Home > Reviews > MAN OF STEEL – Hans Zimmer

MAN OF STEEL – Hans Zimmer

manofsteelOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Before I begin this review of Man of Steel, let me make one or two things perfectly clear. I do not hate Hans Zimmer, or his music. I’ve met him on a couple of occasions, and he’s an extremely nice and friendly man. As a composer, I think he’s very talented. He was a genuinely groundbreaking artist when he first emerged on the scene in the late 1980s, and broke the film music mould when he wrote scores like Black Rain, Backdraft and Crimson Tide. I absolutely adore many of his works, ranging from A League of Their Own to The Prince of Egypt, The Last Samurai and Pearl Harbor. I think Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is a masterpiece, and close to being the best score of his entire career. I have a few issues with the way his Remote Control organization has come to dominate the mainstream Hollywood film scoring world, but I admire him as a shrewd businessman, and he did help launch the careers of John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams among others, which is praise-worthy in itself. Having said that, I think Man of Steel is a colossal failure of both musical ingenuity and conceptual approach.

After the success of The Dark Knight trilogy, rebooting Superman was almost an inevitability, as was the involvement of director/producer Christopher Nolan and writer David Goyer. In Man of Steel, director Zach Snyder gives us a Superman for the new millennium, imbued with the same aesthetic as Christian Bale’s brooding Batman. The original identity that creators Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel originally gave Superman in 1938 – that of an infallible, just, noble, patriotic super hero – has been largely abandoned. Instead, he is a more angst-ridden, tormented alien soul, stranded on Earth, haunted by the reality of his super powers, and in no way sure of his place in the world or his role within it. This modern obsession with making the unreal more real, darker, and more conflicted worked with Batman: he was always a more shadowy figure, lurking on the edge of society and doing the dirty work that others would not. Superman, however, is supposed to a beacon of hope: morally forthright, acting as a guiding light to whom the people of Earth can look for honesty and truth. This is not the Superman we see in Man of Steel.

The film itself is a bit of a mess, a combination of hard science fiction and endlessly repetitive action sequences interspersed with a few genuinely effective moments of pathos and emotion, most of which take place during Superman’s childhood in Kansas. English actor Henry Cavill plays the titular role, sent to Earth by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) from his dying home world, Krypton, after a simultaneous ecological disaster/military coup dooms the planet. 33 years later, the boy has grown up to become Clark Kent, a drifter and outcast who has enormous super powers that he does not understand and, occasionally, cannot control. However, things change when Zod (Michael Shannon), the Kryptonian General who led the coup, returns from exile and threatens the people of Earth unless the son of Jor-El reveals himself to them. Aided by tenacious journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and members of a distrusting US military, Clark must accept his identity and make a difficult choice: whether to aid Zod in his quest to find a new home world for what remains of the population of Krypton, or save his adopted planet from a terrible fate.

Man of Steel does ask some interesting questions about identity and heritage, and the nature of super powers and what the discovery of their existence would mean in a real-world sense, which are explored mainly though the flashback sequences involving Diane Lane and an unexpectedly outstanding Kevin Costner as Clark’s parents. However, this more cerebral approach is wholly abandoned in the film’s second half, which quickly disintegrates into a series of seemingly endless fight sequences between CGI super heroes, during which people are constantly thrown through buildings, demolishing huge swathes of cities, killing thousands, and which are as boring as they are repetitive. The design and CGI effects are astonishingly good, but this cannot overcome the film’s massive shortcomings, a great deal of which are to do with the moral ambiguity shown by several of the lead characters, and the almost complete absence of any semblance of fun or humor. This Superman is grim, deadly serious, and at times quite brutal, and for me represents an astonishing miscalculation on the part of the filmmakers in terms of what Superman is, and what he represents.

