Home > Reviews > GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 – Tyler Bates


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, in which writer/director James Gunn blends epic space action and special effects with broad comedy and a whole host of unresolved daddy issues. In the aftermath of the events of the first film, the Guardians – Star Lord Peter Quinn (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and the newly-sprouted Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) – are now working as heroes for hire, saving planets for a price. Unfortunately for the Guardians, the aftermath of their most recent job results in them running from the haughty and arrogant High Priestess of the Sovereigns (Elizabeth Debicki), space pirate Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), and Gamora’s vengeful sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), all of whom have different reasons for wanting to find the Guardians. Unexpectedly, the Guardians receive help from an omnipotent and powerful creature named Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Quinn’s father…

The film is not quite as good as the first one – half the fun of that film was watching the team come together – but it still has a lot going for it. The lead performance by Chris Pratt is charming and heroic, some of the supporting cast cameos are great, Baby Groot is adorable, and the de-ageing visual effects used on Kurt Russell in the film’s opening sequence are absolutely astonishing, and completely seamless. Also, the various relationships the film explores – Peter’s hangups over his father, Rocket’s inferiority complex, the Gamora/Nebula sibling rivalry, and the depths of Drax’s sadness – are surprisingly rich, and one character’s climactic death is genuinely moving (especially considering the thespian involved). Another aspect of the film which works very well in context is Tyler Bates’s fun and rousing score, which builds on the style and textures of the enjoyable first effort in the series.

As is the usually case with the music for any self-respecting space epic, the score is an enormous orchestral effort, filled to the brim with huge full-ensemble outbursts and chanted choral textures. The recurring main theme that represents the combined heroism of the Guardians of the Galaxy as a whole is the most prominent feature of the score, forming the core of many cues as both an overt melodic statement, and as a more subtle undercurrent in various guises and adaptations. The Guardians theme opens the first cue, “Showtime A-Holes,” complete with rousing brass fanfares and choir, before going on to present the first of the score’s numerous powerful action sequences.

Action is where the heart of Guardians of the Galaxy lies, and the vast majority of the score’s set-pieces are scored in the same way, with the full orchestra hammering away relentlessly, although Bates often finds time to work in some interesting rhythmic ideas, and intelligent touches in orchestration, from flighty woodwind lines, to metallic-percussion, and various techniques from the ubiquitous choir. There is just the slightest sense of ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ that runs through much of the score, threatening to make it sound like a parody of itself, but fortunately for the most part it stays just the right side of the dangerous cliché line.

Subsequent action cues of note include the first half of “vs the Abilisk,” which features an interesting descending staccato string line similar to the one Junkie XL popularized in Mad Max Fury Road. Later, the tremendous “Space Chase” includes some bubbling synth ideas, a thrusting sequence at 1:24 which is quite exhilarating, and a cacophony of brass and immense percussion that has more than a hint of James Horner to it. “Mammalian Bodies” has an unusual chanted choral section towards the end that recalls the creative vocal writing Don Davis used to do. “Two-Time-Galaxy Savers” features several moments of brass heroism that collapse into chaos and dissonance, including an outstanding performance of the Guardians theme at 2:14 surrounded by rousing trumpet triplets.

A secondary thematic idea, which appears to represent Yondu and his band of space pirate Reavers, is introduced during the aforementioned “Space Chase,” and structurally appears to be a slightly more aggressive variation on the central Guardians theme. This motif actually plays a significant role in some of the action writing in the score’s second half; for example, “Kraglin and Drax” revisits the Mad Max descending string motif but offsets it against the Reaver motif and the triplet version of the Guardians theme, while “Mary Poppins and the Rat” offers a sequence full of frantic string runs and overt heroism, including a noble performance of the Reaver motif complete with stirring choir, cymbal clashes, and horn counterpoint.

To counterbalance all this, Bates also engages in several moments of genuine emotional poignancy and pathos, which enlivens the film enormously and allows the audience to empathize with the characters in key moments. “Family History” features some beautiful writing for strings, choir, and an especially tender and intimate piano. “Groot Expectations” has some lovely sequences for solo cello, before changing tack in the second half to give off a sort of caper-esque vibe, including a number of jazzy riffs that sound like refugees from the score for Ant-Man. One of the most interesting cues is actually “I Know Who You Are,” which uses a large number of darker textures, including a more prominent drumbeat, a moody Zimmeresque guitar riff, and some very clever writing for saxophones which creates an off-kilter vibe reminiscent of Elliot Goldenthal.

The score’s emotional high point, both in the film and on CD, is “Dad,” a slow burning powerhouse that grows more and more stirring as it develops. The cue’s finale has a real sense of heightened emotion and pathos that we don’t hear in most mainstream Hollywood film music these days, and especially not from Tyler Bates, so it is to the credit of both Bates and director Gunn that they didn’t shy away from unashamed audience manipulation at that point. The spine-tingling horn line that kicks in at 1:56 of that cue is just superb. Thereafter, the score winds down to a rather subdued finish: “A Total Hasselhoff” features more emotional writing, with piano and cello leading from the front as the orchestra plays soft, bittersweet chords; “Sisters” continues the touching cello writing to underscore a cathartic sequence of bonding and reconciliation; and “Guardians of the Frickin Galaxy” offers some soaring string-and-chorus writing leading into a slightly reflective final statement of the Guardians theme.

