After the mind-blowing thematic experience that was Alan Silvestri’s work for the first Avengers movie, things unfortunately went a bit downhill with Age Of Ultron; Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman’s somewhat sub-par sequel score sadly doesn’t hold a candle to the first.
At the time, I was rather surprised to hear Danny Elfman’s name associated with the highly anticipated Avengers sequel. I had been blown away by Alan Silvestri’s fantastic work for the first, particularly by the rather memorable and incredibly epic main theme, and so I had been greatly looking forward to a Silvestri sequel score. Unfortunately, it became apparent quite early on that he would not be involved in the music for Age Of Ultron, as Marvel’s new favourite composer at the time was Brian Tyler, and he had been pegged pretty much straight away for the Avengers sequel. The surprise however then arrived; Danny Elfman would be involved too, for reasons unknown (the running theory is that Tyler ran out of time and needed help, as he was working on quite a few projects). This was received as very good news at the time, as Elfman is of course rather renowned, particularly for his work in the superhero field. However when the score then came out, I found myself quite bewildered, as (having listened to it a number of times) I had to conclude that it was actually pretty awful.
Let’s start with the rather atrocious main theme. It appears in full album-style rendition in two places on the score, in tracks Heroes and New Avengers – Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Both pieces of music are credited entirely to Danny Elfman, with Tyler seemingly having had no involvement in the creation of this…abomination. In New Avengers, the music starts out softly; hopeful strings creep up the pace in the first minute or so, moving from slow and steady to rapid and heroic with brass then kicking in towards the end as the track pushes up into its first rendition of the (sigh) “new Avengers theme”. It starts with the opening bars of Silvestri’s original Avengers theme, before then straying off the memorable music rails entirely with a series of new, bland and near generic-sounding heroic notes.
Overall, the feeling you get when you listen to this track is a bizarre one; you start with hope and sheer glee as you hear the Avengers theme, which then turns to bewilderment as Elfman suddenly switches up into new notes, and then despair as you realise what he’s tried to do; have his cake and eat it too. It seems like the composer wanted to try and keep the unique and memorable nature of Silvestri’s theme without simply just copying it into the sequel, and so he decided to create a weird new mishmash theme; a bizarre blend of old and new which sadly just doesn’t work. The memorability and heroic-rallying-cry nature of Silvestri’s original is very much lost, and the new elements are sadly just boring. As a result, the constant switching between Silvestri and Elfman are jarring at best, and so the new main theme just makes for a confusing rather than epic musical experience.
Still, (despite the horror of the main theme) there a few salvageable elements of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and a lot of them are unsurprisingly by Brian Tyler. The compositional differences between his and Elfman’s work on the album are rather jarring (which is a shame) but taken individually, there are a number of standout pieces here. Take Rise Together and Breaking and Entering for instance. The former has a rather loud-and-proud entrance, opening immediately with heroic vocals and dramatic brass that set a pretty definite epic Avengers-style tone going forward – even going so far as to use a few subtle bars of Silvestri’s theme (take notes Mr. Elfman – this is how you do thematic callbacks!).
Percussion then kicks in as the action arrives, and tensions are high with this section as rapid strings lead the charge. A surprise is in store for us next, as Tyler cameos a few notes from his Iron Man 3 theme (thematic continuity in a Marvel movie? Well I never!) and as his compositional styles from both films are rather similar, it fits in pretty much perfectly. The track then segues rather well into Breaking and Entering for another good minute or so of high-octane action before then settling down into softer strings-based territory and then drawing to a close. Having been burned considerably by Elfman’s thematic work, I found myself nearly won over by these two tracks here. Brian Tyler is clearly the star of the show.
Predictably, Tyler’s best work for Age Of Ultron lies in his action cues. Heart-racingly epic pieces like Sacrifice are excellent examples of this, as the composer expertly weaves dramatic vocals, rapid strings and heroic brass together to make for some highly enjoyable music. Interestingly, he also seems to steer completely clear from Elfman’s new Avengers theme, sticking instead to his own previously established Marvel themes (Thor and Iron Man) as well as very occasional (which is a shame) usage of a few notes from Silvestri’s original Avengers and Captain America themes.
Fighting Back showcases this thematic continuity pretty effectively, opening with fast-paced brass and percussion before then shifting into a few powerful seconds of Iron Man 3 and then smoothly moving away again. Captain America then gets a short cameo, with Tyler again showcasing only a few precious seconds before then whisking it away again and thrusting us back into the action. It’s a somewhat frustrating technique (as we never really hear more than a whisper of a theme) but it does work quite well – showing them just enough to generate excitement, but not so much that they overpower his own work.
Danny Elfman’s work is placed at various (and oddly chosen) points throughout the album. It Begins for example is the opening track of the Age Of Ultron movie (playing over the opening logos) but it is track five on the album. Tonally, there’s a huge difference between Elfman’s and Tyler’s work here, and shuffling the tracks around to try and make some coherence out of this mess of an album just makes it worse (that’s what I assume they tried to do, anyway). Elfman’s work also uses the new Avengers theme as a central thematic baseline throughout whereas Tyler’s does not, resulting in a bizarre on/off trend throughout the score that makes absolutely no sense as an overall listening experience. It’s a shame as It Begins actually isn’t half bad as an action track (if you try to ignore the abomination anyway) and other Elfman tracks Can You Stop This Thing? and particularly Avengers Unite are quite enjoyable as action experiences. The latter is easily one of the more standout cues of the album, but its shortness and general discontinuity with surrounding tracks really do not help its case.
Overall, the score for Avengers: Age Of Ultron is a bizarre affair. Danny Elfman and Brian Tyler have such different viewpoints on how to approach the music for the Avengers that their separate compositions for the film are wildly different in tone, resulting in a very disjointed album experience. Elfman also composed a frankly pathetic excuse for a new Avengers theme; an unfortunate mixture of old and new that much like the album overall simply just does not work. This theme is then plastered all over Elfman’s contributions but is nowhere to be found in Tyler’s, which is just another nail in the discontinuity coffin. It is a shame, as taken separately a lot of the individual work here is good (see Elfman’s Avengers Unite and Tyler’s Rise Together) but much like the Avengers themselves in this movie, the composers just can’t seem to work together.
Standout Cue: 3. Rise Together