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WONDER WOMAN 1984 – Hans Zimmer

December 29, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE FILM, YOU MIGHT WANT TO CONSIDER WAITING UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE DONE SO TO READ IT.

Perhaps the biggest casualty of the COVID-19 cinema apocalypse was Wonder Woman 1984, director Patty Jenkins’s sequel to her massively popular 2017 super hero-smash charting the origins of the titular warrior hero. Wonder Woman 1984 was supposed to be Warner’s summer blockbuster tentpole, and was originally going to be released in theaters in June, then August, then October of 2020, before it mostly bypassed cinemas altogether and debuted on HBO Max on Christmas Day. But, even without the full-blown big-screen release, Wonder Woman 1984 is still a huge dose of unpretentious, action-packed fun. The film is set in the early 1980s and sees Gal Gadot returning in the title role, masquerading as museum curator Diana Prince by day, while continuing to fight crime as Wonder Woman. When Diana’s museum comes into possession of a mysterious ‘dreamstone’ that apparently grants wishes, things quickly spiral out of control, first when Diana wishes for her deceased lover from WWI Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to be reincarnated, and then when her mousy colleague Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) wishes to be like Diana. Eventually ambitious businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) – who has coveted the dreamstone for years – manipulates Barbara into getting it from the museum for him, and with it he initiates a megalomaniacal plot to take over the world.

Whereas Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman, and Justice League were all dour, serious movies, the first Wonder Woman was a breath of fresh air, an explosion of color and light, which blended humor and wide-eyed innocence with clever action. Wonder Woman 1984 is perhaps a step behind its predecessor, but it’s still superb entertainment that adds a touch of 1980s gaudiness to the color palette, puts a tiny drop of Reagan-era politics in the screenplay, and enjoys a fun role-reversal where Steve is now the fish-out-of-water. All of this extends to Hans Zimmer’s score, which is similarly rousing and upbeat, in all the best ways. The first Wonder Woman was scored by Rupert Gregson-Williams, but the standout element of it was the motif that I have always called the ‘Wonder Woman war cry,’ which Zimmer originally wrote for Batman vs Superman in 2016, and has since appeared in every DC film in which Wonder Woman herself appears, lead character or not. This score features by far the best use of the Wonder Woman theme, and builds upon it with several other outstanding new themes, and a whole host of tremendous action.

The opening cue, “Themyscira,” is a joyous explosion of life and color that builds out of a major key version of the Wonder Woman ostinato, and quickly becomes a vibrant reflection of Themysciran culture, a mass of swirling strings, bright horns, and chanted female voices reflecting the country’s verdant beauty and unspoiled idyll. The theme that emerges at 1:53 is the score’s new main theme for Diana, a replacement for Rupert Gregson-Williams’s Wonder Woman theme from the first film, and it’s just magnificent, upbeat and heroic and overflowing with charm. Structurally the piece feels like a blend of the voices from The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons with the warm, appealing orchestral writing from the Zimmer golden age in the mid-1990s, and I can’t get enough of it. Thankfully the next cue – “Games” – contains more of the same, this time making use of a slightly more tribal feel with ethnic woodwinds and exotic percussion and intensely rhythmic chanted voices, giving the whole thing an Olympian sound. The driving ostinatos and rousing brass fanfares are pure adrenaline, and the use of the staccato part of the Wonder Woman war cry motif as an underlying rhythm for young Diana’s sporting escapades is terrific. The massive brass statement of the Themyscira theme at 3:12 – preceded by a cymbal clash! – is like a hit of film music endorphins straight into the accumbens nucleus.

Things move forward sixty or so years in “1984,” which may actually be my favorite cue on the album. I keep coming back to that word ‘joy,’ but there’s really no other way to describe this music; it’s tuneful, happy, lyrical, full of movement, and imbued with a sense of adventure and positivity and can-do spirit that perfectly encapsulates Diana’s attitude towards the world. The interplay between the swirling strings and the bright, bold brass is positively infectious. There’s even a xylophone in the percussion section, for heaven’s sake, and while some may consider music that offers so much warmth and optimism to be sappy and cheesy, I absolutely adore it. The motif for the dreamstone – eerie female vocals and shimmering strings – appears at the 2:21 mark, but more on that later. Then, the final five minutes or so of the cue is passed over to action, underscoring the scene where Diana foils a jewel heist gone wrong at that most 1980s of suburban locations – the mall. The music becomes much more powerful and imposing, blasting its enormous rhythmic ideas, and containing several explosive statements of both the Themyscira theme and the Wonder Woman war cry. I especially like the playful woodwind-led variant of the war cry at 5:00, which offers a less deadly interpretation of her battle persona.