One thing I feel like I should make special mention of is the score’s brass writing, which is exceptionally impressive throughout, especially in the action cues. A great deal of the credit for that should go to Bates’s team of arrangers and orchestrators, who have brought so much life and color and complexity to the project. I knew that the exceptionally talented Tim Williams, Bates’s most frequent collaborator, was involved again, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Chad Cannon – one of last year’s breakout young composers – named in the credits block too. Cannon’s scores for Cairo Declaration and Paper Lanterns were truly outstanding, and I’m absolutely delighted that he is working on such major films; clearly, Bates is surrounding himself with talented people to bring out the best in scores like these.

I also feel that it’s worth pointing out the wonderfully nostalgic throwback soundtrack of songs which feature heavily in the film. As was the case with the first film, Peter Quinn’s collection of 1970s and 80s rock hits, lovingly bequeathed to him by his mother from her deathbed, plays a prominent role, often underscoring action sequences and giving the whole thing a slightly surreal quality. Of course this means that, by and large, Bates’s score often plays second fiddle the songs, but when your soundtrack includes legendary cuts like “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO, “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, “Brandy” by Looking Glass, and “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens, this might not necessarily be all bad.

Other than the slightly generic sound of some of the orchestral textures, and the nagging feeling I mentioned earlier that Bates was trying just a little too hard in places, the other main criticism I have with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is that, again, some of the thematic constructs are a little bit nondescript. As much as I enjoy them in the moment, Bates’s main thematic ideas are still too much on the anonymous side, remaining a step behind Brian Tyler’s themes for Iron Man and Thor, Alan Silvestri’s Captain America march, and the wonderful theme Christophe Beck wrote for Ant-Man. The lack of memorable sub-themes is also a little disappointing – a specific thematic idea for both Ego and the Sovereigns would have been welcome. Also, just speaking from a personal point of view, I also miss the anthemic theme for the Nova Corps that played such an important musical role in the finale of the first film, although I realize that its inclusion here would be nonsensical as the Nova Corp do not feature.

Despite these criticisms, it’s still easy to declare Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as one of the most satisfying scores of Tyler Bates’s career to date. I have always had a difficult relationship with Bates’s music; even when he heads down a mostly traditional orchestral route, as he did on scores like Watchmen, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Conan the Barbarian, I have invariably found the results to be on the disappointing side. Also, the level of influence Tim Williams has over Bates’s fully orchestral sound is up for debate; I know from personal experience that Williams is a superbly talented composer and orchestrator in his own right, and the sound of this score is clearly richer and fuller than something like, for example, The Darkest Hour, but I don’t want to cast any negative aspersions on their collaboration, so I’ll simply say “I Am Groot” and move on. Whatever the case may be, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a whole ton of fun, which fans of epic blockbuster space adventure scores will surely enjoy. Just watch out for the trash panda.

Buy the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Showtime A-Holes (1:27)
  • vs the Abilisk (2:35)
  • The Mantis Touch (1:53)
  • Space Chase (3:20)
  • Family History (3:48)
  • Groot Expectations (1:57)
  • Mammalian Bodies (1:50)
  • Starhawk (1:49)
  • Two-Time-Galaxy Savers (3:01)
  • I Know Who You Are (4:20)
  • Ego (2:47)
  • Kraglin and Drax (1:34)
  • The Expansion (1:05)
  • Mary Poppins and the Rat (3:07)
  • Gods (1:28)
  • Dad (2:28)
  • A Total Hasselhoff (2:01)
  • Sisters (2:05)
  • Guardians of the Frickin Galaxy (0:59)

Running Time: 43 minutes 34 seconds

Hollywood/Marvel Music (2017)

Music composed by Tyler Bates. Conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Orchestrations by Timothy Williams, Erik Aho, Bryan Arata, Chad Cannon, Sasha Chaban, Kieran Kiely, Drew Krassowski, Vincent Oppido and Steven Scott. Featured musical soloists Lola Bates, Nan Vernon and Tyler Bates. Recorded and mixed by Gustavo Borner. Edited by Steve Durkee and Darrell Hall. Album produced by Tyler Bates.

  1. Michael
    May 9, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Good review. Although Ego has a theme, or at least a theme that represents family. It’s the one that plays through the Family History cue and then it comes back in Dad. Yondu has a theme of his own which it plays out during the finale sequence. Also, I’m surprised you didn’t mention the Guardians’ Inferno song made by Bates where he gives the Guardians theme a disco vibe. If you compare how Bates barely wrote motifs for the Zack Snyder films to the thematic material for the Guardians films, it’s really a world apart.

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