Clearly, this new-style Superman is mirrored by its score, which is generally as grim, serious and brutal as the film itself. I suppose, in one respect, Zimmer has to score the film he is given. This is not the Superman of your father, with Christopher Reeve wearing the red cape, Richard Donner filming the action and John Williams wielding the baton, and that has to be acknowledged. In fact, probably the biggest thing that Man of Steel has going for it is the fact that it sounds nothing like the 1978 Superman score, and has no trace of John Williams’s classic theme. Trying to fit the square peg of Williams’s heroic, patriotic Americana march into this film’s round hole would have been absolutely the wrong approach, and one has to at least admire the fact that Zimmer tried to come up with a brand new way of scoring the character. However, having said that, the music and the film are inseparable, and for me the music mirrors the problems that film has. Not only that, the score is irredeemably simple from a purely compositional standpoint, and has so little emotional content that it barely connects with its audience.

Zimmer has said in interviews (and I’m paraphrasing here) that he wanted his music to capture the essence of middle America; the simplicity of life in Kansas, the white picket fences and the uncomplicated family oriented folk that Superman grew up amongst, and lives to protect. I can absolutely understand that approach, and in many ways it’s a good one, but the problem comes through the fact that Zimmer has taken the essence of Superman and stripped it down so far, made it so simple and uncomplicated, that it’s wholly unfulfilling, on both emotional and musical terms. Zimmer’s theme for Superman is a two-note ascending motif (which reminds me of the first two notes of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man – possibly intentional?), and it’s all over the score, but for the vast majority of the score’s running time it is left in such an undeveloped state that it’s almost impossible to connect with. I have no problem with simplicity in itself; the most simple musical phrases can be perfect and beautiful, and have been on many occasions, but for film music to work there still has to be an emotional connection between composer, film and audience, and for me a theme with such brevity and so little growth offers me nothing to latch onto.

This economy of emotion has become a running trend in Zimmer’s work over the last couple of years, a sort of Zimmer minimalism which takes tiny fragments of a phrase and repeats them over and over, the prime examples being Batman’s theme in Batman Begins, the Joker’s theme in The Dark Knight, as well as large parts of Inception. Zimmer’s enormous influence in this regard has seen this style spill over into other films by other composers, resulting in a film music trend, in Hollywood at least, that celebrates a lack of emotional content and strong, memorable themes as showing maturity and not spoon-feeding an audience in terms of what they are supposed to think and feel. As someone who grew up listening to and loving the work of Williams and Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner and John Barry, and many others, this attitude is the absolute antithesis of what I feel film music should aspire to be, and when the most successful films in Hollywood each year are usually scored by Zimmer, someone who currently works for or with Zimmer, or someone who used to work for Zimmer, it pains me because I can’t see an end to the cycle. The more successful the film is, the more the studios will want to emulate the sound that film has, the more composers will be asked to sound like Zimmer, and so on and so on.

manofsteeldeluxeBut, back to Man of Steel. The main two-note theme is heard frequently throughout the score – it’s virtually the first thing you hear, in “Look to the Stars”, for tuned timpanis and bass guitar – and it’s pleasant enough, but it simply never goes anywhere. It sounds the same at the beginning of the movie as it does in the middle of the movie as it does at the end of the movie, giving the whole score a sense of stagnancy. The only real changes it undergoes are in orchestration, or in key. It reappears in “Sent Here For a Reason” on a solo piano, the first of several statements in this manner, which usually accompany a Clark Kent Kansas childhood flashback sequence, and are actually quite pretty. The very end of “Tornado” and “This is Clark Kent” feature similar performances, but when the lead instrument for the motif switches to electric guitar, the music becomes heavily reminiscent of Zimmer’s 1995 score Broken Arrow, albeit without Duane Eddy’s spirited performances bringing a spark to the proceedings. It all sounds very much like an oddly unfinished chord, the base of a piece of music to which someone forgot to add the interesting thematic layer. It just sits there, listlessly, providing a texture, but not much else.

