Tom Holkenborg’s score for Zack Snyder’s Justice League marks a triumphant return to the hopeful musical world established and maintained by Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman, with a killer main theme for the League that combined with several standout action setpieces and many a thematic reprise genuinely make it one of the best superhero scores around.
A second chance – that’s what this score is. In an industry where such things are few and far between, seeing Zack Snyder’s Justice League (both film and score) actually come to fruition – from the initially small internet campaign to actual reality – has really been an amazing thing to see. From a musical point of view, I’ve also been quite a fan of Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL)’s atmospherically hopeful musical world that they crafted for Snyder’s DC movies, which is why when it was announced that Danny Elfman would replace them in scoring 2017’s Snyder-less Justice League I was initially somewhat…skeptical. Then his score was actually released and, well, you can read exactly how I felt about that one in my review. After the catastrophe that was that movie it also seemed like Snyder’s direction of the DC franchise was done, and yet…here we are today. The director is back to finish the movie he started, and with him also returns Tom Holkenborg to complete the musical trilogy first established and then well maintained by Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman respectively. So then, the question inevitably is – does this new Justice League score live up to its predecessors? A long, agonising wait from announcement to release later – let’s finally find out.
Now, the first thing you’ll notice about this particular score album is that it is well…four hours long. This fact was met with a fair degree of controversy in the film music community upon its announcement, but I for one think it’s great. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a lengthy film, and an hour-and-a-bit score album (as standard) for a four hour movie likely wouldn’t do Holkenborg’s music justice, or at least would certainly leave many of us wanting for missing tracks. A lengthy score release such as this though does come at somewhat of a cost in that it is four hours long, and that’s lengthy for anything really let alone a dramatic superhero score. Still, without further ado; brace yourselves, this is going to be a long one.
The album begins with A Hunter Gathers, and just within the first few seconds of the score we’re thrown right back in the musical atmosphere first established in Zimmer’s Man Of Steel. This won’t please some people, but I’m absolutely over the moon with it – thematic and stylistic continuity is super important with film music (especially superhero scores that need a recurring theme to rally behind) and it’s truly great to hear us return to the musical style of the first two films in the franchise even after the tone was radically changed with Elfman’s original Justice League score. After a minute or so of pensive, moody tone, brass then practically explodes in loud, dramatic, foreboding form in a manner almost as terrifying, villainous, and in-your-face as humanly possible – naturally, it’s the villain theme for Steppenwolf and the Parademons. Stylistically it certainly sticks in your mind (as it’s incredibly intimidating to listen to!) and while note-wise it perhaps leaves me a little wanting (mainly as it’s not particularly hummable) it certainly works as a theme for the bad guys.
A little later on in the cue we also get a short introduction to Holkenborg’s new theme for the Amazons (and by extension Wonder Woman herself) – quiet, wailing vocals that harken somewhat towards Zimmer’s original theme for Diana from Batman V Superman, while also standing out as a firm new idea. As the track begins to draw to a close, epic brass and Man Of Steel-esque vocals begin to rise in the background, then introducing another new theme to the mix – this time for Batman. Now, I know what you’re thinking – didn’t Batman already have a theme? Well, composer Holkenborg has said the reason for the new theme is that “the book was closed on Batman’s tormented past” in Batman V Superman, and so has given the character a new theme to reflect that. While I do somewhat miss the character’s theme from that film here, I can also totally understand why Holkenborg wanted to move on from it (as Batman isn’t really that broken version of the character anymore) so hey ho. This new piece for him also works too, utilising loud, imposing brass with moodily heroic elements that, to be fair, do represent Batman pretty damned well.
Slow, pensive strings open Migratory, establishing quite a sombre tone that sticks throughout the short track (coming in at just under a minute long) before Things Fall Apart then brings back the loud, dramatic brass for an appearance by Batman’s new theme, this time with ominous percussion underlining it. Wonder Woman Defending/And What Rough Beast then (as you might expect) gives the new theme for Wonder Woman and the Amazons a full, proper playthrough. The track opens with worrisome, imposing electronics before loud percussion then enters the fray followed swiftly by the wailing, war-cry-esque vocals hinted at in A Hunter Gathers. It isn’t long though before Zimmer’s now iconic theme for the character joins the fray as well, complete with ferocious electronics and the infamous electric cello that explodes into full-on action mode. As the track progresses, the two themes do also merge and mix somewhat, and altogether (much like with Zimmer’s expansion on the motif in WW84) I’d say they work really well, enhancing the music for Wonder Woman without impeding on the ferocious nature of the original piece.
