ANT-MAN – Christophe Beck
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
A wholly unlikely new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man is the latest super hero film to hit the silver screen. Originally created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby for the comic ‘Tales to Astonish’ in 1962, this first big-screen adventure for the character focuses on cat burglar Scott Foley, whose efforts to put aside his life of crime are stymied by his inability to hold down a regular job, jeopardizing his relationship with his daughter Cassie. Talked into committing “one last job” by his former cellmate Luis, Scott breaks into a house to steal a safe, unaware that the house belongs to scientist and inventor Hank Pym, who has created a suit which will shrink the wearer down to the size of an ant, while simultaneously giving him super-human powers. Unbeknownst to Scott, Pym – who became the original Ant-Man in 1963 – has manipulated events so that he can convince Scott to become a new Ant-Man, and help him retrieve the shrinking technology from his former protégé, the ruthless Darren Cross, who has stolen it, and intends to it sell to agents of Hydra. The film is directed by Peyton Reed, stars Paul Rudd as Foley, Michael Douglas as Pym, Corey Stoll as Cross, and Evangeline Lilly as Pym’s daughter Hope Van Dyne, and has an original score by Christophe Beck.
Originally, Oscar-winner Steven Price was scheduled to score Ant-Man, but he left the project when the film’s original director Edgar Wright quit because of “creative differences,” and Beck – who had previously worked with new director Reed on Bring It On in 2000 – was brought in to replace him. Beck has been one of the busiest composers in Hollywood for well over a decade now, scoring at least four films every year since his tenure as lead composer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended in 2001. His career received a significant upswing after the gargantuan success of Frozen in 2013, but now Ant-Man looks set to eclipse even that score, speaking in purely musical terms. For me, this is the best score of Beck’s career to date, beating out such sterling earlier efforts as Under the Tuscan Sun, We Are Marshall, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, and the first Percy Jackson film, The Lightning Thief.
In scoring Ant-Man, Beck said he wanted “to write a score in the grand symphonic tradition of my favorite superhero movies, with a sweeping scope and a big, catchy main theme,” and he absolutely succeeded on that front. The main theme for Ant-Man is a blast, a march in 7/4 time, with a flowing main melody underpinned by an 8-note percussive ostinato (although Beck may have missed an opportunity to show a bit of appreciation for formicidae morphology there; ants have six legs, not eight!). The theme receives its concert-piece performance in the magnificent opening cue, but both the melodic line and the ostinato are present in one form or another throughout the entire score, either through overt and majestic statements to accompany moments of heroism, or more subtly, with Beck utilizing just a part of the ostinato or a deconstructed version of the theme.
There’s also a very clever thing that Beck sometimes does when one or more of the lead characters is changing size multiple times in a given scene, where he changes the orchestration of the ostinato depending on whether the character is currently big or small: this is especially noticeable in cues like “Ant 247” and “Old Man Have Safe,” where it hops from beefy brass lines, to more delicate combos for pizzicato strings and harp, and back again.
Not only that, as much of the film has a heist movie vibe to it, some of the music intentionally channels the 1960s-style spy caper scores of composers like Lalo Schifrin and Henry Mancini, while elsewhere the music takes on an upbeat surf-rock personality, referencing classic artists like Dick Dale and groups like The Ventures and The Lively Ones. The caper music comes to the fore in ‘sneaking around’ sequences like “I’ll Call Him Antony,” which play up the iconic collaborations between alto flutes and violas, jazzy pianos and bongo drums, while the surfer attitude is especially prevalent in tracks like the aforementioned “Ant 247,” and the wonderfully over-the-top “Scott Surfs on Ants”.
The main theme is especially prominent in the score’s myriad of action cues, emerging stealthily from the contemporary sound of “Honey, I Shrunk Myself,” combining with electronic textures in “Escape from Jail” and “CrossTech Break-In,” forming the cornerstone of the energetic and exciting “First Mission,” and flashing heroically during “Antfiltration”. As a nod to Ant-Man’s place in the MCU, listen also for the quick burst of Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme in the aforementioned “First Mission” – foreshadowing at its finest!
