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Soundtrack review: Wonder Woman (Rupert Gregson Williams – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Wonder Woman (Rupert Gregson Williams – 2017)

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“Wonder Woman” is a 2017 American superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. It is the fourth installment in the DC Extended Universe. The film is directed by Patty Jenkins, with a screenplay by Allan Heinberg and a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs. Gal Gadot stars as the titular character with Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, and Elena Anaya in supporting roles.

Wonder Woman is the first live action theatrical film featuring the titular character, following her first live-action theatrical appearance in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Set in 1918, the film tells the story of Princess Diana, who grows up on the Amazon island of Themyscira. American pilot Steve Trevor crashes offshore of the island and is rescued by Diana. After he tells Diana about World War I, she leaves her home in order to end the war, becoming Wonder Woman in the process.

Many people expected, wished and actually demanded that the score for this movie be written by a female composer given the story and the choice of a female director. Rupert Gregson Williams got the job and it was just the next natural step in his evolution as a composer. I remember it was 2006 when I first noticed Rupert; back then he was just Harry Gregson Williams’ little brother and I was such a fan of HGW that I paid attention to his brother as well. He was writing scores for Adam Sandler comedies and I liked it that he was releasing them on his website in a complete format. They were your normal enjoyable comedy compositions and I kept listening to them until I heard “Hospital escape” from “Click”; it was a stunning emotional cue, almost epic and completely different from anything else he had written. That cue told me that this was a composer who had huge potential if only given the right opportunities. Years passed, opportunities started coming and they culminated with last year’s “Hacksaw ridge”, a tough gig since it was originally supposed to go to the late James Horner. Rupert delivered a great score with a couple of epic cues and getting to work on a blockbuster like “Wonder woman” was, like I said, the natural next step.

The character of Wonder Woman was first introduced last year in “Batman vs Superman” and she was the most exciting thing about that movie (except Ben Affleck completely owning the Batman character). And the most exciting thing about her was the theme “Is the with you” written by Hans Zimmer for that movie; a raw, intense, aggressive and fun theme that stuck and I couldn’t wait to hear it used again in RGW’s score. To his credit and also in the context of the movie the theme was used just at the right times to punctuate special scenes where she gets to fight. Tina Guo’s electric cello still rings in my ears and seeing it performed live just added to the mystique.

Just like the movie, the score starts with the presentation of the world of the Amazons. “Amazons of Themyscira” is not the idyllic beginning such a beautiful world demanded as it also incorporates, alongside the lush motif that makes me think of that beautiful island, the danger and warrior element that’s part of life on Themyscira. It’s a combination of that and subtle middle eastern influences and I hear a bit of James Horner in the way the flute is used in this opening cue. I like how RGW is not afraid to start with a long and fairly complex theme. Even if this score is part of the DC universe and even if it’s a Remote Control Productions score, Rupert steps aside from the minimalistic and electronic sound that’s usually associated with RCP and goes melodic and broad; after all this is a special origin story and Diana is a special character in this universe. As I listen to “History lesson” I hear the connection with “Hacksaw ridge”; after all that movie was also about an unexpected hero finding his way in the middle of the war.

The score is developing story like ; “Angel on the wing” is the natural evolution of the first couple of cues and the beautiful and melodic end of the Themyscira part of the score. It’s a heroic and inspirational cue that I remember from the movie and the buildup at the end gives me the first goose bumps of this album. It’s time then to switch to the bad guys as the tone changes radically for “Ludendorff, Enough!”. Once again RGW writes a very long theme that has time to develop and give the listeners a chance to familiarise themselves with the mood of those scenes.

“Pain, Loss & Love” is the first outstanding piece of this score ; Diana’s innocence and the impact tragedy has on her is captured beautifully in this intimate and tender cue that combines the flute and the strings into an invisible net that holds the tears back as the character is trying to be brave as the world changes around her. Then comes the buildup, the moment of decision where the cue just opens its wings. It’s just preparation for what comes next…

…A cue like “No man’s land” shows me why I love film music so much; a composition like this one shows me why I’ve had faith in Rupert Gregson Williams for 10 years and this is the kind of showstopper cue that coupled with the incredibly emotional and heroic scene it’s written for (the moment when Diana, just like Desmond Doss in a similar scene in “Hacksaw ridge” and with a cue almost as beautiful, takes it upon her own to fight the German army and create an opportunity of hope and salvation for her people) will become a classic in years to come. This 9 minute long piece also includes the Hans Zimmer “Wonder Woman” motif as heroism meets violence and the electric cello is a weapon just as powerful as Diana’s sword or whip. This cue has everything: a goose bumps inducing emotional and melodic beginning when she makes the decision, the WW theme when she reveals herself to the world and actually becomes Wonder Woman, relentless and rich action motifs as she destroys the enemies and once again an emotional end as the dust settles. Rupert Gregson Williams wrote here a cue that will be extremely hard to beat for cue of the year when 2017 ends. I can’t stop listening to it and it can match any of my favourite epic musical moments from past years.

It’s hard to follow up such a high and yet the composer manages to keep the momentum going as the score gets really dark as the plot progresses. “Fausta” is giving me shivers with the deep male voices that echo the Russian choirs of old and even a distorted version of the WW motif. Don’t worry, the motif returns in its full glory in the spectacular “Wonder Woman’s wrath”, a cue that will feature on my running playlists as it gives me the powerful adrenaline rush I need in particular moments. Rupert Gregson Williams goes as dark and industrial as Hans Zimmer went in “The dark knight” and I am exhausted at the end of this cue. Wrath is the right emotion to associate with this track. Once again that cello, that electric cello that can get demonic at times raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

The final few cues are simply a parade of heroism and beauty as each of them on its own could feature on any compilation of music about love and emotion. Just listen to how “Trafalgar celebration” flows and tell me you don’t get just a bit misty eyed. I could listen to it over and over again and it touches me and I haven’t felt like this about a war movie score probably since “Pearl Harbour”. And just to match the duality of the story and the contrast between love / innocence and violence the score ends with a percussion and “braam” heavy anthem “Action / reaction” that could have featured very well on a score like “Mad Max: Fury road”; just one final highlight in a memorable composition.

With “Wonder woman” Rupert Gregson Williams took the last step into establishing himself as a household name and a permanent choice for blockbusters; he wrote a rich score, epic and heroic and just what this beautiful film and character needed. He also kept his personal musical identity while also incorporating the main character theme and giving for the first time the DC universe a sense of thematic unity. I will come back often to this score and I can’t wait for RGW to get his next big assignment.

 

Cue rating: 93 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 47 / 75
Album excellence: 63%

Highlights:
Angel on the Wing
Pain, Loss & Love
No Man’s Land
Fausta
Wonder Woman’s Wrath
We Are All to Blame
Hell Hath No Fury
Lightning Strikes
Trafalgar Celebration
Action Reaction

 

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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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