So far, Disney’s Marvel Studios have always been a step ahead of their fellow rival DC, at least quality-like. However, with the latest installment in the DC Extended Universe, Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman”, the critical missteps that were “Batman vs Superman” and “Suicide Squad” might not be forgotten, but the newest franchise entry luckily proves that it has finally been put back on track.
Telling the origin story of Diana, princess of the Amazons, leaving home to fight against Ares, their common enemy, discovering her full power and her true destiny, the film not only marks the first modern high-budget super hero movie starring a female lead character but, supported by critical acclaim and the comic book adaption turning out to be a massive financial success, also the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman. Given the project’s nature, the logical choice would have been to hire a female composer as well, even Hans Zimmer, before officially retiring from scoring super hero movies, who created the musical sound of the DCEU in the first place, appealed to the studio executives to give an underpresented woman composer the chance to write an original score. However, despite talented artists such as Pinar Toprak, Debbie Wiseman and Sarah Class certainly having the necessary knowledge to helm such a high-profile project, Remote-Control-Productions-based Rupert Gregson-Williams was chosen to contribute the composition, a sadly missed opportunity – although he is by no means a bad composer. Having spent most of his career writing music for silly comedies, recent assignments for Hollywoods blockbusters such as “The Legend of Tarzan” and Mel Gibson’s critically praised “Hacksaw Ridge” prove that he finally seems to branch out of his comfort zone.
Stylistically, most of his works are reminiscient of the typical RCP sound as it has been established back in the 1990’s/early 2000’s, the time of power anthems and heavy brass sounds. The orchestra plays a far more important role than in most modern Hollywood scores, still, a heavy prominence of synth and electronic percussion is to be found in the orchestration.
For “Wonder Woman”, the composer decides to rely on a thematic-based narrative, creating several musical identities for the appearing characters. Luckily, Gregson-Williams values the importance of thematic consistency within a franchise and brings back the aggressive Wonder Woman ostinato as introduced by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL in last year’s “Batman vs Superman” score. Being very well aware of the motif’s hardly variable nature, Diana was graced with a new melodic identity, an opimistic four-note pattern, whose weakness is its undeniable similarity to Gregson-Williams’s own “The Legend of Tarzan” main theme. Apart from that, American pilot Steve Trevor is given a sweepingly hopeful theme, while the composer provides further ideas for the German General Ludendorff and his chief chemist Dr. Poison, the story’s antagonists. Sadly, the latter ones remain largely underdeveloped.
The album opener “Amazons of Themyscira” first intentionally hints at Hans Zimmer’s popular Wonder Woman ostinato as performed by Tina Guo’s electric cello. As Diana Prince receives a World War I-era photographic plate couriered by Wayne Enterprises, Gregson-Williams shortly quotes the Wayne theme from the “Batman vs Superman” score before he, as she recalls her past, introduces both Trevor’s and, after that, Diana’s own theme. When the action shifts to the Amazon’s home, the legendary island of Themyscira, the composer fleshes out the Diana theme, that simultaneously acts as a presenter of the Ancient-Greece-like culture, in its full orchestral glory. Warm strings, lovely woodwinds and subtle choir add up to an idyllic atmosphere of peace and wondrousness. The subsequent “History Lesson” further continues that path as Diana’s mother tells her daughter the story of their enemy, the Greek god Ares, before “Angel on the Wing”, constantly shifting around Diana’s theme, provides a more heroic rendition, carrying a feeling of magical wonder as Diana saves American pilot Steve Trevor from his sinking plane at the island’s coast.
Both “Ludendorff, Enough!” and “Fausta” add another layer of darkness in which Gregson-Williams explores the villain material. The composer underscores the unholy alliance between German General Ludendorff and Spanish chief chemist Isabel Maru, also known as Dr. Poison, with tension-developing string writing and dark crescendos for muted brass, cellos and basses in which he incorporates the three-note Ludendorff identity. Unexpected brass flourishes dominate the former cue’s second half, illustrating Trevor’s risky escape from the German army’s camp, while the latter features a surprisingly suspenseful rendition of the Wonder Woman motif on dulcimer.
