Hans Zimmer’s inspiring score for Man Of Steel was a stunning entry into the superhero genre, utilising beautiful soundscapes and wondrous themes to create an album overall that perfectly captures the ideal of hope that is Superman.
This is one long overdue soundtrack review. I’ve been meaning to tackle it for quite some time, and now that Junkie XL’s Justice League score is finally on the horizon, I felt it was high time to get writing so…let’s begin. Back in 2013, Hans Zimmer had an impossible task with the music for Man Of Steel. John Williams had already established a beyond iconic score for the titular character more than thirty years earlier; one that couldn’t possibly be replaced or improved upon (see the Superman March). Zimmer however responded to this by not even trying to, instead going in the complete opposite compositional direction to Williams, utilising hopeful atmosphere and soaring soundscapes to musically establish the new Superman instead of a Williams-esque recognisable melody, and not only did this method actually work, it worked superbly, stunningly well.
The score begins with Look To The Stars, where quiet, mysterious-sounding electronics set a gently pensive tone. Then – two notes play, rising in pitch. As they play the instrumentation then begins to rise, stirring in feelings of hope and optimism while also pulling the mood firmly out of quiet pensivity and into the light. At this point vocals then begin to sing, and brass plays the two notes loudly and boldy before then fading quickly out. Rapid strings then take over for the cue’s final minute, adding a touch of ominous to the tone before the music then draws to a close. Let’s take a proper look at this opening track then – if you’re a John Williams’ Superman fan (as I am) your initial thoughts upon listening were probably something along the lines of “This isn’t Superman. Where’s the theme?” The theme is actually there – those two notes described earlier are the new Man Of Steel’s melody, but it’s actually the tone and rich musical atmosphere surrounding them that truly make this brilliant creation (at least in my opion). The music is Superman all over just in the way it hopefully, heroically sounds, and we’ve only heard the theme for two minutes so far. Just you wait ’til it flies.
Dramatic percussion opens Oil Rig, with tense electronics arriving a few seconds later to hammer the now rather frantic action style home. At only ninety seconds long the track doesn’t get too far with these ideas, though a strained, roughened main Man Of Steel theme does break through the tension for a small dash of heroism just before the track rapidly ends. Things then slow right back down in Sent Here For A Reason, with the gentle atmosphere returning and a quietly hopeful main theme playing on a piano. At about a minute and a half in, electronics arrive and the theme once again begins to rise, with brass then raising it to near epic levels. This doesn’t last for long though as the music fades back down and the piano returns to play the theme once again in a quietly melancholic fashion as the music draws to a close. This pensivity then continues at the start of DNA, with Zimmer introducing a new theme into the score – a mournful piece for Superman’s destroyed home planet, Krypton. The motif plays somewhat gloomily on strings for the first minute of the cue before the war drums from Oil Rig then return for a few further minutes of tense action score with the main theme also playing in particularly ferocious form. Goodbye My Son then slows things right back down into solemnity with vocals quietly playing the main Man Of Steel theme, though this time adding a few more notes on the end, building and growing the motif as the instrumentation and vocals also build in the background. The music then crescendoes softly a few seconds later, sadly ending the rather beautiful rendition of the main theme almost as quickly as it began.
A major action setpiece is up next in If You Love These People; with the loud war drums from earlier tracks returning in full force alongside some deafening brass and rather ominous vocals as the pace then builds to near breakneck speed. The vocals here actually nearly get buried because of the unstoppable force that is the instrumentation, which is a shame as they’re singing a new motif that actually goes on to be quite important in sequel score Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. But more on that in a later review. Krypton’s mysterious musical style returns in Krypton’s Last, with the main Man Of Steel theme playing pensively on sorrowful strings as the planet meets its ultimate fate. The score’s lengthiest action cue is then next in the ten minute Terraforming, with the main theme playing in dramatically upbeat form for the first minute or so before frantic percussion then joins the fray and epic brass begins to blast the main motif. After a couple of particularly tense minutes of action the score then introduces another new theme into the mix; a dark, foreboding piece for villain General Zod. Here it plays ominously on imposing brass and in-your-face strings, and even does a bit of musical battle with Superman as the two themes intertwine for a minute or two. As the track then begins to reach its end things slow down a tad, with solemn strings playing quietly at first before then building to crescendo with bold brass and heroic vocals playing triumphantly alongside. The action then becomes rather heartbreaking in Tornado, with desperate strings and frantic percussion playing loudly and uncomfortably for the first two minutes before suddenly stopping, at which point a quiet, mournful piano plays quite a sad rendition of the main theme, with the track then softly ending.