The tension/drama music which typifies cues such as “DNA” and “Launch” employs the same basic rhythmic cello ostinatos that dominated The Dark Knight, Inception, The Da Vinci Code, and dozens of other scores by other composers, a cliché that has become tiresome over the last few years. The action music, in cues such as “Oil Rig”, “Tornado”, “You Die or I Do” and “Ignition”, is actually quite obnoxious, featuring a gang of “celebrity drummers” bashing away on a number of enormous drums for anywhere between thirty seconds and three minutes, accompanied by Mel Wesson’s patented electronic sound design washes, and an occasional interlude by a huge bank of horns all playing the same note simultaneously, over and over.

The 9-minute “Terraforming” is perhaps the nadir of all this, with endlessly repeated percussion loops and blasting brass whole notes that are gradually joined by squealing, grating electronic “enhancements” that actually cause distortion in the speakers at their higher registers, such is their hideousness. One can only imagine that Zimmer took a listen to the eardrum-pummeling sampled MRI machine that Steve Jablonsky used in Battleship and wanted to top it in terms of headache-inducing chaos. Worse still, some of the percussion rhythms actually seem to be quite badly executed, never coming together as a coherent pattern. It’s just messy and noisy, and poor from a purely compositional standpoint. Zimmer’s action music used to be so rich, so powerful, so full of life and energy, that it makes you desperately nostalgic for scores like The Peacemaker, or Drop Zone, or Point of No Return, which were chock-full of interesting rhythmic ideas and clever touches in terms of pacing and tempo.

Every now and again, a piece of music does pique the interest briefly, reminding the listener what a good composer Zimmer can be when he wants to be. The middle section of “Krypton’s Last” has an unexpectedly beautiful violin solo that is quite touching. Similarly, parts of “I Have So Many Questions” feature a solo cello and wordless vocal combination that is very soothing. The vocally-inflected “Goodbye My Son”, as well as the last minute or so of the aforementioned “Terraforming”, has a quite nice timbre to it that reminds me of the processed vocal work in The Peacemaker back in 1997, but this brief nostalgic flashback only raises the interest briefly, before it’s back to the familiar sound of churning cellos, electric guitars, and rock percussion.

To give the score its fair dues, the score does contain two fairly good cues: the conclusive pair, “Flight” and “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?”. Here, and only here, does Zimmer’s two note theme show any sign of development of heroic intent. “Flight” is out of order (the cue actually occurs about half way through the film, when Clark accepts his identity and learns to fly for the first time), but does have a sense of grandeur to it that is quite welcome, although the electric guitar chords are a little grating at times. “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” is, by a long margin, the best cue on the album, for the one simple reason that Zimmer finally allows his two-note theme a little room to breathe and grow, building over the course of five and a half minutes with increasingly optimistic progressions, until it finally emerges into the one, true, heroic anthemic statement of hope and glory in the entire score. However, these two halfway decent cues come too little too late, and are not enough to salvage the rest of the score from its pit of disappointment.

The score concludes with a gargantuan 28-minute piece called “Man of Steel (Hans’ Original Sketchbook)”, the original suite of music which Zimmer wrote on his computer outlining his thematic ideas and textural choices, and from which his team of composers, arrangers and orchestrators formed the actual meat of the score. It’s interesting that Zimmer would actually include this sketchbook cue on the album, as in the past Zimmer has been somewhat reluctant to admit that he actually works this way, but you can certainly hear the genesis of all the ideas in this piece. I do wonder just who will listen to this cue more than once, however, considering that it is essentially little more than a synth mockup of the score without any context, cue breaks, or live instruments.

This review is of the standard release of the score; a longer “special edition” of the score also exists, which comes presented in a natty metallic box, and features six additional cues – “Are You Listening, Clark?”, “General Zod”, “You Led Us Here”, “This is Madness!”, “Earth” and “Arcade”, four of which feature additional music by the Dutch composer/musician Tom Holkenborg AKA Junkie XL. These cues present, by and large, more of the same, except that the electronic/synthetic element is much more prominent in Holkenborg’s cues.

