchestral power that amounts to some of the best action writing of his career.  The Final Battle in particular not only features extended and explosive variations of the Justice League theme, but also the most heroic performances of both Batman's Theme and Superman's Theme, with one proviso.  The most heroic rendition of Superman's Theme, which occurs on the shortened version of the The Final Battle from 2:43 to 2:49), unfortunately is omitted in the full-length version.

To introduce the film's villain, Elfman employs a dramatic and dark choir in a piece harkening back to the choral majesty of Descent into Mystery from his original Batman score.  While the two cues are very different in structure, they share an outburst of chill-inducing choral excellence that will find its way onto many a playlist.

A motif for The Flash appears at 3:36 to 4:04 in The Tunnel Fight as well as in Spark of the Flash and Friends and Foes.  The motif conveys a sense of awesome speed and power through a fast-tempoed and flighty string ostinato punctuated by blaring brass blasts and accented with flutes and light percussion.  Blake Neely has previously used a similar string ostinato technique for his Flash theme in the CW television series (for example, the cue The Fastest Man Alive).

The inclusion of Hans Zimmer's excellent theme for Wonder Woman is much appreciated for continuity's sake.  Zimmer's original performances of the theme featured an evocative, muscly electric cello performance by Tina Guo backed by aggressive percussion.  Rupert Gregson-Williams used the same style of performance in his score for this year's Wonder Woman.  Elfman instead employs the entire string section and while not as satisfying as the original, it brings a gratifying variation on the theme in Wonder Woman Rescue.  Although not on the album, Elfman also briefly reprises Zimmer's Krypton theme.

Overall, Elfman's Justice League features excellent themes for the Justice League and Steppenwolf.  The Justice League Theme is boldly heroic, but certainly not over the top.  The integration of these themes throughout the score, especially the action set-pieces, is particularly satisfying much the same way it was in Elfman's Alice Through the Looking Glass.  Theme integration into the action music doesn't always happen effectively or at all.  As great as Alan Silvestri's Avengers theme is, for whatever reason that theme was poorly integrated into the Avengers' action sequences.  Thankfully, Elfman doesn't do that and the result is the best action music of the year to date.

The score is available from WaterTower Music digitally, to stream, and on CD.  Amazon CD | Amazon MP3 | iTunes | Spotify

1. Everybody Knows (Sigrid) (4:25)
2. The Justice League Theme – Logos (0:48)+
3. Hero's Theme (4:17)*+$
4. Batman on the Roof (2:34)^
5. Enter Cyborg (2:00)
6. Wonder Woman Rescue (2:43)+~^
7. Hippolyta's Arrow (1:16)
8. The Story of Steppenwolf (2:59)*
9. The Amazon Mother Box (4:33)+^
10. Cyborg Meets Diana (2:36)
11. Aquaman in Atlantis (2:39)
12. Then There Was Three (1:10)x
13. The Tunnel Fight (6:24)+x^$
14. The World Needs Superman (1:00)+
15. Spark of the Flash (2:18)+$
16. Friends and Foes (4:14)+#^$
17. Justice League United (1:24)+
18. Home (3:24)
19. Bruce and Diana (1:06)
20. The Final Battle (6:14)*+x#^
21. A New Hope (4:36)+
22. Anti-Hero's Theme (5:35)*+
23. Come Together (Gary Clark Jr. & Junkie XL) (3:13)
24. Icky Thump (The White Stripes) (4:14)
25. The Tunnel Fight (Full Length Bonus Track) (10:58)*+x^$
26. The Final Battle (Full Length Bonus Track) (12:57)*+x#^
27. Mother Russia (Bonus Track) (1:45)

Total Album Time: 101:22
Originally released: November 10, 2017
+Contains Justice League Theme
$Contains Flash Motif
xContains Theme for Batman by Danny Elfman
~Contains Wonder Woman's Theme composed by Hans Zimmer
#Contains John Williams' Theme for Superman
^Action piece
*Favorite cues of 2017 pick
Recommended, shortened album program
Film order: 2, 4, 1, 6, 5, 9, 7, 8, 10, 11, 27, 12, 25, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 17, 26, 21, 23, 22    

About the Author
Travis Elder is a freelance writer and attorney who has had a passion for film, television, and video game scores for almost thirty years.  He has operated @moviescores on Twitter since 2009.

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Thanks for sharing!