Captain America: Civil War
The Sound of Civil War
Review by Andrew Overfield
Edited by Sam Hughes
Studio: Marvel Studios
Composer: Henry Jackman
Director: Anthony Rosso
Sound Designers: Shannon Mills, David C. Hughes, Nia Hansen
Reviewed on: IMAX 3D
As you can probably tell by now, I’m a bit of a superhero geek. Not quite the Sheldon Cooper of The Sound Architect family, but nonetheless, a huge fan boy in terms of the silver-screen-superhero goodness we have had the pleasure of over the last 8 years.
There are no spoilers in this article. I will only discuss the points, which have already been revealed in the trailers for the film.
For a bit of back-story, the Marvel universe has already created foundations and lore with the build up to this film with The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. We have a solid backdrop to why the team as assembled in their current form and the prologue to most of the cast has already been established. Make no mistake, this IS a Captain America film, no doubt. But we are introduced to many more feelings and arcs to the story which, in the case of the review could have been difficult to create a sonic environment for.
This sonic environment is what I’ll be addressing in this review.
The film essentially takes place in the aftermath of Age of Ultron, where our newly assembled Avengers outfit are trotting the globe, ridding us of bad guys and generally helping keep order. One mistake leads to another and the question of their authority, (or lack of) is healthy for the world.
Borrowing from the 2006 comic storylines of Civil War, this film addresses the morals and questionability of the Avenger’s place in society and whether they should be restricted by a worldwide govern.
Our heroes divide and take sides based on their own moral judgement of what they believe is right, Tony Stark leading those for and Captain America leading those against.
As I have mentioned in previous reviews, there is a huge lean-to the words ‘epic’ and ‘huge’ in a lot of our blockbusters these days. And in especially my reviews for Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Avengers: Age of Ultron, I mentioned this huge ‘wall of sound’ there seems to be. While commercial artists are putting out less and less music to compete with the loudness war, it seems our filmmakers are actually listening to their keen-eared audience. And listen they have.
Shannon Mills (left) and the team have done a near-perfect job with their sound design in this venture. Given the potential for a dozen or so different heroes and villains on-screen at one time, you never get the “where do I focus my attention now?” feeling.
From the first scenes of Cap’s team in Lagos we get a clear indication of how important sound is to Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. The deflective sounds of Cap’s Vibranium shield is brilliantly mixed and sharp against the eerie, yet powerful tones of Scarlet Witch’s telekinesis. Amidst explosions, huge cracks, dialogue, foley and music, the sound stands on it’s own without distraction.
It seems to me that the sound team have understood the negatives that a wall of sound has had on previous incarnations of Marvel films and decided on a ‘less is more’ type approach.
Each superhero seems to have their own sonic palette, which can be heard with their visual self on or off screen, this is especially useful and ducked rather well in the airport battle between the opposing parties. You are allowed to decide what to focus on whilst still remaining conscious that the others are nearby, having their own fisticuffs.
I completely love what they have done with Black Panther. T’Challa has a very regal, yet carnal sound to him, from bullets bouncing from his chest, to the sound of his claws across Cap’s shield. Even though the two are the same Vibranium, there’s a certain organic sound from Panther.
I want to address Tony Stark for a moment. Throughout the Iron Man franchise we have seen Stark develop as a character, as a hero and as a man. But we have also seen his technology develop. Some of his pulse shots, whereas in the first two standalone films sounded very light and high pitched, in this incarnation they sound much deeper, somewhat mature. I don’t know if this is on purpose and I’m yet to find anyone else’s thoughts on it, but it seems as though, the ‘sound’ of iron Man has matured with his character.
There is a short section towards the close of the final act which we see Bucky, Stark and Cap slugging it out between themselves. In a nod to the original comic novel there is a scene where Stark blasts Cap’s shield lighting up the small area. I won’t go into further detail, but you get a vast, yet somewhat droning sound coming from Stark’s technology meeting Cap’s only real defence. It was like sound design heaven to my ears.
Henry Jackman sure knows how to score a superhero film. His previous outings with Cap before, he’s on the roster again to provide the musical narration for Civil War.
Unlike other Marvel franchise films, which usually start with a small flurry or motifs or a bombastic reveal, Jackman starts us off with a short wind section to set the mood for the film. This told me I was in for something different, something out of ordinary.
The entire film is littered with motifs and themes of the characters, but nothing too “ok now here’s Spider-man, oh and now here’s Iron Man”. For example in the beginning we here a short string line, only a bar long, giving a small nod to Alan Silvestri’s original Avengers theme. Little titbits and tributes are sprinkled like nostalgic goodness of Cap’s theme and short brass passages to take us back to Iron Man and other characters.
Jackman, while giving us a large symphonic score, also layers synths very well in this film. Just enough to give the action sequences some pace and not too much that it sounds like the underscore to a more futuristic world.
There are tiny hints at resolves for Silvestri’s, Brian Tyler’s and Danny Elfman’s themes from previous ventures which leave you teetering on the edge of your seat for more.
There’s no overused brass or shelling of percussion bombarding the action sequences, it’s a cleverly thought out score which accommodates a lot of breathing space for half a dozen or so heroes on screen, with all of the sonic spectrum going on at the same time.
The opening sequence plays a very minute theme which is made hugely apparent later on in the film which set me up in great anticipation of the coming acts to unfold.
This isn’t the first time I have fallen head over heels for a Jackman score and I can pretty much rest assured it won’t be the last.
With the absence of some major players in the Marvel heroic universe it would be easy to assume that the film may be lacking some weight. Big guns like Thor and Hulk are nowhere to be seen but that doesn’t stop this film from being a beast.
I would say that being only a small portion of the original Civil War comic could lead the series down a different path to one which I’d prefer, but I will let the future decide buy klonopin fedex on that opinion. As a standalone blockbuster, this film ticks all of the boxes I would expect from a Marvel film. It even redeemed itself as standing out from the crowd of the loudness war.
The Russo brothers have delivered a visually stunning, engaging and near sonically perfect film to enter us into Phase 3 of the Marvel cinematic universe.
We have the usual, carefully placed humour. We have the morals of each character questioned in multiple stages and more of an insight into why they decide on what they do with some clever historical moments.
If you are into your composition, sound design or foley, I would highly recommend watching this film if for the sonic education alone. I hope this means that bar is raised for future Marvel and other big studio releases to come.
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The Sound Architect
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