The next four cues are essentially introductions to the other four recurring melodic ideas in the score. “Black Gold” introduces the theme for Maxwell Lord, the wannabe oil baron whose desire to attain the power of the dreamstone is the catalyst for all the problems. His music is all surface showmanship – cheerful rhythmic ideas, chugging strings – masking a more sinister core, a combination of slithery snake oil salesman strings, low electronic tones, and moody chord progressions. “Wish We Had More Time” is the new love theme for Diana and Steve, speaking to the sense of longing and loss that Diana has felt ever since she witnessed his fiery death in a plane crash back in 1917. It’s similar to Rupert Gregson-Williams’s theme for Steve from the original film, and has some clear echoes of the love theme from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, while also offering an acknowledgement to Ennio Morricone at his most devastatingly romantic, but it’s also classic Zimmer: the chord at 2:26 is straight out of The Lion King via Gladiator, Simba mourning Mufasa. It’s hauntingly gorgeous.

The motif for the Dreamstone, previously hinted at in “1984,” is explored more fully in “The Stone,” with added electronic textures and creepy-beautiful strings, which give it a supernatural, mystical edge, and actually reminds me a little of something Jerry Goldsmith might have written for a score like this back in the 1980s. The final new motif is for “Cheetah,” the aggressive feline alter-ego that emerges out of Barbara Minerva after she makes a series of wishes on the Dreamstone, and who soon becomes a dangerous foe for Diana. Her motif is a wash of frantically undulating strings, pulsating keyboard textures, and a whining, echoing, animalistic 4-note motif that first appears at 1:35. The motif is perhaps a touch underdeveloped in relation to the rest of the score – it’s got a similar tone to the Joker motif from The Dark Knight – but it’s undeniably effective, heralding her as she emerges cat-like from the shadows. Some of the electronic textures again feel like vintage Zimmer – I got flavors of things like Black Rain, especially when these ideas crop up later in cues like “Anything You Want,” which is never a bad thing.

The rest of the score is, essentially, a set of variations and extrapolations on these six core themes, in different combinations, and in different settings, depending on who is doing what to whom at any given point in the film. Several individual cues are especially outstanding. For example, “Fireworks” is a superb exploration of the Diana and Steve Love Theme, as the two of them fly through a 4th of July fireworks display in Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. Steve’s open-mouthed astonishment at how the world has changed since his death, coupled with Diana’s overwhelming happiness at having Steve back, is delightful, and Zimmer’s sweeping, graceful romance makes the scene a standout.

“Open Road” is a terrific action set piece, underscoring a chase sequence on a desert highway where Diana and Steve are pursuing Maxwell and his newly-acquired guards. This is the closest the score comes to recapturing the classic Media Ventures action style of the late 1980s and early 1990s, where hard rock met full orchestra, and it’s wonderful hearing Zimmer reaching back into that well of inspiration. Both the Themyscira theme and the Wonder Woman war cry are back with a vengeance here, the latter receiving the powerful, unstoppable Tina Guo electric cello treatment on several notable occasions, as well as an enormous brass-led variation. What I love about this particular cue is the way it shows how Wonder Woman’s action theme has fulfilled all its promise; beginning with her cameo at the end of Batman vs Superman, this war cry motif has slowly become her defining musical characteristic, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how much subsequent mileage we would get from it across four movies, how much clever manipulation it would withstand, how it could be blended with other themes and motifs to excellent effect, and how much of an adrenaline rush its appearance would give. It’s just superb.

Both “Without Armor” and “The White House” are excellent sequences too. I love the more elegant writing for harp at the beginning of the former piece, and its emotional allusions to the choral chanting from the Games sequence, before the latter explodes into more magnificent action, this time underscoring the scene where Diana and Steve battle against Cheetah and Maxwell’s brainwashed secret service agents, newly acquired from the President of the United States. This second cue offers the first mano-a-mano musical confrontation between Wonder Woman’s war cry theme and Cheetah’s theme, battling out for dominance, while subtle allusions to the Themyscira theme, the Dreamstone motif, and Maxwell’s theme emerge from underneath Zimmer’s relentlessly exciting action ostinatos. The sequence of action that begins at 5:02 is perhaps the best flood of pure, raw Zimmer energy since the last good Pirates of the Caribbean.

The finale of “Already Gone” is a heartbreaking return to the Diana and Steve Love Theme, underpinned with real loss and tragedy, and is undoubtedly the searing emotional high point of the score. The combination of “Radio Waves” and “Lord of Desire” offer the score’s darkest and most aggressively antagonistic music – the Dreamstone motif, Maxwell’s theme, and Cheetah’s theme, all ramped up to dominant proportions with heavy brass, and an array of manipulated and distorted electronics. This all underscores the seriousness and potential global devastation that would occur if Maxwell’s plan was to succeed; the musical response from Wonder Woman’s two themes is equally serious, and the moment when she swoops in to save the world while wearing the golden armor of the legendary Amazonian warrior Asteria is spine-tingling super-hero glory at its best. The subsequent climactic Wonder Woman-Cheetah fight is truly epic, a bold cacophony of action rhythms containing multiple statements of the Themyscira theme, the Wonder Woman war cry, and Cheetah’s theme, each blazing away at their most compelling.