World Ending Fire then continues with the new Amazonian theme, opening with a pensive rendition of the motif on dramatic, wailing vocals. Additional vocals arrive a little later on in the track, then turning the tone shrill and downright horrific in order to thematically represent the worrisome Mother Boxes. The villain theme for Steppenwolf then naturally arrives a few seconds later, hammering home the increasingly intimidating mood and kicking up the initially rather peaceful Amazonian atmosphere into loud action territory. The thunderous beats from Wonder Woman’s theme then begin to recur in frantic form before the villain theme then practically crashes over them, destroying any remaining vestige of hope as the track then quickly fades away. Middle Mass continues the ominousity in almost triumphantly villainous fashion before Long Division then briefly interrupts that particular “act” of the score with a foreboding and quietly brassy rendition of Batman’s theme. No Paradise, No Fall though rapidly brings us back, with the Wonder Woman, new Amazonian and Steppenwolf motifs doing battle once again for four minutes of tense action score.
The wailing Amazonian vocals become almost ghostly in The Centre Will Not Hold, Twenty Centuries Of Stony Sleep, with the ominous atmosphere from earlier cues returning in pensive form for the first half of the eight minute track. The Steppenwolf theme then plays once again in its terrifyingly malevolent style on loud vocals and emphatic brass. In the back half the music quietens somewhat, with solemn strings hinting towards the Man Of Steel theme before Steppenwolf then returns to end the cue with imposing brass and crashing percussion. This style then continues through As Above, So Below and into No Dog, No Master, where the horror-esque chanting vocals and dramatic brass reach several initial crescendos before the music then slows, and the main Justice League theme is introduced. It’s a quick, frantic introduction, and the theme plays fragmented – it isn’t quite in full force yet as the League themselves haven’t assembled – all it is here is a few seconds of upbeat, brass and strings-esque heroism, but it still sounds absolutely fantastic. One thing that Tom Holkenborg has in spades here over Danny Elfman’s score, if nothing else, is an absolutely killer Justice League theme. We’ll get into it properly when it fully appears later on, so for now let’s just say I’m definitely a fan.
The imposing motif for Steppenwolf appears malevolently once again in Take This Kingdom By Force, before the score then slows to a pensive crawl in A Splinter From The Thorn That Pricked You. Here, the moment I’ve been waiting for finally appears – the hopeful atmosphere begins, the gentle piano notes play, and the Man Of Steel theme returns to the fold. Honestly, it just feels so good, so monumental to hear this theme again. Hopes were dashed when a disjointed John Williams’ Superman theme appeared instead of it in Elfman’s Justice League, and so to hear the Man Of Steel theme appear here as it should, cementing itself rightly and firmly back into the thematic continuity of the DC Universe…it’s a big moment, at least for me. The motif doesn’t last for long here though, before the pensive piano notes then move on to start representing another member of the League in Cyborg Becoming/ Human All Too Human. Cyborg gets quite a mournful, solemn theme here; one emphasized by dramatic strings and big, bold bursts of brass. There’s a few small dashes of optimism in this ten minute character setpiece, however it’s a mostly sombre introduction for the character – and an utterly beautiful piece of music to listen to.
Deep electronics open The Path Chooses You, with quiet beats then establishing quite a stealthy mood before a large burst of electronics occurs and the pace quickly turns to action for the track’s final minute. Aquaman Returning/Carry Your Own Water then introduces yet another character motif, this time (fairly obviously) for Aquaman. It’s a somewhat hopeful, reluctant theme for the character, and in all honestly it’s a little difficult to discern here mixed in with several in-your-face renditions of Steppenwolf’s theme, but when it does appear properly later on in the cue, it’s loud, dramatic and (much like the League theme) pretty damned heroic. The Provenance Of Something Gathered then returns us briefly to Batman’s loudly imposing theme on brass, before twelve minute action setpiece We Do This Together then switches things all up. Big, boisterous electric guitars start things off, seeding hints of heroism into the music that are then swiftly culled by another decidedly dark musical appearance from Steppenwolf. It isn’t long though before the action properly kicks into gear, with the percussion from Wonder Woman’s epic motif cutting through alongside some heavy electronics. Here the wailing vocals from the Amazonian theme recur once again and the electric cello bursts through for several tensely heroic minutes, with brief renditions of Batman’s and the still fragmented League theme also appearing at various intervals to do battle with Steppenwolf. As the track starts to draw to a close though the action then slows, and the main Justice League theme starts to play properly. It’s still forming, but getting closer and closer to fruition now, managing several almost full, loudly heroic yet still a little frantic and unsure renditions before then stuttering and falling slightly as electronics then bring the track to a rapid conclusion.
