Home > Reviews > SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – Michael Giacchino

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – Michael Giacchino

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s been just fifteen years since Hollywood released its first big-screen movie about the popular comic book super hero Spider-Man. Tobey Maguire took the web-slinger through his first three iterations before the story was ‘re-booted’ and the Spidey suit was passed on to Andrew Garfield for The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. He only lasted for two movies as now, building from his cameo appearance in Captain America: Civil War, the character has now been re-booted for a second time in order to facilitate his full introduction into the Avengers universe. The new Peter Parker/Spider-Man is played by English actor Tom Holland, and the film is another “origin story” of sorts, in which Parker tries to prove his worth to the de-facto leader of the Avengers, Tony Stark/Iron Man, by battling with super-villain Adrian Toomes/Vulture, while simultaneously dealing with the usual high school issues faced by a 15-year-old kid. The film co-stars Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., and Marisa Tomei, and is directed by Jon Watts.

In 2002, just as the original Spider-Man was being released in cinemas, a 35-year-old composer from New Jersey named Michael Giacchino was just finishing his third score in the Medal of Honor video game series, Frontline. He had done a couple of movies already, the most notable of which was a comedy called My Brother the Pig starring a young Scarlett Johansson, and had scored the first season of the popular TV show Alias, but he was still very much established as a ‘video game composer’ and his dreams of writing for film were still to be realized. It would be another two years until his simultaneous breakthroughs, on the movie The Incredibles, and the TV series Lost. It’s interesting to look back at how, over the course of just thirteen years, Giacchino has gone from being utterly unknown to being at the absolute top of the Hollywood A-List, via one Star Wars movie, three Star Trek movies, one Jurassic Park movie, two Mission Impossible movies, one (soon to be two) Planet of the Apes movies, a handful of smash-hit Pixar animated movies, and now two Marvel super-hero movies, the first of which was last year’s Doctor Strange. He is, at this point, basically the King of Big Studio Franchises.

The most significant thing that has brought Giacchino to the top, in addition to his agreeable personality and his reliability, is a massive amount of pure musical talent. In an era which has seen far too much of the Hollywood film music mainstream go the way of droning darkness, Giacchino is like a beacon of orchestral, thematic light; he’s one of the few guys left who writes big, memorable themes for big, impressive orchestral ensembles, and he doesn’t shy away from musical emotion when the film calls for it. There has been the most dispiriting backlash against him lately – it always happens when people are judged to be ‘over-exposed’ and ‘scoring everything’ – especially with regard to his Star Wars score Rogue One, but I refuse to get caught up in the snark and the bitterness. Despite the occasional misstep, which all composers have, Michael Giacchino is still writing the sort of film music I love the most, and his score for Spider-Man: Homecoming is yet another worthy addition to his now bulging list of excellent scores.

Having been asked to follow in the footsteps of both John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith multiple times already, it was inevitable that he would eventually have to complete the quadfecta – or even quinfecta? – by having to score the next film of a series previously graced with music by Danny Elfman, James Horner, and Hans Zimmer. Thankfully, as he has consistently proven, Giacchino is more than a match for the task, and has provided his Spider-Man with a classic, ballsy, superbly entertaining super-hero action score anchored by an irresistibly catchy main theme.

After a brief but wonderfully nostalgic homage to the “Theme from the Spider Man Original Television Series” – I love the fact that the lyrics were authored by that Oscar-winning genius Paul Francis WEBster – the new theme from Spider-Man actually takes its time emerging. The first score cue proper, “The World is Changing,” actually begins with a brief burst of Alan Silvestri’s Avengers march, and then takes its time to introduce the villain’s theme for Adrian Toomes/Vulture, subtly at first, only receiving its first recognizable statement at 3:11 on low, imposing horns surrounded by thrusting strings and tempestuous percussion. Oddly, the actual chord progressions remind me of the secondary part of the song ‘The Rains of Castamere’ from Game of Thrones crossed with Damien’s theme from the third Omen film, The Final Conflict, but of course this is entirely coincidental.

The new theme for Spider-Man finally appears with light pop arrangements in the third cue, “Academic Decommitment,” and from this point on it’s virtually ever-present throughout the score. I’m loathe to actually describe the theme as ‘insect-like’ because that would be too on the nose, but Giacchino’s frequent use of pizzicato techniques to convey a sense of lightness, movement, and barely-contained energy is nevertheless perfect for the character, giving it a sense of unpredictability, as if you’re never quite sure where it’s going to go next. It’s not quite as wild and meandering as Elfman’s iconic Spider-Man theme, and it doesn’t have the overt heroism of Horner’s; in fact, the jazz-like textures Giacchino often brings to the theme make it more of a cousin to Christophe Beck’s score for Ant-Man, which is a very good thing indeed.

