Danny Elfman’s darkly action-centric, at times almost horror-like score for Multiverse Of Madness features a well orchestrated and (to put it simply) very classic Elfman style, complete with the Burton movie-esque vocals, several standout action cues and even a few memorable new themes. Michael Giacchino’s Doctor Strange theme is almost entirely wasted though, relegated sadly to little more than a cameo role.
Before we get started, I’m going to tackle the elephant in the room first; so, Michael Giacchino scored the first Doctor Strange movie. Danny Elfman however was then announced to be scoring Sam Raimi’s multiversal sequel, and I was on one hand quite excited (as a dark, horror-like journey into a Multiverse Of Madness is let’s be honest, right up Elfman’s musical alley) but on the other a little skeptical, as Elfman has scored some superhero sequels in the past that have, let’s just say, played a bit fast and loose with a little thing called thematic continuity. That combined with the fact that Michael Giacchino’s Doctor Strange theme and harpsichord/sitar-heavy style is (in my opinion anyway) one of the better musical compositions for the Marvel Cinematic Universe also somewhat elevated my apprehension. The skies did brighten a bit though as an interview with Elfman came out a few months ago (via Spitfire Audio) where he revealed he would in fact be using Giacchino’s Doctor Strange theme in the sequel score, so with the movie fast approaching I waited with bated breath to see how it would turn out. Now it’s out and here we are, so the big question can finally be answered; yes, Elfman does use the theme, though not in the main theme-esque manner you’d probably want him to, sadly.
The score begins with Multiverse Of Madness, a title cue that (similarly to opening track Heroes from Elfman’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron score) serves as both a stylistic and thematic introduction to the album about to unfold. Dramatic, ominous drums open the piece, with low-pitched, moody brass and some very Elfman-esque gothic vocals emphasizing the rather dark tone before the main theme then debuts a few seconds later. It’s not however (as you might expect) Giacchino’s theme, but instead a brand new motif to presumably represent Strange’s antics through the multiverse in the new film. While it is disappointing that Elfman seems to have elected to give Strange another motif rather than simply utilise Giacchino’s as the main theme, the new one to his credit isn’t half bad, and leans quite heavily into the more gothic, ominous side of the composer’s style (a la Edward Scissorhands or Charlie And The Chocolate Factory) to some pretty enjoyable results overall. Speaking of Charlie though, we are going to have to talk about Wanda Maximoff’s new theme. It’s introduced at about 01:40 in the title cue, and while it’s certainly memorable, it does also seems to be a pretty much note-for-note taking of one of the main themes in Elfman’s 2005 Charlie score (see The Golden Ticket/Factory). If you can look past the very blatant borrowing there though as I say it is a pretty solid theme, and plays very well both in this track and opposite Strange’s across the album going forward.
With the main themes now in play the score starts proper in the subsequent On The Run, with the new main theme for Strange kicking off some very frantic action as loud, dramatic percussion and very in-your-face vocals and strings lead the musical charge. At about forty seconds in though the unexpected occurs, as the composer switches things up with Michael Giacchino’s Doctor Strange theme stepping onto the action stage. At this point, I’ve got to say I’m a little confused. Elfman seemingly has composed a new theme for Strange, and is using it as the main theme, but he’s also using Giacchino’s main theme for the character too because… reasons? Odd. Anyway, let’s not get too bogged down with that. On The Run continues frantically for much of its runtime, with both Strange themes playing in short, fast-paced intervals until the instrumentation all then comes to a loudly crescendoing finish. Strange Awakens then slows things right down, with the new main theme playing quietly and gently for thirty seconds or so until the orchestra then segues into The Apple Orchard. The gentleness of the previous cue continues initially before crashing, imposing percussion and emphatic brass then loudly interrupt followed swiftly by high-pitched, almost horror-like strings, with the remainder of the track interplaying Strange’s new theme with this new musical ominousity to quite unnerving effect overall.
Gargantos kicks off another dramatic action cue, with Giacchino’s Strange theme making a heroically upbeat though short appearance right at the start of the piece before loudly malevolent brass and vocals drown the theme out in favour of imposing, in-your-face orchestra. Frantic strings and crashes of percussion then take prominence in the back half of the piece, with Wanda’s new theme making a short, strained appearance followed by a similarly tense rendition of Strange’s new main theme. Journey With Wong then continues in the same dramatic fashion, with some particularly emphatic, gothic-like vocals holding the volume level high throughout much of the two minute cue. Wanda’s new motif plays in quiet, almost mournful form in Home?, with serene strings and low-pitched brass taking prominence until a crash of percussion signals an almost horror-like crescendo right as the track closes out. Strange Statue however then continues in a more solemn vein, with Giacchino’s Strange theme cameoing for another annoyingly short rendition accompanied by a now rather worrisome Wanda’s theme. The Decision Is Made opens with pounding, fast-paced drums signalling action, with frantic brass propelling the music forward until it all then comes to a sudden stop at only a minute long. A Cup Of Tea then leans heavily on Elfman’s more wacky gothic style, complete with moody vocals and several appearances from Wanda’s theme before the short sub-minute Discovering America then brightens the horizon a tad with some quietly hopeful strings.