Later, as the score reaches its climax in its final third, Beck really ratchets up the tension and excitement with some of the finest action writing of his career. The flighty woodwind accents that accompany the theme in “Into the Hornet’s Nest” are appropriately adventurous (and vaguely James Horner-ish), while the brass triplets in “A Center for Ants” are wonderfully heroic. “Insectiside,” “Fight of the Bumblebee,” and “Ants on a Train” are aggressive and powerful, giving musical weight to Yellowjacket, the film’s primary antagonist. I’m a little disappointed that Beck didn’t find a way to somehow quote either Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov or the Thomas the Tank Engine theme somewhere in here; instead, listen especially to the way the strings and horns combine in these cues to produce an appropriately dissonant ‘buzzing’ effect, similar to what Jerry Goldsmith did in his score for The Swarm back in 1978.
There is also a secondary theme, addressing the father-daughter relationships central to the film (Scott and Cassie, Hank and Hope), which is heard in cues like “San Francisco 1987,” and at the end of “Your Mom Died a Hero”. Much more emotional, with a broader sweep and a heightened sense of overt sentiment, it reaches its peak in “Small Sacrifice,” by far the score’s most moving musical moment, where it combines with a majestic string-based variation on the main theme to wonderful effect.
The score concludes with the wonderful end credits piece, “Tales to Astonish!,” which swaggers to groovy guitar riffs, bright trumpets, a Hammond organ, space age sound effects, and a relentlessly infectious beat. The album itself finishes with four source music tracks, including the toe-tapping “Borombon” by Panamanian musician Camilo Azuquita, and “Escape” from the soundtrack to the 1973 blaxploitation film Coffy by jazz composer and vibraphone player Roy Ayers.
With the exception of the ear-splitting mess that Henry Jackman provided for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the scores for the second phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe have all been a significant step up from the first phase – I even liked Tyler Bates’s Guardians of the Galaxy. But as good as Brian Tyler’s scores for Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and Age of Ultron were, Ant-Man is, by quite a significant margin, the best of the lot, and for me is the second-best Marvel score of the entire series, after Alan Silvestri’s original Captain America. It’s infectious, intelligent, wonderfully orchestrated, and has heart, flamboyance and panache oozing from every pore.
Buy the Ant-Man soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Theme from Ant-Man (2:46)
- Honey, I Shrunk Myself (2:29)
- Escape from Jail (1:51)
- Ant 247 (1:13)
- Paraponera Clavata (1:24)
- San Francisco, 1987 (2:37)
- I’ll Call Him Antony (2:50)
- Tiny Telepathy (2:02)
- First Mission (3:23)
- Signal Decoy (0:51)
- Old Man Have Safe (2:25)
- Pym’s Lab (1:26)
- Antfiltration (1:20)
- Your Mom Died a Hero (2:03)
- Scott Surfs on Ants (1:11)
- The Water Main (1:14)
- CrossTech Break-In (1:47)
- Into the Hornet’s Nest (3:00)
- Become the Hero (1:52)
- Insecticide (2:51)
- A Center for Ants! (1:15)
- Cross Gets Cross (1:52)
- Fight of the Bumblebee (1:44)
- Ants on a Train (1:43)
- Small Sacrifice (3:36)
- About Damn Time (0:39)
- Tales to Astonish! (1:47)
- Borombon (written by Javier Vazquez, performed by Camilo Azuquita) (2:49)
- Escape (written and performed by Roy Ayers) (2:14)
- I’m Ready (written by Milan Williams, performed by Commodores) (3:20)
- Pink Gorilla (written by Roberto Ross, performed by HLM) (3:46)
Running Time: 65 minutes 20 seconds
Hollywood Records/Marvel Music (2015)
Music composed by Christophe Beck. Conducted by Tim Davies. Orchestrations by Kevin Kliesch, Tim Davies and Dave Metzger. Avengers theme by Alan Silvestri. Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Edited by Fernand Bos. Album produced by Christophe Beck.