You may not know his name, but if you've watched a lot of superhero movies, you're almost certainly familiar with Henry Jackman's work. He's the composer responsible for the scores behind movies like "X-Men: First Class," both "Kickass" films, the final two "Captain America" movies, and most recently in the TV world, "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."
/Film's own Jack Giroux recently got to interview Jackman, where the composer briefly talked about what it's like working on superhero properties — Marvel's in particular. "You're not on your own, you're doing a Marvel thing," he said. Whereas a composer like Hans Zimmer would have a lot of control in scoring a completely standalone film like "Interstellar," when Jackman was making "Captain America: Winter Soldier," he wasn't starting from scratch. He couldn't be too different from the score in the first "Captain America" movie, for instance, composed by Alan Silvestri.
He described the dynamic as being more of a subconscious thing, comparing it to having a conversation outdoors and then bringing it inside. "If we were talking and we were walking down Oxford Street in London, we'd probably be kind of shouting because there's a lot of noise going on," he explained. "But if we carried on talking and then we opened the door and went into a church and started talking, then we'd suddenly just, without anyone having to say anything, we'd just respectfully lower our voices and become influenced by the environment we're in."
In other words, composers feel compelled to dial things down when working on Marvel projects, but the studio itself isn't explicitly telling them to do this. "It's sort of invisible," Jackman said. "You don't really see it happening."
Marvel's Soundtrack Problem
Even still, Jackman gives credit to the directors of a lot of these projects for giving him some extra wiggle room:
"That's a great positive force when you're lucky enough to work with imaginative directors who create that slight umbrella without you realizing, but also give you the freedom to operate within it and push it wherever you want, which I would say that's very true of say Joe and Anthony [Russo] and, in many cases, Matthew Vaughn."
It makes sense that he'd mention Matthew Vaughn specifically, because Jackman's score on "First Class" is probably one of his boldest and most memorable, at least of all his superhero scores. His work on the "Captain America" movies doesn't feel particularly restricted either. But for Marvel as a whole, the non-Jackman-produced scores seem to be a little lacking. This was something pointed out in the 2016 video essay "The Marvel Symphonic Universe," which started off with people on the street being asked to sing the theme from franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and James Bond. For all of them, people could instantly recall the score, but for the Avengers? Most people had nothing.
Today, the reaction on the street would probably be a little different, but that's only because by now the Avengers' theme has been forced into our memory through sheer repetition, whether we wanted it there or not. And although most of us know how the Avengers' theme goes by this point, even diehard fans have to admit that it's a little generic. None of these Marvel movies have ever had a score on the level of "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Indiana Jones," and maybe Jackman's just given us a key reason why.
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