So, here’s the bottom line. I understand that Man of Steel is a different film than the original Superman and its sequels, and as much as I dislike the changes made to the nature of Superman, and as much as I feel that these changes represent a gross miscalculation on the part of the filmmakers, I acknowledge that these changes were made, and that as a result Zimmer’s score had to change too. A John Williams-style score would not have been appropriate for this film, and so the fact that Zimmer chose to go in a different direction was entirely the right decision. What disappoints me more than anything is the lack of emotional content resulting from the decision to strip down the thematic content to its absolute bare bones, as well as the apparent lack of ambition inherent in the failure to create a new and interesting sonic world for Superman to inhabit. Superman is THE iconic American super-hero, a beacon of light and hope and justice for the world. For him to be saddled with witless percussion, such predictable string writing, and such a simplistic and repetitive thematic statement is disappointing in the extreme.

Rating: *

Buy the Man of Steel soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Look to the Stars (2:54)
  • Oil Rig (1:31)
  • Sent Here for a Reason (3:46)
  • DNA (3:18)
  • Goodbye My Son (1:57)
  • If You Love These People (3:03)
  • Krypton’s Last (1:58)
  • Terraforming (9:46)
  • Tornado (2:47)
  • You Die or I Do (3:04)
  • Launch (2:29)
  • Ignition (1:12)
  • I Will Find Him (2:47)
  • This is Clark Kent (3:36)
  • I Have So Many Questions (3:21)
  • Flight (4:09)
  • What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World? (5:26)
  • Man of Steel (Hans’ Original Sketchbook) (28:11)
  • Are You Listening, Clark? (2:48) – Deluxe Edition Bonus Track
  • General Zod (7:21) – Deluxe Edition Bonus Track
  • You Led Us Here (2:59) – Deluxe Edition Bonus Track
  • This Is Madness (3:48) – Deluxe Edition Bonus Track
  • Earth (6:11) – Deluxe Edition Bonus Track
  • Arcade (7:25) – Deluxe Edition Bonus Track

Running Time: 86 minutes 08 seconds – Regular Edition
Running Time: 118 minutes 22 seconds – Deluxe Edition

WaterTower Music WTM39424 (2013) – Regular Edition
WaterTower Music WTM39426 (2013) – Deluxe Edition

Music composed by Hans Zimmer. Conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Walter Fowler, Kevin Kaska, Yvonne Suzette Moriarty, Rick Giovinazzo, Geoff Stradling and Carl Rydlund. Additional music by Mel Wesson, Tom Holkenborg, Atli Örvarsson, Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynski. Featured musical soloists Ryeland Allison, George Doering, Bryce Jacobs and Martin Tillman. Special vocal performances by Lisa Gerrard. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Melissa Muik. Album produced by Hans Zimmer, Stephen Lipson and Peter Asher.

About these ads
  1. June 18, 2013 at 2:19 am

    Dear Jon, this is a great review and sums up not only current Hollywood film music and films, but also very much they way I feel about it!

  2. June 18, 2013 at 6:44 am

    A very nice summation of the current scoring trends in Hollywood. One would have thought that massive hits with more orchestral scores like The Avengers would have led us away from it, but sadly this does not seem to be the case.

    Also a rare moment of unanimity between you, Southall, and Clemmensen!

  3. Dylan B
    June 18, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Review is spot on. I am a massive Hans Zimmer fan but i will have to admit that this is his worst score in years. Its too electronic. Its a very loud and unpleasant listening experience and after listening to the whole score, i found myself with a depessing heachache. I had to listen to Legends of The Fall by James Horner to get me into a positive mood again. I, personally feel that Hans Zimmer relies too much on his pc and therefore loses his creativity somehow. Man of Steel is bland with a terrible superman theme. The iconic superman march by John Williams has stood the test of time and still today, remains the pinacle of what superhero themes must be. I feel that if John Williams had to listen to Hans’ score, it would probably end up depressing the sh#t out of him.

