Review by Douglas Waters
Composer – Christophe Beck
Sound by – Skywalker Sound
The lights dim. All around me other viewers hold their breath in anticipation. How many of us have been excitedly waiting for two years to see this since test footage was first leaked online in 2013? Then just like that, the wait is over; the 12th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the final in Phase Two of the franchise; Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man is here!
What a two years it’s been for Marvel! Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2, Guardians of the Galaxy and let’s not forget this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron! However out of all of these, I was never as excited for them as I’ve been for Ant-Man. Perhaps it’s the thought of seeing a brand new hero being introduced into the MCU that excites me; but it’s probably the stash of Ant-Man comics on my shelf! If you hadn’t guessed already, I’m a massive fan of Marvel, films and comics alike, and it is with great pleasure that I’m here to write about the audio for one of my favourite heroes! So without further ado, in the words of original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, lets “take a really close look at it”.
Some of you may be aware of the fact that Peyton Reed was not the original director of Ant-Man; Edgar Wright was set to direct until his parting from the project in May of last year. With Wright’s departure original composer Steven Price also left, stating in an interview that, “it didn’t feel right to take the vision that we’d spoken about musically onto it so I left as well.” Christophe Beck was then hired in January 2015 to score the film.
Beck’s score brings us more heroic themes and expands the wealth of MCU music, but also sets itself apart from the rest. This film is a little different to the Marvel films we’ve already seen; yes it’s a superhero origin story, but at it’s core, it’s a heist comedy.
A lot of the Marvel films in recent years have been rather serious (with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy) and had a huge impact on other stories in the franchise. This isn’t at all to say those films aren’t entertaining because of their seriousness, but it felt refreshing to see something more light hearted. Ant-Man gives us more comedy than most others; it reminded me very much of how 2008’s Iron Man would make me laugh. This overarching comedic tone has been fully supported by Beck’s music; perfectly blending a big sweeping orchestral score with quirky staccato lines. Heist scenes in the film were perfectly punctuated with instrumentation instantly recognizable and comparable with that of music from other heist movies such as 1996’s Mission: Impossible and 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven.
In a similar vein to Guardians of the Galaxy, licensed music was used to add further comedic value and engage the audience; featuring amongst others, I’m Ready from The Commodores 1975, Caught in the Act album and The Cure’s Plainsong from their 1989 album, Disintegration.
What I particularly enjoyed about the music in Ant-Man was how it was used to define relationships between characters; as these characters develop and relationships grow, so to do their themes. Most memorable amongst these is of course the Ant-Man/Scott Lang theme that follows his journey from humble beginnings to fully-fledged hero. Hank Pym and Darren Cross’ themes seemed very different from the rest of the music however, not always in melody, but in instrumentation, as theirs were the only themes to noticeably have more synthetic elements. Perhaps this was representative of the character’s science backgrounds, but more interestingly, different enough that you could almost perceive Hank Pym and Darren Cross as different sides of the same coin. There were also some very poignant musical moments when concerning the relationship between Hank Pym and daughter Hope and reflectively in Scott and his daughter, Cassie.
Skywalker sound once again provided sound design, just as they’ve done before for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron. As with all our action films now, we as viewers expect hard-hitting and crisp sounds and Ant-Man certainly delivered on this front; with one slight discrepancy; at times it was just too loud and overpowering. Some punch sounds seemed louder than they needed to be, and at times a bit too hard-hitting for what the particular character might have seemed capable of. Indeed, some of them sounded even stronger than those thrown by super-soldier Captain America in The Winter Soldier!
However, putting this aside, where I felt the sound design truly excelled was how it was perceived whenever Ant-Man was shrunk. As one might expect, sound-waves will interact differently when your eardrum is microscopic! Sounds became elongated and stretched, everything was more reverberant, and even voices were given an ethereal touch; reminiscent of, but not as extreme as the ‘slow-mo’ sequences from 2012’s Dredd. This change in sonic landscape really helps immerse you further in the action.
As you may be familiar with from other films involving shrinking characters, animal sounds are also altered. Ant-Man is no deviant from that. One moment in the film makes you jump with genuine fear and unease as you try to gauge where an otherworldly creature sound originates off screen.
Have you ever stopped to think what noise an ant makes? Well Ant-Man answers that for you! The ant sounds reminded me very much of the insect noises from 2005’s King Kong, but with the difference that the ants in Ant-Man are given more of a human aspect; the series of clicking and scurrying and cute ‘chirping’ noises make the ants seem more relatable.
Although completely clear in delivery and pronunciation, there were moments where the voices were noticeably quieter than perhaps they should have been. Sometimes this was due to some sound design being too loud, but at times the voices seemed distant. Interestingly, whenever Scott heard a voice through the Ant-Suit’s helmet, they seemed to be the proper level. I’m aware that Ant-Man was mixed using Dolby Atmos, a system that allows pan settings to be not just stereo, but full 3d placement. Now perhaps because I didn’t watch the film in Odeon ISENSE, some sounds were translated differently from Atmos 3d into stereo? That’s a question that can only be answered by a second viewing!
It’s worth noting as well, the use of silence in certain parts of the film; surprisingly it immerses you more in the film as you feel more a part of the action. This is true not just of sound, but with music too. One sequence in the film features no music (a contrast to the rest of the film), but it’s this silence that gives even more emotional weight to the music when it’s re-introduced.
Overall, the 117 minutes did very little to disappoint me. Granted there were times when the sound seemed loud and ‘in your face’, but I feel this is something we can expect to hear in a lot of current and future films. And whilst the sound levels weren’t necessarily to my taste, I understand that it served the purpose of giving you a front seat to the action.
I’m extremely interested to see this fresh music from new characters moving forward into the rest of the MCU! At the moment Ant-Man isn’t due a sequel but he is set to return, but I hope the directors can find a way to keep the vision of Ant-Man’s quirky theme.
The Sound Architect