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Soundtrack review: Captain America Civil War (Henry Jackman – 2016)

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The musical history of Captain America is quite turbulent. Alan Silvestri came up with a beautiful theme and score for the first movie. Then Henry Jackman took over for Winter Soldier and the score ended up being very divisive. For me it worked perfectly in the movie while as a standalone listen some moments didn’t make a lot of sense. I recommended that score because in the end I loved it. Henry is back for Civil War or, as people call it, “Avengers 2.5”. A new law breaks up the friendship between Cap and Tony Stark as the rest of The Avengers must also chose a side.
I can’t wait to see the movie and I will come back to this review afterwards, but I know how a Marvel epic like this one works and I know what kind of music I’d like to hear. The experience of “Winter soldier” also taught me to not separate Henry Jackman’s music from the movie and the story when writing about it. I instantly like how “Siberian overture” uses a small motif from the “New Avengers theme” by Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman, to connect this movie with the predecessor. The sound of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has cemented a clear identity over the years and as I listen to the first few cues from “Civil War” I recognize the functional cues that make the bulk of other scores from this franchise, except Brian Tyler’s woks. Those always had something special to me, an extra spark.
I keep waiting for the fighting to start. The score spends a lot of time in that area where I can’t identify a theme or an idea, the kind of cues that work best in the context of the movie, when the images fill what’s incomplete about them. Listening to pieces like “Lagos” or “Zemo” feels incomplete. The music stays in the background and there’s no foreground to enjoy. I hear the horns, I get the tension and the urgency but I need for from a standalone listen. Is it right to call this generic Marvel action / suspense music?
The music livens up with “The tunnel”. Once again I recognize that this cue belongs in an Avengers movie and this means Henry Jackman does a great job integrating his characters in the universe. After so many years and after so many composers and movies it’s hard to come up with new themes for the same characters. In “Age of Ultron” Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman did a great job of integrating Silvestri’s original theme in their own and we’ve seen this happen with other franchises which benefitted from the work of more composers. Henry Jackman chose to go his own way except those short motifs which connected his composition to the one I just talked about. I guess I’ll have to wait for the movie to see if one of this cues work as Spider man’s theme, since this is a new character the composer could have paid attention to. But if he does have a theme they would have mentioned it in the title at least…
The pure action pieces make more sense to me and cancel out the first half of the score. From “Standoff” the album changes pace. I’ve been waiting for the cue and the scene “Civil war” for a year now and luckily Henry Jackman turns from Bruce Banner into The Hulk for this one, from the musical point of view. It’s still not a memorable theme but an enjoyable fireworks show. “Catastrophe” is one of those classical Marvel cue with a combination of emotion and epic build up that says “hero gets up after a drama, more determined than ever” piece and I love it. In fact these combinations of emotional and epic are my favorite moments from “Civil war”.
In “Revealed” I recognize the same inspiration from Ennio Morricone that Hans Zimmer got in “Parlay” from “Pirates of the Caribbean”: the nod to “Once upon a time in America”. I would call this cue one of the most romantic Jackman has score and definitely a special one from this score. It almost sounds too golden age to believe in some parts.  It ends up as my favorite cue from “Civil war”.
Still at the first couple of listens “Captain America: Civil War”, enjoyable as it is seemed a bit less exciting that Winter Soldier. I’ll reserve more comments after I’ve seen the movie, of course. I expected way more explosive action in the score than I got.

Cue rating: 85 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 24 / 69
Album excellence: 35%

Highlights:

The tunnel
Civil War
Catastrophe
Revealed
Making amends
Cap’s promise
Adagio

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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