The craziest galaxy savers floating around in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are back – following up the unexpected yet enormously successful “Guardians of the Galaxy” that saw a wannabe superhero, a violent-horny racoon, a female killer, a muscle-bound fighter and a living tree unite in order to save their world, is the surprisingly creatively entitled sequel “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”.
With James Gunn returning to write and direct the sci-fi comedy and an all-star cast including the acting talents of the original one’s main characters, this time supported by veterans Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone, the second entry in the series, after having won an enormous fanbase over the past few years, proves to be an even more successful box office hit than its predecessor. A third movie ending the trilogy has already been scheduled, by no means a surprise. Having scored the 2014 movie, composer Tyler Bates – director Gunn’s go-to composer – returns to score the 2017 sequel and, therefore, is likely to be the first composer in the MCU, usually characterized and justifiably criticized for musical and thematic discontinuity, to write original scores for an entire trilogy.
For “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”, the composer luckily continues to trust in the power of a fairly large orchestral action score, highlighted by occasional outbursts of choir giving the music a sense of grandeur and epicness, much alike with his original score. Expanding on the musical palette established in the first one, Bates brings back his main theme, a rousing, unashamedly heroic-sounding fanfare that works fine within the movie’s context but, due to its rather generic chord progression, fails to develop a clear identity on its own. Furthermore, he introduces a furious action motif utilized various times in the movie, a descending string ostinato very much in the vein of what Junkie XL came up with for George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Since then, it’s been used multiple times in a whole truckload of Hollywood blockbusters such as last year’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and Lorne Balfe’s “The LEGO Batman Movie” – seriously, is it that difficult to come up with an interesting action melody? Thank God, Bates had never had any issues with a movie’s temp track before…
Of far better quality is the score’s other secondary theme to which I refer as the “Family theme” as it often gets associated with Peter Quill, the movie’s main character, and his relationship with his long-lost father whom he finally meets for the first time. Over the curse of the 43-minute album, it receives some wonderfully moving renditions, the lovely string writing strongly resembling the works of James Newton Howard or James Horner, and is given a truly outstanding performance in both the score’s and the film’s emotional climax. Not only does it make a long-lasting impression, but it also sees Bates developing his theme and, by doing that, strenghtening the score’s narrative, a fact that is highly to appreciate.
The score kicks off with the album opener “Showtime a-Holes”, starting with a triumphant orchestra-and-choir statement of the main theme that immediately brings the listener back to the world Marvel’s rather unusual heroes reside in. String ostinati, heavy brass and occasional outbursts of choir drive the on-screen action forward in the subsequent “vs the Abilisk” which sees the composer “introducing” his new action motif, the descending string ostinato taken from Junkie XL’s “Mad Max”, whose popularity, at least by now, seems slowly starting to compete with the infamous “Horn of Doom”.
Bates’s furious action writing continues in the frantic “Space Chase” and sees its early high point in the outstanding “Two-Time-Galaxy Savers”, a well-structured action piece combining dynamic brass writing with several brilliant renditions of his main theme that now, given its dramatic development, shines in its full glory. Of particular note is the impressive choral chanting on which the composer expands later on in the album’s second half, illustrating the heroes’ epic battle against an incarnated planet, Ego, who introduces himself as Peter Quill’s long-lost father. Both “Ego” with its apocalyptic choir work and “Gods”, the latter featuring an almot heartbreaking statement of the “Family theme”, take the score to unseen, epic heights.
Both the film’s and the score’s emotional climax comes with the cue “Dad”. Over the curse of two-and-a-half-minutes, the composer slowly develops a powerful hymn to Yondu, Quill’s mentor. Longing brass lines anticipate the upcoming catastrophe before Bates, at the 1:15 mark, unleashes his central “Family theme”, now attributed to these two characters, in a highly moving gala statement for full orchestra and choir.
From then on, the score focuses on the family tragedy; Bittersweet piano tunes, accompanied by mourning strings, form the basis of the funeral song that is “A Total Hasselhoff”. Meanwhile, the subsequent “Sisters” continues the film’s emotional underscoring with heartfelt cello performances while the conclusive “Guardians of the Frickin Galaxy” ends the score with a sweepingly-heroic rendition of Bates’s main theme, leaving the listener with an optimistic send-off.
The composer’s second entry into the popular franchise is, without a single doubt, a clear improvement upon its rather weak predecessor, for Bates creates a cleverly organized musical narrative, his “Family theme” forming the heartbeat of the score, that is nicely summarized in a not overly long 43-minute presentation, contributing to a mostly flawless, highly entertaining album listening experience. Praise also goes to renowned orchestrators Timothy Williams and Chad Cannon being responsible for the score’s energetic, colorful sound whose clarity pleasantly stands out from the original’s less distinctive orchestral soundscape. As such, the score for James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” comes with absolute recommendation although its extreme simplicity and unoriginality quite obviously holds it back from getting an even higher rating. Meanwhile, one can certainly look forward happily to what Bates will bring to the franchise’s third entry’s musical palette.
Music composed by Tyler Bates. Conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Orchestrations by Timothy Williams, Erik Aho, Bryan Arata, Chad Cannon, Sasha Chaban, Kieran Kiely, Drew Krassowski, Vincent Oppido and Steven Scott. Album produced by Tyler Bates.
1. Showtime a-Holes (1:27)
2. vs the Abilisk (2:35)
3. The Mantis Touch (1:53)
4. Space Chase (3:20)
5. Family History (3:48)
6. Groot Expectations (1:57)
7. Mammalian Bodies (1:50)
8. Starhawk (1:49)
9. Two-Time-Galaxy Savers (3:01)
10. I Know Who You Are (4:20)
11. Ego (2:47)
12. Kraglin and Drax (1:34)
13. The Expansion (1:05)
14. Mary Poppins and the Rat (3:07)
15. Gods (1:28)
16. Dad (2:28)
17. A Total Hasselhoff (2:01)
18. Sisters (2:05)
19. Guardians of the Frickin’ Galaxy (0:59)
Album available on Marvel Music (digital download only).