Review by Andrew Overfield & Doug Waters
Edited by Sam Hughes
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Composers: Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) & Hans Zimmer
Sound Design: Phil Barrie, Chuck Michael, Jussi Tegelman, David Grimaldi & others.
So for the first time in The Sound Architect history, here is a joint review! Mostly because Andy and Doug were going to see the film at the same time, but also as an interesting article to get a difference of opinion on the same topic.
*Spoiler Alert*Be aware, there will be some content, which could be considered a “spoiler”, you have been warned and will continue to be as this article progresses.
Andy: I’m a huge Superman fan! Man of Steel redeemed itself in terms of movie tie-ins for the Superman series of films. The Christopher Reeve versions of the films started to wear thin and even though in it’s own entity, Superman Returns wasn’t a bad film, it just didn’t cut it for me to sit firmly enough in the franchise to warrant it being a good Superman film.
In this sequel, Zack Snyder adopts elements of the Doomsday storyline to help lay the foundations for a much larger DC universe adding Batman, Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor to the screen. This gives a huge open space where Snyder could have painted this picture. However, I felt like the canvas was painted rather quickly. I wasn’t entirely happy with how fast the plot developed. While I wasn’t truly impressed that the original comic book story wasn’t followed, it was acceptable to see how Snyder can relate the prequel to this outing for non-comic readers.
Doug: Now, contrary to Andy, I’m for team Batman in this superhero matchup! Ever since the release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight back in 2008, I’ve been a massive fan of that series, as well as being a massive fan of Rocksteady Studio’s Batman: Arkham series. Along with Superman, I can agree that prior to this, Batman had had some pretty poor outings on the big screen, let’s just try and forget 1995’s Batman Forever, shall we? But against a history of films such as these, The Dark Knight trilogy has shone as a light to the darkness (ironically) and in many ways has set the bar for superhero movies that followed.
It felt like things were incredibly rushed, my fear that the producers would try to cram too much into such a short time frame had indeed come true. It felt very much like, ‘here’s 30 mins of Batman’s backstory, okay move on, here’s 30 mins of what superman’s been doing, move on, etc etc’.
Now let’s talk audio!
Andy: As I said before, I became a big fan of Man of Steel more or less instantly. The opening 20 minutes of this film was one massive trip down nostalgia lane. Albeit, 2013 wasn’t too long ago, I’ve gleamed with anticipation since the announcement of Dawn of Justice.
The introduction did not disappoint. I was treated to a throwback to the fearsome sounds of the World Engine taking it’s toll on Metropolis and the excellent sound design executed in Man of Steel.
I have tried so hard not to compare this film to our latest incarnation of the caped crusader but due to its relevance I can’t hold back. I liked the sound of technology. In our Christopher Nolan adventure for example, the Bat sounded very organic, as if it was alive. The sound design was created from some animal noises to create a more feral mode of transportation. In Dawn of Justice, the vehicles sound more computerised, more technologically advanced as if to lend a nod to the fact that we have a much more older, wiser, cynical yet seasoned Batman. We see a batman that has developed his arsenal carefully, with precision over the 20+ years of fighting crime and tyranny. The Batmobile emits a powerful jet-like sound, compared to the animalistic roar of the Nolan series of films. One thing to touch on that I wasn’t too fond of was the HUGE amount of actual sound in the final act of the film. The final action scene felt very “BOOM, let’s get their attention!” and when the film grabbed me, it was hard to tell where I should devote my focus. There were some points where as Doomsday was struck by our Supes’ the sound seemed too powerful and not at all what I expected. I expected a dull thud as, after all, Doomsday in this representation is essentially a Kryptonian and equal, in terms of strength, with Superman.
In contrast to this, when our two main heroes are gunning for each other, exchanging blows and putting their money where their mouths are, the sound design was nigh on perfect. There wasn’t a plethora of sound to drown out the focus of the fight. The singular cracks and thumps were crystal clear which didn’t distract away from these two “frenemies” duking it out.
Doug: There is some absolutely stunning sound design in this film! If you’re heading to the cinema with the intent of watching a feature with good sound design, consider this!