Full on horror descends in Grab My Hand, with high-pitched, frightening strings taking point alongside some particularly creepy vocals for much of the minute-long cue. Action setpiece Battle Time however thankfully brings back the full orchestra, with Giacchino’s Strange theme too joining the fray in unusually heroic form after two minutes of dramatic build-up. Happily the motif sticks around a little bit longer in this track, playing for several fast-paced renditions before the action then fades to a close at the three minute mark. Two semi-action cues then continue where this leaves off; Not A Monster opens with a gently solemn rendition of Wanda’s theme before bursting into a frantically high pace for its final minute, with Forbidden Ground then reprising the loud, brass-heavy, almost villainous tone from previous tracks in its first half before flurrying strings elevate the music to emphatic action in the second. Tribunal then calls the fast pace to a close, with low-pitched brass and moody vocals setting the volume level low initially until the full orchestra then enters the fray at the ninety second mark for a loudly dramatic finish. A sombre piano opens Stranger Things Will Happen, with quiet strings playing a short rendition of Wanda’s theme before additional, flurrying strings make themselves known in a frantic manner much akin to that of Elfman’s Flash theme from his 2017 Justice League score (though the less said about that mess, the better frankly). Buying Time then dials up the tension considerably, with rapid brass and some very eerie-sounding electronics playing together with the now frantically worried strings for three minutes of very dramatic action score.
Slow, sorrowful strings open Strange Talk, setting a particularly mournful tone for the first minute or two before additional strings and brass slowly fade into the fray, which all then comes to a loudly worrisome crescendo at the three minute mark. The composer then has something rather special in store for subsequent cue Lethal Symphonies; right at the start you can tell something is happening as the orchestra just sounds different, then before you know it – Beethoven’s 5th starts playing. It’s a welcome if not rather sudden musical surprise, and the way Elfman plays with the various symphonic elements throughout the sadly short two minute cue makes it a genuine joy to listen to overall. Getting It Through then leans into the more worrisome action side of things for much of its five minute runtime, with loud bursts of frenetic brass, frenzied strings and crashes of darkly dramatic percussion taking centre stage together with several short, sporadic renditions of Wanda’s new theme. Only Way then continues in much the same vein, with the now particularly frantic orchestra blasting through several tense renditions of both Elfman’s new Strange and Wanda themes with emphatic vocals also in tow. Trust Your Power then starts to turn the tonal tide, with the action still hanging around in darkness initially before becoming gradually more hopeful as the track continues.
With the score starting to draw to a close, They’ll Be Loved slows things right down in its first minute with a gently sorrowful rendition of Wanda’s theme on strings. This quietness doesn’t last for long however as the orchestra starts to build in the background, with the cue ending a few minutes later on a loudly dramatic, heartfelt rendition of said theme. An Interesting Question then increases the pace somewhat, with faster, almost lighthearted strings taking point for the opening minute or so before Strange’s new theme starts to play on quietly reflective brass. From here on the instrumentation then starts to build to crescendo with even an electric guitar joining the fray, which all then segues rather grandiosely into end credits cue Main Title. In a similar manner to opening piece Multiverse Of Madness this is where the new themes are allowed to really shine, with a loudly emphatic, action-oriented rendition of Elfman’s new Strange theme opening the cue followed closely by a lengthy, strings-heavy playthrough of Wanda’s. The gothic, heavily vocal compositional style is also on full display throughout this two and a half minute piece, and that combined with the enjoyably lengthy thematic displays certainly cements it as one of the standout cues of the album. Just when you think it’s all over however An Unexpected Visitor then starts to play, with the thirty second cue ending the score on a curiously malevolent, ominous tone.
Overall then, Danny Elfman’s Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness is very good, though not without its issues. His darkly ominous, gothic and vocal-heavy compositional style fits very well indeed with the style of Sam Raimi’s movie (as you’d expect really) resulting in some very enjoyable tracks across the album (standout cues Multiverse Of Madness and Main Titles obviously being the big ones to check out). The action is also well-composed and rather superb, with cues like Battle Time and Gargantos being the highlights of the bunch, as well as second track On The Run.
The score isn’t perfect though, with its main issue annoyingly being thematic continuity. Michael Giacchino’s Doctor Strange theme is relegated to little more than a cameo role in favour of another, brand new theme for the character which, while a fairly solid theme by itself, feels unnecessary given that well… the character already has a theme (one that’s now been used in multiple MCU movies… including this one!). Even just including a sitar or harpsichord, both of which are pretty musically signature for Strange at this point, would’ve helped bridge that thematic gap a lot. Wanda’s new theme as well while quite nice is very reminiscent of Elfman’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory score, and to be honest it would’ve been good to hear Christophe Beck’s established theme for the character from WandaVision too (especially as it would have fit in rather nicely with Elfman’s darkly dramatic style).
All-in though, while I do feel this sequel work is a bit of a missed opportunity theme-wise it does have a lot else to offer; the darkly dramatic style is pretty great, the new themes are memorable and many an enjoyable action cue is present, overall making for a pretty well-composed and indeed highly enjoyable score. In essence; if you like Danny Elfman, you will probably love it.
Standout Cues: 1. Multiverse Of Madness/31. Main Titles
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