  4. Miles
    June 19, 2013 at 11:29 am

    I am a Zimmer fan, and quite liked this score, actually, but reading your review was very interesting. Zimmer’s work on this film and the Dark Knight Saga seems to deal in primal instincts rather than concrete themes–notes or motifs which evoke feelings of hope or obsession. While this can work well, it does deprive the listener of the iconic, triumphal heroism offered by such as John Williams, or the pleasure of intricate instrumentation. I agree with you that the problem is Hollywood’s general “follow-the-leader” mentality. I think that there is hope on this front, though: Brian Tyler’s stellar work on Iron Man 3 and his assignment on the Thor sequel seem to point towards a rebirth of thematic scoring in superhero films. Overall, a very well-argued and heartfelt piece. I hope to hear more from you soon!

  5. Gelwin
    June 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    I like his music too. Love it.
    No complaints at all about his renditions and I’m nowhere worthy of being close to his feet even.
    But sometimes I feel excess is an overload. Many times, we hear some energetic score or bangs and get the feeling that something major is about to happen only to be disappointed that it was nothing substantial.
    During the movie I kept feeling, I’m watching a musical album instead of a movie. Sometimes silence is good. That helps the audience favor the music when it begins.

    • Miles
      June 20, 2013 at 10:43 am

      I agree. I heard the score before watching it, and some of the subtleties, such the guitar accents, were lost amid the sound effects. Changing the score mix to bring those elements to the forefront would probably have helped a lot. I’m still looking forward to Zimmer’s work on The Lone Ranger and Rush, though!

  6. June 24, 2013 at 7:49 am

    what is the name of the track which has Gravity in it, it was used in action scenes with that Krypton Girl mostly

  7. H.R.
    June 26, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Most people are afraid of change because they think the new thing would be replaced to the old one. I love the the genius of Zimmer’s work. It’s something new and If I think there are other similarities well then I’m wrong.

    I believe Zimmer thinned the line between the picture on the screen and the music playing on it. usually the composer understand the mood of the scene and tries to make a music equal to that mood or atmosphere. Zimmer goes beyond that, he goes through the mind of the characters and he’s not afraid to sacrifice the melodies in his mind to make something more effective. Look we are talking about a man who’s composed masterpieces like The Thin Red Line, The Lion King etc… definitely he CAN come up with new melodies like them but he tries to do something new. The one note of The Dark Knight for instance, can you come up with something more impressive than that ? now I hear a lot of people complaining about the harshness of that track and they never ask themselves this is the SOUNDTRACK of a maniac called Joker!
    The Dark Knight Rises for instance, those big drums and Taikos of bane theme is exactly the way his character is. Heavy, Harsh and of course resemblance of the war drums. There is a war and there is soldiers in TDKR. The first scene of TDKR with that great music of Zimmer really inject the personality of Bane to my veins. He used Decay,Reverb with a high buffer and the result was something that has weight. This is something modern, this is something that may not be a good listen without the film but what are we talking about? Soundtracks, It must serve the picture no matter what.

    Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to watch Man of Steel but I’m sure It’s something special too. Now I don’t say everyone should be Hans Zimmer (Obviously they can’t) but I say there could be a room for a composer like Zimmer to make something new and special and there must be a room for John Williams with his beautiful complex musics.

  8. Tim
    July 1, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    This soundtrack feels unfinished. Its almost like a rough base upon which the real score is meant to be placed. Though I was dissapointed to realise it would never come (The last two tracks show some semblance of this but in the end it was too late). I don’t know if the reality of fast musical turnover has prevented creativity and fleshing out of Hollywood music. Great music needs time! I feel like Hans Zimmer needed more of it ..

  9. Sherrie
    July 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    I find it interesting that in the era of modern music – or maybe it’s even postmodern now – one should complain about music sounding modern. I’ve heard worse. However, I agree that movie themes are moving away from the heady days when soundtracks like Jurassic Park and The Lion King abounded. Movie music is program music; it’s Romantic; it’s in its own cocoon against the John Cages. That being said, I am enjoying Zimmer’s ‘Man of Steel’ immensely. I’m not sure how one hears the percussion rhythms as ‘badly executed'; they may be drumline-esque but unless you hate drumlines, I can’t see how that’s a problem. And, I for one do listen repeatedly to Zimmer’s sketchbook track. ‘General Zod’ I think actually has some of what the reviewer is listening for; it ends with a really beautiful, stately theme in strings and reminds me just so of Sibelius’ ‘Andante Festivo.’ I have to be honest and say I would love a full track of it, and a few more like it.

