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This past weekend saw the release of Captain Marvel, and based on the weekend’s box office, a lot of people wanted to see this movie. Professional reviews were complimentary, if not glowing, and overall I really enjoyed it. However, as I walked out of the theater last week, I must admit I felt like there was one thing missing from Captain Marvel. The music. Don’t get me wrong, Captain Marvel had music. It had good music, but the music that you remember coming out of the theater is the 1990s pop soundtrack, not the score that was composed for the film. Captain Marvel had some epic moments, but it was short on an epic theme.
A lot of comparison has been made between Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman. Both are recent solo superhero movies starring female leads. However, when I compare my emotional impressions of these characters to each other, Wonder Woman comes out on top quite easily. The reason, I think, is that when I think of Wonder Woman, I think of Hans Zimmer’s powerful theme that he created in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You know what I mean. It's the one moment in the film that everyone agrees was great.
That music simply isn’t there when I think of Captain Marvel, and the character suffers because of it.
To be fair, the problem of a less than memorable score is not exclusive to Captain Marvel. It’s a problem the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe suffers from. The music isn’t bad and nothing is wrong with it, but there’s nothing quite like a memorable character theme, and few Marvel movies have them. Captain Marvel does have a theme, and it’s actually pretty decent, but I had to play the soundtrack on Spotify to hear it. I couldn’t tell you when in the movie it gets played. I don't recall hearing it at all, and that's part of the problem.
If you listen to Pinar Toprak's Captain Marvel score in its entirety, you'll hear that it's actually really good. The problem is the way it's mixed into the film. It's designed to fall into the background. It's designed to have you not notice it. It makes one wonder why the studio bothers to score so much of the movie if they don't want you to hear the music.
Marvel hasn't seemed as if it wanted us to care about the music for years. If the studio did, the music would be more consistent across films. Iron Man has three different themes in three different solo films, more if you count songs by AC/DC. Captain America has an actually pretty great theme in The First Avenger, which is then barely used in The Winter Soldier and utterly forgotten after that. Instead, Cap has a new theme in that movie, one you still never hear again. While Marvel has done a stellar job of making sure that its films have continuity of story, there is none in the music.
Some of this may be because nearly every Marvel movie is handled by a different composer, and clearly those composers want to make their own music, but it's not like the Harry Potter films forgot the theme John Williams wrote after he stopped scoring the movies.
Superhero themes can be some of the best pieces of music in modern films. John Williams’ theme for Superman and Danny Elfman’s Batman theme are classics. One Marvel theme, the Avengers theme, is a key part of the single most memorable moment in all of the MCU.
That moment would not have been nearly so memorable without that piece of music. It’s one of the few pieces of music that has been carried over from one film to another. It even shows up in Captain Marvel. It was at that point when I heard it that I realized that the movie had no noticeable theme for the main character the movie was actually about.
Of the 20+ movies and 10 + years that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are only a few themes worthy of note. If you look back at Avengers: Infinity War, a movie that contains basically every character who has ever appeared in the MCU, the only pieces of music you might recognize are the Avengers theme, which gets used twice, and the Wakanda theme from Black Panther.
And if we're being honest, one of those uses is totally wrong. The second time we hear the Avengers theme in Infinity War is when Thor, Groot, and Rocket arrive during the battle of Wakanda and help turn the tide. Only one of those characters is an actual Avenger. That moment would have been the perfect place for Thor's theme, an epic piece of music that told you the Asgardian was once again ready to fight with a new weapon by his side.
The problem is, if that piece of music had played, nobody would have recognized it because nobody can hum Thor's theme. Does Thor even have a theme? He has two actually. The movie needed a piece of music that conveyed to the audience all of that same information, and the Avengers theme is the only piece of music the audience knows well enough to be able to do that.
In the case of Captain Marvel, there is at least something of a reason why the score was downplayed. The focus, musically speaking, was on the '90s era music that made up the bulk of the soundtrack. The movie wants you to hear No Doubt more than it does the orchestral themes.
Still, we don't have to only pick one. The Guardians of the Galaxy movies make their '70s pop soundtrack not simply part of the movie, but part of the plot, and that didn't stop James Gunn and Tyler Bates from giving the team a solid theme that was used well in both Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
I loved almost everything about Captain Marvel. Everything on the screen was great, and yet, somehow I found something was lacking. What was missing was what I didn't hear. I hope that when Captain Marvel returns in Avengers: Endgame, her theme will be given some room to breathe. I hope some attention is given to it, because it will only make the character stronger.