The Will To Power opens with Steppenwolf’s ominously vocal theme, before loud bursts of deeply villainous brass appear and overshadow his motif completely as Darkseid finally makes a thematic appearance. His theme is similar to Steppenwolf’s in tone, but a little louder and bolder to emphasize the imposing character himself. The motif plays several times across the five minute cue, establishing itself pretty malevolently as the track then draws to a close. I Teach You, The Overman then continues with a slightly gentler playthrough of Steppenwolf’s theme before hope begins to rise towards the end as the Man Of Steel theme plays in full, heroically brassy glory. It’s a sadly short musical moment, but an absolutely beautiful one nonetheless. The Sun Forever Rising then hints quietly towards hope with low-pitched, gentle brass with Underworld then taking this idea and propelling it forward with a few seconds of the upbeat percussion from the main League theme. From then on though the track descends into hesitation and darkness, with worrisome strings and ominous electronics playing alongside pensive piano notes. The Krypton theme from Man Of Steel then makes a very brief electronic appearance before seguing into Superman Rising Pt. 1/A Book Of Hours – here the piano returns and the quiet, gentle main Man Of Steel theme plays, firstly on said piano before then building up into strings. Like before, it’s just…so great to here the theme again here. It doesn’t last long, but the emotion and power behind it (especially considering its build-up with the past two movies) makes it sound simply phenomenal.
Lone brass plays a few notes from the League theme in a hopeful yet sombre manner at the start of Beyond Good And Evil, before strings and additional brass then rise up to accompany a nearly full rendition of the motif before tense electronics and vocals then cut it off – the theme is getting much closer to fruition now, but it still isn’t quite there yet. It stumbles a little bit here as the tone turns ominous, but does also return a little later on, where powerful brass and epic vocals hold it up to higher highs then ever before. Monument Builder however then calms the music back down, with the ethereal electronics from Man Of Steel making a reprise before the League theme then gets a quietly triumphant few notes as the track closes. Monument Destroyer however then snatches that optimism away, kicking the score back up into action territory with the emphatic General Zod-esque percussion from Man Of Steel also curiously making an appearance. Wonder Woman and the Amazons as well as Batman’s theme then rise up to do battle with the new instrumentation. Once the fighting’s done though, Urgrund then brings us back into quiet, hopeful territory, naturally with the main Man Of Steel theme also playing. So Begins The End then briefly interrupts this with a particularly sinister rendition of Steppenwolf’s theme before The House Of Belonging and Earthling bring us back to Man Of Steel, with the theme rising gently over the course of two happily lengthy tracks on piano notes, strings and, eventually, confident brass.
Flight Is Our Nature finally unveils the main Justice League theme in full, heroic form – the track begins with subtle, brassy hints towards Steppenwolf’s motif before rumbling percussion and triumphant vocals then arrive to power the main theme home. Now that we’re on it as well, I must say…I am absolutely, categorically, utterly in love with Holkenborg’s Justice League theme. The Crew At Warpower was released as a teaser track ahead of the score’s release a few weeks ago, and I’ve been completely unable to stop listening to it since. It’s essentially a seven minute, concert and utter powerhouse rendition of the main theme, and naturally the well deserved standout cue of the entire album. The way the theme builds from slow and pensive to victorious and spellbindingly heroic at the end, the way that it’s actually a proper, memorable theme that also manages to ground itself firmly in the musical style of both Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman, not to mention being properly built up to and brilliantly, truly earned by the end of the score…I mean honestly, how could I not love it with all my heart?