The subsequent “Pain, Loss & Love” once again returns to the lush orchestral sound of Themyscira as Diana leaves her home, saying goodbye to her mother, to fight Ares, the god of war. A lovely rendition of Diana’s theme, performed by warm strings and distant choir, emerges and explodes into a heroic brass statement as she sets sail. Around the four-minute mark, Trevor’s theme appears, anticipating the soon-developing relationship between the two protagonists. As they arrive at the Western Front together with a team of specialists assembled by the American pilot, Diana pushes alone through no man’s land and rallies the Allied forces behind her to liberate the village of Veld. Over the curse of the eight-minute “No Man’s Land”, the composer reveals a noble rendition of Diana’s theme, constantly underpinned by percussion, to honor the moment the Amazon finally becomes a super hero. Unafraid of fighting the enemy soldiers, Gregson-Williams unleashes Zimmer’s Wonder Woman identity, performed by aggressive electronic cello, at 3:23. However, the fact the emotional buil-up is basically a lame rippoff of Hans Zimmer’s “Last Samurai” comes as unexpected as it is disappointing. Rhythmic-driven string ostinato carry on the rather simplistic, percussion-heavy action writing, by far the album’s greatest weakness. “Wonder Woman’s Wrath” further continues that path. While the electronic cello forms the cue’s basis, the composer also provides an outstanding variation of Diana’s theme as he merges its main melody together with the ostinato in a truly thrilling arrangement.
The lengthy “The God of War” is rather unpleasant to listen to. Mostly made up of suspenseful underscore – menacing string work, subtle choir and a tension-developing electronic pulse -, the motifs for Ludendorff and Dr. Poison receive another workout that, despite its effectiveness in context, fails to strenghten the movie’s narrative. Follwing, accompanying the action finale, is the trio of “We Are All To Blame“, “Hell Hath No Fury” and “Lightning Strikes” in which Gregson-Williams incorporates various unashamedly heroic statements of Trevor’s theme as he and the rest of his team destroy Dr. Poison’s laboratory while Diana fights Ares. As the American says goodbye to his love interest, sacrificing himself in order to carry the gas to a safe altitude and ultimately detonates it, a heartfelt solo duduk, accompanied by choir and strings, reprises his theme, now full of longing and beauty, before a majestic brass performance of Diana’s main identity marks her triumph over Ares.
The lush “Trafalgar Square” provides a beautiful, in the best sense of the word, old-fashioned string elegy as Diana, now in London, remembers the tragic events that have taken place. A hardly noticeable rendition of Trevor’s theme slowly moves away and fades into a sweepingly romantic statement of Diana’s own theme. Fragile string tunes symbolize the character’s radical change through her experiences over the curse of the film before an aggressive version of the Wonder Woman theme closes out the score. Still, there is one cue left, “Action Reaction”, a six-minute, percussion-heavy yet rather simplistic action piece centering around a recurring ostinato that seems to be taken out of Brad Fiedel’s “The Terminator”. It is, due to the electronic enhancement, combined with harsh percussion and brutal string phrases, perhaps the most “Zimmerish” of all the cues assembled on the 78-minute album, acting as a clear reminder of the “Batman vs Superman” action writing.
In the end, “Wonder Woman” remains a clear disappointment. Sure, the more orchestral approach as well as the wonderful thematic writing that gets well-developed over the curse of the film adds up to a quite positive impression and, in comparison to the bunch of other recent summer blockbusters, there is more going on beneath its surface than the casual listener might have noticed upon a first listen. However, this is largely diminished by the score’s undeniable lack of even the tiniest hint of originality. Very much like this year’s “Power Rangers” reboot, the composition suffers from largely forgettable, generic action writing, shameless copying of the temp track – although that might be asked for by the studio executives – and its extremely simplistic nature; neither is the score technically impressive nor particularly engaging over its full running time, it lacks a certain musical complexity and a distinctive sound that should have stayed far away from overly generous temp track love. The stylistic proximity to the composer’s prior works, the Diana identity is basically a slightly altered variation of last year’s “The Legend of Tarzan” main theme, only acts as a further proof of the score’s problematic nature. Rupert Gregson-Williams’s musical entry in the DC Universe does certainly have its moments, and when his thematic work gets to shine, it really does, but taking everything that came before into account, it remains a fairly average work.
Music composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Additional music composed by Paul Mounsey and Tom Howe. Conducted by Alastair King. Orchestrations by Rupert Gregson-Williams and Alastair King. Cello performance by Tina Guo. Vocal performances by Tori Letzler. Album produced by Rupert Gregson-Williams.
1. Amazons Of Themyscira
2. History Lesson
3. Angel On The Wing
4. Ludendorff, Enough!
5. Pain, Loss & Love
6. No Man’s Land
8. Wonder Woman’s Wrath
9. The God Of War
10. We Are All To Blame
11. Hell Hath No Fury
12. Lightning Strikes
13. Trafalgar Celebration
14. Action Reaction
15. To Be Human – Sia (feat. Labrinth)
Album available on WaterTower Music.