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IRON MAN 2 – John Debney

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The sequel to the phenomenally successful super hero movie from 2008, Iron Man 2 sees Robert Downey Jr. returning to don the futuristic red and gold suit as Tony Stark, the multi-billionaire industrialist who saves the world in his spare time as his metallic alter ego. This time around his nemesis is megalomaniacal Russian juggernaut Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), seeking revenge for the death of his scientist father, who helped design the original Iron Man technology. Directed by Jon Favreau, the film also stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s loyal assistant Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle as Stark’s friend Colonel “Rhodey” Rhodes, and Scarlett Johansson as the sexy undercover agent Nastaha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow.

Ramin Djawadi provided the interminable score for the original Iron Man film; thankfully, he has been replaced this time around by the excellent John Debney, who worked with director Jon Favreau before on Zathura and Elf, and who finally provides the franchise with the grand and heroic sound the first film sorely lacked. The rock element that Djawadi introduced in the first Iron Man is still there, of course, to keep a sense of continuity with the original, but where Debney’s score excels is in its scope, larger orchestral forces, and generally more satisfying sound.

The opening cue, “Ivan’s Metamorphosis”, is an excellent example of this, mixing a loud and imposing orchestra with electric guitars, synths, and a portentous choir which is very impressive indeed. As the cue develops it adopts a definite Slavic feeling through its chord structure, intonations, and the subtle incorporation of menacing throat singers, recognizing Ivan’s Eastern roots, and by the time it reaches its peak towards the cue’s conclusion it has introduced a theme for the film’s antagonist that has all the weight and gravitas one would expect, but also with a pseudo-tragic feeling that gives the character depth. Debney achieves in just under six minutes what Djawadi wholly failed to achieve in his entire first score, which is really saying something.

The action music, of which there is a lot, is loud and brash, again mixing the large symphony orchestra with electronic percussion hits and wailing rock guitars – performed by Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave and Debney himself – that keep the tempo strong. Some of the action music is reminiscent of the type that Brian Tyler has been composing of late, which in itself is no bad thing, while elsewhere the music is favorably comparable to the symphonic rock Debney wrote for The Scorpion King back in 2002, and of other similar scores like Joel Goldsmith’s Kull the Conqueror.

The brass hits in “House Fight V1”, the effortlessly heroic riffs in “Rhodey Dons Suit”, and the unashamedly James Bond-esque “Monaco Drive” have the right amount of panache and indescribable cool, while the more extensive action sequences in “Mayhem in Monaco”, the majestic “New Element/Particle Accelerator” and the epic “Iron Man Battles the Drones” are hair-raising in their energy and relentless forward motion, often incorporating further statements of Ivan’s theme into the mix to excellent effect. The flamboyant string performances in “Mayhem in Monaco” are of special note, as are the thunderous hard-rock guitar licks in “Gun Show”, “Sledgehammer”, “Sledgehammer V2” and the fabulous “Black Widow Kicks Ass”, while Ivan’s theme features prominently in several other cues where his malevolent presence is felt, most notably in the tragedy-laden “Ivan Demise”.

The score’s brief down time is provided by the sweet, almost romantic theme for Pepper in “Making Pepper CEO” and “The Kiss”, and the sultrier woodwind motif for the Black Widow in “Natalie Intro” (which I would have liked to have heard developed into a full-on action motif in her moment of glory – a missed opportunity perhaps), while “Make Way For Tomorrow” and its sung recapitulation in the finale have an intentionally cheesy and over-the-stop sweeping 1950s sound which is a light-hearted diversion.

I hate to keep harping on about it, but Iron Man 2 is everything that the original Iron Man was not: exciting, orchestrally inventive, muscular, and ballsy, with some real themes-and-variations, genuine emotion, and some forceful rock music which sounds appropriately authentic and raw. Perhaps the score’s only drawback is the lack a bold, truly recognizable theme for Iron Man himself – other then a few fragments here and there it gets it’s only performance of note in “I Am Iron Man” at the very end of the score – but that can be forgiven when the antagonist’s theme is this good, and the action music rocks as much as this does. Is it art? No. Is it fun? You bet.

Rating: ***½

Buy the Iron Man 2 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Ivan’s Metamorphosis (5:48)
  • House Fight V1 (5:47)
  • Making Pepper CEO (1:09)
  • Senate/Ivan Creates Drones (3:38)
  • Make Way For Tomorrow (Expo Version) (0:54)
  • Rhodey Dons Suit (0:57)
  • Dying Hero (1:52)
  • Natalie Intro (1:04)
  • Monaco Drive (0:42)
  • Mayhem in Monaco (7:26)
  • Jailhouse Talk (2:25)
  • Ivan Escapes (1:43)
  • Gun Show (2:11)
  • Tony Discovers Dad’s Secret (4:10)
  • Sledgehammer V2 (2:40)
  • Nick Fury (1:31)
  • New Element/Particle Accelerator (6:15)
  • Sledgehammer (1:08)
  • New RT/To the Expo (1:44)
  • Black Widow Kicks Ass (2:12)
  • Iron Man Battles the Drones (8:01)
  • Ivan’s Demise/The Kiss (5:06)
  • Thor (0:40)
  • I Am Iron Man (1:32)
  • Make Way For Tomorrow Today (1:51)

Running Time: 72 minutes 26 seconds

Sony Classical 88697-74654-2 (2010)

Music composed by John Debney. Conducted by John Debney and Nick Ingman. Orchestrations by Brad Dechter, Frank Bennett, Kevin Kaska, Andrew Kinney and Mike Watts. Featured musical soloists John Debney, Michael Mason, Tom Morello and Lisbeth Scott. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy and Simon Rhodes. Edited by Jeff Carson and Tanya Noel Hill. Album produced by John Debney.

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  1. October 22, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    A fabulous achievement compared to Djawadi’s anonymous dreck. A perfect assessment of the score, Jon! Thank you for a wonderful read, and thank Debney for the perfect score to listen to at the gym! 😀

  2. Orlando Gonzalez
    October 24, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I had to listen to this score a few times before I realize I was listening to a really good score. As Djawadi´s score, not much I can say aside from its very generic. Hope Debney comes back for IM3.

    Again a very engaging score.

  3. mastadge
    October 24, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Surprisingly, one of the best scores of the year. In the top 5 so far? Probably not, with a couple good efforts from Powell, Last Airbender, Alice, and several other good scores, but almost certainly in the top 10, even despite the lack of a well developed thematic core. But given that I’m usually indifferent to Debney’s music this was a very welcome surprise indeed.

  4. September 6, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    So when do we get to hear your opinion on Iron Man 3? It got a mention in your awards but nowhere else; given how that score is like the ultimate evolution of this one, I’m guessing it would be an enthusiastic one 🙂

    I do disagree a bit about this score, though: you’re right that it has a fine suite of themes, but I just can’t get around the vast dry patches where they are nowhere to be found (a problem Brian Tyler doesn’t have in the threequel). I’ve a fuller breakdown at http://bestoriginalscores.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/iron-man-2-john-debney if you’d like to read that opinion at length.

    • September 6, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      Never, unfortunately. I think the ship for a timely review of IRON MAN 3 has sailed!

      • September 7, 2014 at 12:17 am

        Well, there’s always untimely reviews! I know I’m still gathering my thoughts for a formal write-up.

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