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Soundtrack review: Thor: Ragnarok (Mark Mothersbaugh – 2017)

Blockbuster Film scores

Soundtrack review: Thor: Ragnarok (Mark Mothersbaugh – 2017)

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“Thor: Ragnarok” is a 2017 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character Thor, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It is the sequel to 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World and the seventeenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film is directed by Taika Waititi with a screenplay by Eric Pearson and the writing team of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, and stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins. Four years after the events of Thor: The Dark World, and two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor, held captive on the planet Sakaar without his hammer Mjolnir, must win a gladiatorial duel against an old friend—the Hulk—in order to return to Asgard in time to stop the villainous Hela and the impending Ragnarök, the end of all Asgardian civilisation. The score was written by Mark Mothersbaugh.

The entire marketing campaign for “Thor: Ragnarok”, from the trailer to the posters to the typography has been an 80s kid’s wet dream. The synth music in the trailer, the neon fonts of the title and the posters, even a VHS like trailer, all this have created for me a feeling of unstoppable nostalgic anticipation. The 80s are my favourite decade, everything about it was awesome and I can’t wait to see the movie. Naturally all these has also created an immeasurable excitement about the score and I am telling you right now of this score does not feature retro synths I will be extremely disappointed; expectations were built up like this and seeing Mark Mothersbaugh’s name confirmed by hopes. The previous Thor movies have benefitted from very different but equally legendary composers: first Patrick Doyle wrote a quietly lyrical score for “Thor” then Brian Tyler started building up his action film music legend with “The dark world”.

“Ragnarok” opens with the 9 minutes long suite which is a very bold move; of course when it starts at an epic heroic level that makes “The dark world” theme sound puny I remember that fortune favours the bold. Thor is the God of the bunch, the strongest, the indestructible one so he should have the most epic and badass theme; naturally a theme like this could not be so epic and legendary without an emotional component to match and after that thundering start the music stays powerful but gets lyrically beautiful. And of course what would a heroic theme be without a female voice chanting and without an action motif to shred the very fabric of the universe… Alright, I am geeking out but this suite is simply blowing me away, headphones and all and I just don’t want it to end. Thank God it’s not at the end of the score and there’s still one more hour to go where of course all these motifs and themes will be expanded and explored further. “Ragnarok suite” is simply some of the best 9 minutes I have heard this year and it will be hard to beat for cue of the year 2017. Those stabbing strings, that emotional cello, that buildup that’s just too much to bear, it is truly a showstopper. Where can the score go from here after such an emotionally draining and powerful opening?

To the synths of course, as the “Thor Ragnarok” main theme brings the retro vibe back in all its synth glory for one awesome minute that shots right towards the top of my favourite Marvel themes. I had almost forgotten about my expectations after hearing that suite but now I realise that the right balance between orchestral and electronic sounds even better. “Twilight of the gods” opens with an almost mournful solo string motif that has Oriental vibes, it might be the duduk there being played next to the violin but it’s simply a beautiful emotional theme that blossoms into a rich orchestral tapestry that will satisfy even the film music purists who deplore the emotionless state of the current film music world. Not even 20 minutes into it and “Thor: Ragnarok” already feels as emotionally dense as many more hours of film music. I also love it that after so many movies and so many different composers it finally feels like the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a coherent sound as the explosive string motif that ends this theme connects Mothersbaugh with Tyler and Giacchino.

The fabric that binds these spectacular themes is made of those electronic motifs that I knew just had to appear on this score; the composer doesn’t overdo it because the contrast with the loud orchestral themes would be too start but when I hear the Synthwave vibes of “Grandmaster’s chambers” it’s like all of a sudden the perfectly clear 4K image of this movie gets the shaky and blurry VHS treatment and turns into my worn out copy of “Bloodsport”. “No one escapes” tickles my nostalgia bone even more and this is the one cue where orchestral and retro electronic mix the best. How perfect it is to hear a Synthwave motif being chased by a string motif towards the end of one cue. The middle to end section of “Thor: Ragnarok” is a non stop synthgasm and everything I hoped for. I just immerse myself in the dark melodic sound that I don’t want to get out of there. “What heroes do” should be straight in the score for “The rise of the synths” while “The revolution has begun” is my favourite of the retro cues from the score. I was worried that after that blistering start the score might lose a bit of the steam and energy but there is absolutely no trace of that as cue after cue makes me want to turn the volume even higher.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a score for the ages; Mark Mothersbaugh obliterates the more lacklustre Marvel scores of late and writes a composition that even without proposing a memorable main theme like Brian Tyler or Alan Silvestri wrote for this cinematic universe ends up as probably my favourite of the bunch; exciting from start to finish, emotional and nostalgic, the third Thor score really sets a new bar for spectacular and non stop action superhero scores; all thriller and no filler, “Thor: Ragnarok” is both an orchestral and a retro electronic feast as the composer finds the right balance between the two and finds a way to excite and please all film music fans alike.

Cue rating: 97 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 60 / 73

Album excellence: 83%

Highlights:
Ragnarok Suite
Thor: Ragnarok
Weird Things Happen
Twilight of the Gods
Hela vs. Asgard
Grandmaster’s Chambers
No One Escapes
Arena Fight
Go
What Heroes Do
Flashback
Parade
The Revolution Has Begun
Sakaar Chase
Devil’s Anus
Asgard Is a People
Where To?
Planet Sakaar
Grandmaster Jam Session

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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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