Ahem, anyway. Indivisible then brings the full force of Steppenwolf’s imposing motif back on loudly malevolent brass, where it plays for a good ninety seconds or so before the music then fades back away and the League theme starts to play. It’s built and complete now, and ready to do battle. Speaking of which – And The Lion-Earth Did Roar, Pt. 1 then kicks off the lengthy action finale of the score, with the electric guitars from We Do This Together briefly reprising before a frantic Batman’s theme then plays through rather loudly on brass and vocals. From then on it goes through several particularly tense renditions, getting more worrisome and frantic as it continues until the music then segues into And The Lion-Earth Did Roar, Pt. 2 – where help finally arrives. Electric guitars appear once again at the start before emphatic brass then breaks through with a brief League theme before Steppenwolf then loudly cuts it off. Wailing vocals from Wonder Woman’s motif attempt to break through the tension accompanied by a particularly worrisome League theme, but neither succeed. Not to worry though, because Superman’s got it covered – Superman Rising Pt.2/ Immovable is the Man Of Steel theme rendition I’ve been waiting the whole album to hear. Here, Flight reprises in all its epic, utterly heroic glory, with loud percussion and electric guitars playing loudly and proudly for two fantastic minutes with the League theme running right behind towards the end. At The Speed Of Force then briefly returns us to the solemn darkness of Steppenwolf before then moving briefly into mystery with quite a wondrous new motif for the Speed Force, but this doesn’t last long as the League theme then finally powers through a minute or so later, unleashing its most gloriously heroic rendition yet as it steps fully into heroic action territory.
My Broken Boy then pulls things right back down into sorrow; the mournful strings of Cyborg’s motif begin to play, then almost drowning the score in sadness. Slowly though over the course of the next two minutes, the music begins to rise, quietly getting more and more hopeful until seguing into That Terrible Strength, where the villainous motif for Steppenwolf reprises in typically powerful form before the League theme then strikes back in An Eternal Reoccurrence Of Change. Here, triumphant brass, boisterous vocals and crashing percussion properly drive the motif home. We Slay Ourselves then plays the main theme in slow, victorious, anthem-esque mode, charging and building both in volume and intensity over the course of five happily heroic minutes until reaching a particularly epic crescendo. With the action finale now drawing to a close, Holkenborg also has a couple thematic treats store – ominous piano notes echo out in Your Own House Turned To Ashes, with Lex Luthor’s motif from Batman V Superman then reprising in typically malevolent form, with Batman’s original imposing theme from the film also making an appearance. Worrisome, electronic atmosphere then arrives in All Of You Undisturbed Cities, with Steppenwolf’s theme then briefly returning and hinting that things aren’t quite over yet in the short, subsequent The Art Of Preserving Fire.
As if the score couldn’t get any better though, Holkenborg then gives us even more. Following The Crew At Warpower, we also get several lengthy thematic suites, starting with The Foundation Theme that is essentially a slow, utterly victorious concert variation of the main League theme. Batman, A Duty To Fight/To See then gives us a five minute playthrough of his new theme (primarily in action mode), which then continues throughout the nearly ten minute Batman, An Invocation To Heal/To Be Seen. Loud brass, thunderous percussion, tense vocals – you name it, it’s all here. Wonder Woman, A Call To Stand/A World Awakened then plays her iconic motif in all its loud, electronic glory, with the new wailing vocals for the Amazons also making an appearance, overall combining all the musical elements into one big, ferocious thematic suite for the character. Her theme then continues somewhat into Flash, The Space To Win/Our Legacy Is Now, before Batman’s motif then arrives for its final appearance on album and the main Justice League theme then sweeps through to finish off the score on a poignantly triumphant note.
Overall, Tom Holkenborg’s long-awaited score for Zack Snyder’s Justice League is utterly, brilliantly epic, and absolutely everything I could have possibly wanted in a score for my favourite superhero team. I remember being so disappointed when Danny Elfman’s underwhelming album for the original Justice League came out, and not only to get another chance here, but for said chance to utterly blow me away as much as Holkenborg’s work here has done…I’m honestly damned near speechless. I really am. From the main League theme that manages to be bold, heroic, memorable and in-keeping with the musical style of both of the previous movies in the franchise, to the fantastic new themes for Flash, Cyborg, Batman, Aquaman and Steppenwolf (not to mention the superb new vocal iterations for Wonder Woman) and to hear them all get the lengthy album time that they deserve with multiple breathtaking renditions…it’s almost too much to handle. I mean, what more is there to say? Sure, it is a four hour score, but no time is wasted, and I’d rather have everything than be left wanting.
In summary then – what Holkenborg has crafted here truly is the perfect musical conclusion to Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman, not to mention being the triumphantly epic superhero score that I have always dreamed of for the Justice League.
Standout Cue: 48. The Crew At Warpower
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As this score is rather a lot to sift through, you can also check out the handy Spotify link here that compiles the major thematic elements of Holkenborg’s work for Justice League into one end credits suite-esque playlist for your entertainment.