Now this may be biased of me, given my previous statement of being in Batman’s corner of the ring, but my favourite sounds in the whole film were those made by the dark knight himself and his plethora of gadgets. Anyone that has seen the trailers will remember the scene in which Batman takes on a small army of thugs, the sounds present during this scene are outstanding. The music drops away, the punch sounds and the sound of breaking wood, plaster walls and bone really draw you into the action, whilst characterising further the brutality of Ben Affleck’s Batman.
The sounds of the Batmobile and his gadgets sound a lot more futuristic than those presented in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, reminding me more of the sounds present in Rocksteady’s 2015 game Batman: Arkham Knight. All of this matches the more advanced look of Batman’s tech in the DC world presented here in Dawn of Justice.
However, at times it felt like being buffeted by a veritable wall of sound! This was very much a factor in the opening scene of the film, with the collapsing of metropolis in the wake of the world engine. Although I was able to pick out the sounds of Bruce Wayne’s car as it raced through the streets, there were some moments in the action, such as particularly large pieces of collapsing building that weren’t well represented in sound, I believe partially because they were drowned out by everything else. Yet, this might’ve indeed been the intention, to make the audience hear the realistic cacophony of real buildings collapsing so as to draw them into the action.
Sometimes I just felt there was too much sound, one moment that myself and Andy discussed, was the moment you see Bruce Wayne running into a cloud of dust, how much better it would have been in that moment if less was going on in the sound department, perhaps even no sound at all.
Andy: I’ve been sitting on the score for the film since the postman dropped it off for me last week and overall I love it. Reminiscing the two main leitmotifs from the prequel flooded me with nostalgia. Especially at the start of the film where we are thrown into the action and alternate perspective of the Metropolis fight scene.
What brought Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor performance to life for me was the abstract and alternate theme he was given. “The Red Capes Are Coming” really gave me a good indication of what to expect from Luthor prior to seeing the film and I was not disappointed. A not-so-serious character with hints of being like a “kid in a candy shop”.
One real gripe I had with the score is Wonder Woman’s theme. I am not a fan at all, and I won’t just come out with such a statement without justifying my response. Well, that’s a lie, I love it and I hate it. While Tina Guo gave an incredible electric cello performance, it’s the actual composition that lets it down for me. Normally I wouldn’t ever even dream of having a bad word to say about anything Hans Zimmer writes, but this time I can’t swallow it.
Now some justification; I am a huge fan of Jim Steinman. While some of you readers may not know who this is, I can put my entire salary this year on that you’ve heard his music in the forms of Meat Loaf or Bonnie Tyler. And this is the problem. The Wonder Woman second “riff” or chord progression is extremely close to Steinman’s “Holding Out for a Hero” which he wrote for Bonnie Tyler or his own alternate version, “Stark Raving Love”. Those of you aware of Tyler’s version of the song will undoubtedly know this song is about needing a man. In fact one of the lines in the song reads; “it’s gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet”.
Now I know this is an extremely minor coincidence but something like that simply doesn’t scream independent, strong Amazonian warrior. Now this could all just be a slight nod from Zimmer/Holkenborg to the 80’s pop music scene, I just didn’t feel it sat well for me. I hope this is addressed in the solo Wonder Woman film coming next.
As I mentioned I’d had the score a week before seeing the film and as with Man of Steel, I grabbed the deluxe version. Part of my love with the MoS score is that the extra disc gave around 28 minutes of a sort of scrapbook. It amalgamated all of the ideas Zimmer had for the original score, which I truly missed on this sequel. I wish there was a lot more content on the extra disc.
Another note to add, fans of the Batman Animated Series will probably enjoy the score too, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself!
Sitting and nit-picking over one track won’t change my whole opinion. I was a Zimmer fan before MoS and that score concreted my faith in the fact that this guy knows how to score a good hero/epic film. Its up there with my all time favourites. DoJ did not disappoint either. The equal blend of nostalgic themes from the previous outing, mixed with the fresh orchestration of the new themes gave a very layered and poignant touch to the film. I just wish that Snyder had taken a step back a bit at some points and let the visual narrate rather than the music and sound.
Doug: Unlike my Superman-loving counterpart, I went into this film musically blind, having heard nothing of the score, armed only with my thoughts of Zimmer’s work on previous title in the series, Man of Steel.