So far, as enjoyable as the album is I do have to point out a rather irritating flaw with it – and it’s something Hans Zimmer annoyingly does a lot – it’s not in chronological order, not even close. The score starts with the main theme from the start of the film before then jumping wildly from slow pensivity to dramatic action, and I feel (again, despite how much I do love the score) that it would flow so much better if it followed the order of the film, especially since there the score follows the narrative flow, with all the themes building and growing as the characters do (as you’d expect) whereas on album they sort of just jump from moment to moment seemingly randomly – an action cue from the end of the movie here, a dash of General Zod there, et cetera. It’s an odd organisational choice, to say the least. Still, onwards – You Die Or I Do opens ominously, with low-pitched electronics playing a rather moody rendition of the main theme before percussion arrives to pick up the pace, and frantic action then kicks into gear a short while later. General Zod’s motif also appears towards the end of the piece in particularly ferocious form. Launch brings a rather desperate-sounding Krypton’s theme to the table on loud percussion and strings, with solemn vocals then arriving after about a minute or so playing a quietly sorrowful rendition of the main theme which then closes out the track. The sub-minute Ignition then picks up where it leaves off, with the imposing percussion from earlier returning alongside powerful brass playing General Zod’s theme as the cue then rushes to a frantic close. Ominous percussion and sinister vocals start off I Will Find Him, with the deep bassy electronics from Zod’s theme playing quietly before the full notes of the motif then play in loud, dramatic form – building and building until later reaching a loud and powerful crescendo. The music then slows considerably for This Is Clark Kent, where a pensively hopeful piano plays the main Man Of Steel theme. This gentle score continues throughout the track’s three minute runtime, fleshing out the theme quietly while also hinting at its bigger renditions later on in the album.
I Have So Many Questions picks up pretty much where the previous track left off with the slow, pensive mood continuing, though this time accompanied by a typically mysterious rendition of the Krypton motif. The score builds in wonder as the track continues, reaching a short crescendo at about the halfway point where the main theme then takes over for a quietly hopeful playthrough on strings. This however is where the album finally starts to pick up speed. Flight begins with a slow rendition of the main theme on gentle brass, which then gets louder and more prominent as the music begins to build, with dramatic vocals and heroic percussion stirring in the background. The brass then slowly rises, holding the main theme high, encouraging it to soar before the music then suddenly, rapidly crashes back down. The main theme plays pensively here, almost giving up hope before the percussion and brass then return once again, and from here the theme just…goes. It’s taken a good while (mainly because of the album’s bizarre organisation) but this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Here Superman’s theme finally gets to fly to some absolutely stunning musical results – and this isn’t even the standout cue. That comes next, with What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World. The composer isn’t afraid to use the main theme now, with a quiet piano playing the motif hopefully for the first minute or so, before percussion and brass kick in once again and off the theme goes, soaring loudly and majestically just as it was always meant to. This track occurs right at the end of the film where it segues into the end credits (basically a Main On End for the main theme) and I can honestly still remember watching Man Of Steel in the cinema back in 2013, hearing the theme absolutely blast through the speakers as the credits rolled, and being absolutely floored by it. I still am to this day.
Overall, Hans Zimmer’s score for Man Of Steel is stunning, to say the least. It was always going to be an impossible task to beat John Williams’ beyond iconic score for Superman, and Zimmer responded to this by not only heading in almost the polar opposite creative direction – utilising hopeful, recognisable soundscapes rather than tangible themes – but also creating a breathtaking new sound for the titular superhero that more than met the character’s absurdly high musical bar set by Williams. On paper, using atmosphere and pure instrumentation to represent a hero (and hope) as opposed to a theme is practically blasphemy for film scores, but here…it not only works, it soars. Cues like Look To The Stars, Flight and particularly What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World are perfect examples of this, and to me prove beyond any doubt that Hans Zimmer was absolutely the man to breathe new life into the sound for Superman.
Standout Cue: 17. What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World?