The final two cues, “The Beauty In What Is” and “Truth,” offer a wonderful send-off. The cues feature fantastic reprises of both the Themyscira theme and Diana and Steve Love Theme, as well as some emotionally satisfying combination writing for orchestra and choir that adds to the sense of magic and wonder, allows Diana’s solution to the Dreamstone problem to have a real sense of compassionate profundity, and even goes some way to providing redemption for Maxwell. After all, Diana’s ethos is right there in the lyrics Norman Gimbel wrote for Charles Fox’s 1977 Wonder Woman TV theme: Make a hawk a dove, stop a war with love, make a liar tell the truth. Change their minds, and change the world. Yeah, of course it’s corny, but this is the sort of thing we all need right now.

The bonus track, “Lost and Found,” is a superb 11-minute exploration of the score’s most emotional material, especially the Diana and Steve Love Theme, that is immensely satisfying. It’s also perhaps pertinent here to mention the two needledrops that Patty Jenkins chose to leave in the film: the first is the cue “Beautiful Lie,” which was written by Zimmer for Batman vs Superman, and is heard here in the scene where Wonder Woman uses the lasso of truth to convince humanity to renounce the wishes they made of Maxwell. The second, and perhaps most unexpected one, is the use of composer John Murphy’s “Adagio in D Minor” from his score for the 2006 film Sunshine, which was used in the scene where Diana learns to fly. This is clearly a stylistic choice from the director, a holdover from the temp track, and I would bet a million dollars that Zimmer would have preferred to write his own music for that pivotal scene, but it works well enough in context, and is not enough to complain about.

Discounting the remake of The Lion King last year, and although I certainly appreciate and enjoy things like Inception, Rush, The Lone Ranger, Interstellar, some of the Kung Fu Pandas, and some of the Dark Knights, I can honestly say that Wonder Woman 1984 is my favorite Hans Zimmer score since Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in 2007. I totally fell in love with its upbeat attitude, its buoyant sense of fun and optimism, and the unashamed, un-ironic sincerity of its emotional content from the moment I heard it, and then its use in context only deepened my appreciation more. Not only that, the depth and complexity of Zimmer’s thematic ideas makes the score satisfying from an intellectual point of view, meaning that the whole thing succeeds on every count. I cannot recommend this score highly enough; I had hoped it would be good, but nothing in my wildest dreams prepared me for it to be *this* good. Wonder Woman 1984 is a score by the Hans Zimmer whose music excited and exhilarated me throughout the 1980s and 90s, and it’s easily one of the scores of the year.

Buy the Wonder Woman 1984 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Themyscira (3:51)
  • Games (5:17)
  • 1984 (7:04)
  • Black Gold (4:55)
  • Wish We Had More Time (2:54)
  • The Stone (2:13)
  • Cheetah (3:13)
  • Fireworks (2:38)
  • Anything You Want (4:45)
  • Open Road (5:36)
  • Without Armor (3:46)
  • The White House (7:45)
  • Already Gone (5:04)
  • Radio Waves (8:02)
  • Lord of Desire (2:44)
  • The Beauty In What Is (3:48)
  • Truth (4:45)
  • Lost and Found (Bonus Track) (11:55)

Running Time: 90 minutes 23 seconds

Watertower Music (2020)

Music composed by Hans Zimmer. Conducted by Gavin Greenaway and Matt Dunkley. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Walt Fowler, Suzette Moriarty, Kevin Kaska, Carl Rydlund, Jennifer Hammond and David Giuli. Additional music by Steve Mazzaro and David Fleming. Featured musical soloist Tina Guo. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Edited by Gerard McCann, Ryan Rubin and Timeri Duplat. Album produced by Hans Zimmer.

  1. The Truth
    December 29, 2020 at 10:53 am

    The mixing on this score is absolutely disguising. Unfathomably unacceptable for this kind of orchestral score. I want to like this score so much but the mixing makes the orchestra sound like an out-of-the-box, unoptimized sample library. This is so disrespectful to the musicians who worked so hard just to have their timbre changed by Zimmer and his sound engineering team. It seems like every other score these days is mixed to sound like either a sample library or a recording from long ago, in a bad way (recent Silvestri and Giacchino scores). Why do people still tolerate and enable this?

  2. January 3, 2021 at 6:28 am

    What the heck are you talking about?

    • January 4, 2021 at 8:09 am

      He IS ALSO Nolan’s collaborator. He did 6 films for him, for God’s sake, plus one Nolan produced and co-wrote. He is just as much a Nolan-collaborator as he is one for Scott.

    • The Truth
      January 4, 2021 at 8:40 pm

      Bruno is just stressed out that he hasn’t yet published his findings in book. I wonder what rating he got per 100 listenings of Wonder Woman 1984…

      https://www.filmtracks.com/scoreboard/forum.cgi?profile=bruno+costa

      • January 5, 2021 at 9:28 am

        Thank you. I am disgusted now.

  3. January 23, 2021 at 11:12 am

    Love the references and comparisons to PotC:AWE…they are insightful, and not only are there very similar moments in WW84, this score is (finally) a return to the wonders of the old Zimmer and his true potential when he’s not doing “grimdark” films.

  4. January 23, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Also, I came back to this article (having read it when it first came out) because I was mixing WW84 into theme suites and your comments were quite helpful for me to figure out which cues to join and split.

  1. January 26, 2021 at 9:00 am

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