DEADPOOL – Tom Holkenborg
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
By far the biggest and most successful movie in the first quarter of 2016, Deadpool is an irreverent, massively entertaining super-hero film spinning off from the X-Men universe. Ryan Reynolds stars as Wade Wilson, a former special forces op and mercenary-for-hire who is tricked into undergoing a radical treatment as a last ditch attempt to cure his terminal cancer. However, Wade is betrayed by those who promised to help him, and is instead subjected to extended periods of torture on behalf of a shadowy organization attempting to create an army of invincible slaves; the ordeal awakens latent mutant genes which give him super-human powers of re-generation, and cures his cancer, but leaves him terribly scarred. Escaping from his captors, Wilson adopts a new persona as Deadpool and sets about bringing those who tortured him to justice. Meanwhile, Deadpool’s new mutations capture the attention of the X-Men, two of whom – Colossus and Negasonic – track him down and attempt to convince him to join their group. The film is directed by Tim Miller, co-stars Ed Skrien, Morena Baccarin, and Gina Carano, and has an original score by Tom Holkenborg.
Holkenborg had, by anyone’s standards, a really good year in 2015. Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, and from a purely musical point of view he impressed me more than he ever has, especially with his score for Black Mass, a solemn and intelligent orchestral thriller score which hints at his developing talent. Deadpool is, clearly, another huge success for him, having reached almost $300 million in US box office grosses at the time of writing, and having received numerous critical plaudits for its adult sense of humor, exciting action sequences, and clever subversion of the super hero genre. However, in purely musical terms, the score feels like a massive step back. It feels like a score trying to be fashionably retro, with vintage synths and 1980s electronic sound design elements, while simultaneously trying to fit in with the predominant music-du-jour for super hero movies as heard in things like Captain America: Winter Soldier and, to some extent, Man of Steel, but the end result comes across as a poor facsimile of both. It has neither the grandeur nor the anthemic power of Zimmer’s work on the genre, nor the throwback cool he clearly wanted to emulate. The score has no real thematic identity, and there’s the merest amount of superficial excitement to be found in the action sequences, while a lot of the emotional content – while pretty – has a distinct lack of genuine depth.
Pieces like “Small Disruption,” the last third of “Man in a Red Suit,” “Watership Down,” and “Let’s Try to Kill Each Other” embrace a more orchestral approach, with churning cello ostinatos straight out of the ‘Contemporary Super Hero Scoring 101’ playbook, and a battery of brass blasts left over from the last five Hans Zimmer action scores. There’s a clever musical in-joke in “Liam Neeson Nightmares” where Holkenborg quotes his own theme from the score for Run All Night in the strings (Liam Neeson was the star of that film), but beyond that I found the whole thing to be generally rather tired and uninteresting. Even the more lyrical moments – such as “Back to Life,” “Every Time I See Her,” and the conclusive “A Face I Would Sit On” – feel like cues rejected from Many Mothers sequence from Mad Max. The simple shifting string textures are certainly more tonally appealing than the rest of the score, but barely register as highlights.
However, these few moments are musical triumphs compared to most of the rest of the score, which is near-intolerable. The opening cue, “Maximum Effort,” and subsequent pieces like “Twelve Bullets,” “Man in a Red Suit,” the migraine-inducing “The Punch Bowl,” “Easy Angel,” “This Place Looks Sanitary,” and “Going Commando,” are made up of bubbling, throbbing electronic pulses and rhythms, backed by an epileptic drum kit, electric guitars, and various groaning industrial sounds. Occasionally they are enlivened by the famous effect heard in the classic Michael Jackson song “Beat It,” but it perhaps says something when the idea most worth praising is a brief musical texture lifted from a song written in 1982.
I understand what Holkenborg is trying to do here – Deadpool is a swaggering showman, with a nihilistic worldview and a sarcastic sense of humor that regularly breaks the fourth wall, and so he’s scoring him with music that fits his temperament. He’s also intentionally channeling the 1980s John Carpenter/Brad Fiedel vibe through his instrumental choices – an ARP 2600 here, a Synclavier there – which is a bold choice, again intending to evoke a specific era and a specific sense of nostalgia. I just find the actual music to be unappealing in the extreme. It’s noisy, abrasive, and not especially interesting to me from a rock/EDM point of view, which is the most shocking thing of all considering Holkenborg’s unmatched pedigree in that arena.
Perhaps the most damning criticism of the score is that, for me, by far the most enjoyable parts of the album are the 1970s and 80s pop songs that litter the album, mirroring Deadpool’s peculiar musical taste and penchant for kitschy throwbacks: Juice Newton’s dreamy “Angel of the Morning,” Neil Sedaka’s timeless “Calendar Girl,” Salt-n-Pepa’s early hip-hop classic “Shoop,” and of course the romantic wonder that is George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” the song that launched a thousand wedding reception slow dances. When I’m disparaging the score and praising the needle-drops, that perhaps tells you all you need to know.
As good a film as Deadpool is, the score had little to no impact on me as heard in the movie itself, and I actively disliked it on CD, so yet again I find myself back at square one in terms of how I feel about Tom Holkenborg. Of the five scores of his I had heard prior to this one, not counting his ‘additional music’ contributions to things like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 an The Dark Knight Rises, I liked one (Black Mass), was indifferent about three (Divergent, Mad Max, Run All Night), and really disliked one (300: Rise of an Empire). Unfortunately, Deadpool joins 300 in that final category, and not even being attacked by Ryan Reynolds’s baby-hand could make me change my mind. Well, OK, perhaps that one thing. That was creepy.
Buy the Deadpool soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Angel of the Morning (written by Chip Taylor, performed by Juice Newton) (4:12)
- Maximum Effort (2:08)
- Small Disruption (1:12)
- Shoop (written by Cheryl James, Otwane Roberts, Mark Sparks, Sandra Denton, and Ike Turner, performed by Salt-N-Pepa) (4:08)
- Twelve Bullets (2:50)
- Man In a Red Suit (2:20)
- Liam Neeson Nightmares (1:56)
- Calendar Girl (written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, performed by Neil Sedaka) (2:37)
- The Punch Bowl (5:55)
- Back to Life (2:12)
- Every Time I See Her (0:54)
- Deadpool Rap (written by Todd Andrew and Mason Storm, performed by Team Headkick) (3:25)
- Easy Angel (2:31)
- Scrap Yard (1:02)
- This Place Looks Sanitary (6:50)
- Watership Down (4:10)
- X Gon’ Give It to Ya (written by Earl Simmons, Shatek King and Dean Kasseem, performed by DMX) (3:37)
- Going Commando (3:45)
- Let’s Try to Kill Each Other (1:00)
- Stupider When You Say It (2:24)
- Four or Five Moments (0:54)
- A Face I Would Sit On (3:07)
- Careless Whisper (written by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, performed by George Michael) (5:02)
Running Time: 68 minutes 21 seconds
Milan Records 36769 (2016)
Music composed by Tom Holkenborg. Orchestrations by Jonathan Beard, Edward Trybek and Henri Wilkinson. Additional music by Aljoscha Christenhuß and Gregory Reveret. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Ted Caplan. Album produced by Tom Holkenborg.