As I mentioned, the Spider-Man theme is present in almost every cue thereafter, but what’s most fun about the score is the way Giacchino manipulates it, and brings new dimensions and new aspects to the melody in each different statement. In “On a Ned-To-Know Basis,” for example, Giacchino seems to be channeling Alexandre Desplat with an arrangement for nimble pizzicato strings, snare drum riffs, and prettily elegant flutes. The more insistent version heard in “Webbed Surveillance” has some terrific brass contrapuntal writing to give it a sense of weight and importance. The performance in “No Vault of His Own” ranges from playful, to comedic, to almost lightly romantic. The emotional statement towards the end of “Vulture Clash” is genuinely moving.

The action music, on the whole, is similarly outstanding. “High Tech Heist” has some fabulous brass figure shrouded in effervescent, caper-like jazz, while “Drag Racing/An Old Van Rundown” beefs up the brass quotient even more, even working in some rock percussion to give the whole thing a contemporary kick. Taken together, the two “Boatload of Trouble” cues are a pair of slow burners which gradually build up a real head of steam, dancing around the Spider-Man pizzicato ideas with energy and panache until they finally explode in a flurry of brass fanfares.

Subsequent tracks like “Ferry Dust Up,” “Bussed a Move,” “Lift Off,” the exhilarating “Fly-By-Night Operation,” and the near-apocalyptic “Vulture Clash” are equally bold and fierce, and feature some especially notable brass writing as well as moments of superb dissonance. Stylistically the action music has a lot in common with scores like Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond, and to a lesser extent things like John Carter and Jurassic World, but anyone who has enjoyed Giacchino’s large-scale action writing over the past five or six years will certainly find the action sequences here to their taste.

The musical conflict in some of these cues is wonderful, and really embodies what I feel is becoming a lost art in film scoring: music for protagonists and antagonists which can play sequentially, or even contrapuntally, within the same cue to depict the escalating on-screen divergence. The back-and-forth statements of Spider-Man’s theme and Vulture’s theme towards the end of An Old Van Rundown,” in “Webbed Surveillance,” and in “Lift Off,” are superb, while the gargantuan statements of Vulture’s theme at the end of “A Boatload of Trouble, Part 2,” “Lift Off,” and “Fly-By-Night Operation” really drive home the threat he poses to young Peter’s dreams of not only joining the Avengers, but living long enough to graduate high school.

Having said all that, my favorite action sequence actually might be “Monumental Meltdown,” in which Giacchino seemingly returns to his Medal of Honor video game days by taking a unique rhythmic and thematic idea and blasting it repeatedly through the orchestra underneath all manner of florid instrumental embellishments; anyone who loved pieces like “Taking Out the Railgun” will adore this.

The payoff cue, “A Stark Contrast,” features the score’s second cameo appearance from Silvestri’s Avengers theme, but then builds to a tremendously emotional climax in which Giacchino arranges the Spider-Man theme in a way that would have certainly made James Horner proud. After a final flash of the theme in “No Frills Proto COOL!” the score ends with the 7-minute “Spider-Man: Homecoming Suite” for the film’s end credits, which presents multiple lavish concert arrangements of the Spider-Man theme and Vulture’s theme, as well as a romantic middle section to provide tender juxtaposition.

There has been a lot of friendly rivalry amongst film music aficionados regarding the superiority of the comic book franchises – Marvel vs. D.C. – and for my money Marvel is winning hands down. With the exception of this year’s Wonder Woman, D.C.’s scores have largely been dark, joyless affairs with nary a memorable thematic element to mention. Contrast this with the music heard in the last few Marvel films; yes, they started poorly and have endured some clangers along the way, but eight of the ten scores from the Phase II and Phase III films have been generally outstanding, filled with exciting orchestral action, memorable themes, and plenty of life and energy. Spider-Man: Homecoming very much follows this pattern, and now joins Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange in the upper echelon of contemporary super-hero film scoring. Whether this score will have the popularity and longevity of Elfman and Horner’s scores for the webbed wonder remains to be seen, but Giacchino has certainly given it every opportunity to succeed.

Buy the Spider-Man: Homecoming soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Theme from the Spider Man Original Television Series (written by J. Robert Harris and Paul Francis Webster) (0:40)
  • The World is Changing (4:10)
  • Academic Decommitment (1:57)
  • High Tech Heist (1:27)
  • On a Ned-To-Know Basis (1:45)
  • Drag Racing/An Old Van Rundown (4:07)
  • Webbed Surveillance (4:40)
  • No Vault of His Own (2:28)
  • Monumental Meltdown (5:23)
  • The Baby Monitor Protocol (1:38)
  • A Boatload of Trouble, Part 1 (3:09)
  • A Boatload of Trouble, Part 2 (2:16)
  • Ferry Dust Up (2:51)
  • Stark Raving Mad (1:55)
  • Pop Vulture (3:06)
  • Bussed a Move (1:43)
  • Lift Off (5:26)
  • Fly-By-Night Operation (2:24)
  • Vulture Clash (4:07)
  • A Stark Contrast (4:42)
  • No Frills Proto COOL! (0:35)
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming Suite (7:29)

Running Time: 67 minutes 58 seconds

Sony Masterworks (2017)

Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Orchestrations by Tim Simonec, Robert Elhai, Jeff Kryka, Chris Tilton, Curtis Green and Mick Giacchino. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Stephen M. Davis and Tanya Noel Hill. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.

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