    • Bob Lee
      August 27, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      Give me old Superman them song back to.Eny day.Man of Steel was good.But old song was better.

      • Tim Burger
        August 31, 2013 at 4:11 am

        Old Superman them song is wat mad Superman so popular.Can’t believe they used new them song.Mixing the old and newe music can work.Hope they do it.If not.I am not gong to see Man of Steel 2.

  10. jewen07
    July 25, 2013 at 5:55 am

    Listen the score on this order:

    Look To The Stars.
    Arcade
    DNA
    Goodbye My Son
    Ignition
    Lunch
    I Will Find Him
    Krypton’s Last
    Oil Rig
    Are You Listening Clark?
    This is Clark Kent
    Sent Here For a Reason
    I Have So Many Questions
    Flight
    Earth
    Tornado
    Terraforming
    General Zod
    You Die or I Do
    If You Love These People
    What Are You Gonig To Do….?

    9.5/10…..All the music remember me all scene or action in the movie, this is what define a good soudntrack. But this is not good, is a Soundtrack of Steel.

  11. tylan jamison
    August 7, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    You know what, all of you critics completely fixate on how something is meant to sound or look and haven’t come to the realization that maybe this is just Hans’ style of music. Why is it that fans can appreciate music that is supposed to offer an ominous tone rather than a exuberant or joyful tone in which most all you critics expect. You people negatively critique a guy who possesses a certain style music , not meant to sound happy or joyful. If Hans Zimmer were to incorporate a joyful happy march or legendary superhero music it would completely take away from the purpose of the movie. The music is not meant to necessarily evoke sadness or dreariness but to help the audience understand that this movie is about a struggling man who is different than everyone he encounters and is trying to find his place in life

  12. Jennifer Duffy
    August 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    So “Jonathan Broxton”, if you can do so much better, then why is it Hans Zimmer’s name in the movie credits, and not yours?

    • September 3, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      Ah, the old “why don’t you do it better” response. Classic. Tell me – have you ever sent a meal back in a restaurant for not being cooked correctly? Did you go back into the kitchen, push the chef out of the way, and cook it yourself? If not, why not? Surely you could cook it better!

  13. Buks Terblanche
    August 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I am the bigest,begest Superman Fan on the planet!!!!! I have 859 Superman comics! BUT I give Man of Steel movie only 8 stars.I hate,hate,hate the new them song!!PLEAS breng my the old Superman them song back!!!!!!! The old them song was 50 times beter!!Even if thay use both songs old and new I can maby geve Man of Steel 10 stars.For heven sake bring back old Superman them song!!Or mixe the 2 songs!PLEAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Larené Beukes
      August 27, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      I love what you say!I also whant old Superman them song back.

  14. September 4, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Am I the only one who was imagining Ottman’s “Superman Returns” score playing over portions of the movie?

    That’s how bland Zimmer’s score was for me.

    • JP Elsweth
      September 27, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      The Classic Superman move them song was the best.The newe music is only ok.Somtimes new is good.Thes was like making Superman suit pink or somthing.

      • Ricky Kadale
        September 30, 2013 at 3:10 pm

        Thank you man!I feel your pain!Man of Steel them song? Not good!!!!Move was good.The music bad!The red on Supermans S was also very,very,very stupet and the yellow in the S was not bright like it mast be!That and the new music mad me sad and mad.The move was a good 7.5

  15. Kevin E
    November 10, 2013 at 3:58 am

    I loved the music in this movie. It goes really well with the character. When i heard the various “simple” music throughout the movie, it sent chills. We all know who Superman is. Wouldn’t it be boring if it was the same reboot that has come out. The movie and music was epic.

    I don’t trust reviews anymore. The writers are experienced. And that’s what makes reviews NOT trustworthy. Because they have high expectations.

  1. July 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 501 other followers