Some of my favourite moments in the music were of course during certain sequences involving Batman! There’s no denying that there’s a wealth of music for both the previous Batman and Superman stand alone series alike, including Zimmer’s own work on Nolan’s Dark Knight series. In keeping with how Affleck’s portrayal differs from previous incarnations, some moments of the music were incredibly dark.
In one moment in particular, viewers would be forgiven for thinking they might’ve stepped into the showing of a horror movie! The music developed and added musical characteristics present in your typical ‘tension building’ scene, right up to the orchestral stab at the jump scare. It was these great moments of musical expectation that I really enjoyed. Like moments where the music dropped away and you just know Batman’s going to pull that one guy backward through the wall behind. It was so rewarding when he finally did and the music returned. In this way, it felt like you were a part of the action, almost stepping into the shoes of the dark knight himself!
Although I like some of Batman’s music and the fact that this was an incredibly well produced, recorded and mixed score, well written in it’s own right, there were some moments that just didn’t sit right with me. At times it almost felt like the music was trying to force certain feelings upon the audience, rather than letting viewers develop their own emotional resonances.
This was most noticeable in scenes such as those shared between Superman and Lois Lane, where the piano music was sometimes overly emotive. It felt unnecessary, especially when silence would’ve given the same, if not better, experience for the audience! In a similar vein, the themes of certain characters were thrown at the audience in very filled out forms right from the off. There was little to no progression of the musical ideas present in these themes, and in some moments the big and bombastic themes didn’t sit well with the visuals (without spoiling anything, there’s a moment Bruce Wayne is looking at an old photograph. Viewers of the film, you may know just what I mean and for those going to see it after reading this, well just keep and eye and ear out!).
I completely agree with Andy when he wishes that there had been less sound and music, letting the visuals narrate more. Now that’s not to say we both don’t love sound and music, but when there’s an over abundance of each, the moments in which they’re really important to tell some part of the narrative loose their meaning and impact.
Doug: To touch briefly on the film’s dialogue, there wasn’t all that much Andy and I found to discuss on the topic. The actor’s delivery was clear and easy to understand, yet still gave power and emotion behind some of the more important lines in the script. Throughout the whole film we both found that the dialogue was well mixed against a variety of sound design and musical backdrops, from quiet encounters at formal parties to epic confrontations!
Andy: All in all, the negatives I have focussed on haven’t waned me from saying I really did enjoy the film. Partly carried by my already nurtured love for the score and its predecessor and partly carried by my adoration for most things in red tights. Dawn of Justice was a slightly rushed perspective on one of my favourite storylines in the DC universe since being a child and I’m happy with how the adaptation played out to cater to a wider perspective of an audience. The score won’t be leaving my car for a long time!
Affleck gave a convincing Bruce Wayne, and even as a menacing Batman, he gives depth to this seasoned Gotham protector. I’ll certainly be grabbing the Blu-Ray release and will watch this multiple times again. I felt there were some major cons in the film that let down my expectations of the story, something (especially the ending) were very predictable, giving a large berth to the upcoming Suicide Squad film. I just sincerely hope the follow-up in the Superman-related saga slows down a little, takes it’s time, yet delivers reliability, as well as engrossment like a careful Volvo driver.
Doug: Personally, I went into seeing this film with a very closed mind, I wasn’t expecting the story to be great for fear of the producers stuffing too much into the 151 minutes run time. Despite not particularly liking all of the music for Man Of Steel, although similarly well produced there were moments that didn’t sit well for me, I held out hope that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would be different. Unfortunately my fears were realised on both fronts. I wanted so much for another score like Zimmer’s incredible work on The Dark Knight!
However, I’d still be interested to watch it again, perhaps when I’m not being buffeted by the sounds experienced in the cinema seats three rows from the front! And maybe after watching this back-to-back with Man of Steel I can come to appreciate some of the musical choices a little better.
Yet, all of this has in no way diminished my excitement for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, due to land stateside on August 5th! Maybe you’ll see another joint film audio review for then!
We hope you enjoyed Andy and Doug’s joint review, check out others in our Reviews section :). Don’t forget to sign up to ourMonthly Newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out on our reviews and interviews.
The Sound Architect