Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Directorial Retrospective: Tim Burton

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It’s time once again, folks, for another Directorial Retrospective here on Rhode Island Movie Corner. We’ve covered an eclectic bunch of filmmakers over the course of this ongoing series. Since it was started in March 2014, we’ve looked back upon the filmographies of filmmakers like DC’s current top director Zack Snyder, the master of ‘Bayhem’ himself Michael Bay, David Fincher, the man behind dark thrillers like Se7en and Zodiac, Christopher Nolan, the man who revived the Batman franchise with his Dark Knight trilogy, and master of snappy dialogue Quentin Tarantino. And today’s subject is yet another highly notable filmmaker; the master of quirky macabre himself, Tim Burton. His newest film, an adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, hits theaters this weekend so I thought it’d be the perfect time to look back upon the filmography of the director who is well known for his uniquely dark and gothic style… and for repeatedly casting Johnny Depp in his films. He’s had quite a long career, having been directing feature films since 1985. And he has also worked in the film industry long before that, including a brief stint as an animator for Disney. Since then, he’s done quite a lot of different films, from superhero flicks to stop-motion animated films to even a few biopics. And while critical reception towards his films has tended to stray a bit more negative with his more recent efforts, there’s no denying that Burton’s trademark visual style will always be something to look forward to with each new film that he does, hence why he’s one of my favorite directors. So with that said, it’s time to look back upon the filmography of Tim Burton… and for the record, this will only count films that he himself directed. So even though it’s a major part of Burton’s filmography to the point where some might actually confuse it as being directed by him, I will not be covering The Nightmare Before Christmas in today’s post.


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After spending a few years as an animator for Disney, working on films like The Fox and the Hound and even Tron, Tim Burton was hired by comedian Paul Reubens to direct the first feature-length film starring the latter’s highly popular stage character; Pee-Wee Herman. The end result was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, an extremely charming family film that very much set the stage for what we would come to expect from the master of macabre on an annual basis. The film is full of Burton’s trademark surreal and kooky imagery (e.g. the production design), which sometimes results in some really freaky scenes, namely the scene in which Pee-Wee gets a ride from a truck driver named Large Marge (who is later revealed to be a ‘ghost’) and she pulls one hell of a scary Claymation face at him. But at its core, this film very much wears its heart on its sleeve. Paul Reubens of course is excellent as Pee-Wee, the innocent man-child embarking on the journey of a lifetime to retrieve his most valuable possession; his bike. And that journey is a very fun one to go on as it is full of memorable characters and moments, from the scene in which Pee-Wee dances to the song ‘Tequila’ in order to appease a bunch of bikers to the scene where, while suffering from a temporary case of amnesia, he notes that ‘he remembers the Alamo’. It all culminates in a fun chase involving Pee-Wee and security guards through the Warner Bros. studio lot. With this film, Burton manages to capture a perfect slice of Americana and as a result, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure definitely stands out as one of his most entertaining directorial efforts. It’s interesting to note that when Reubens first developed the character, originally his style of humor was a bit more adult. That changed with this film and the subsequent TV series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and as a result, Pee-Wee very much became a cultural icon for both young and old. That was very much clear to me when I saw how positive the crowd was at a screening for the very enjoyable follow-up, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, at SXSW this past March. People love Pee-Wee Herman and this film is a prime example why.

Rating: 4/5


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Following his work on Pee-Wee, Burton then took on an original project in the form of Beetlejuice. The film centers around a couple from Connecticut, Adam and Barbara Maitland, who unexpectedly pass away after a car accident. Somehow still connected to the human world, they are then forced to deal with the unwelcome arrival of a new family, the Deetz family, that moves into their house. Looking to get rid of them, they consider getting help from the titular supernatural ‘exorcist’ Betelgeuse (note: that’s how his name is spelled in the film) played by Michael Keaton. But as it turns out, Betelgeuse proves to be quite a handful. This film is an absolute visual delight, which of course is something that you can always expect from a Burton film. Not only that but this is a PG-rated horror film (back when filmmakers were able to get away with that) that greatly appeals to both young and old, especially thanks to Michael Keaton’s excellent turn in the title role. Sure he may not actually be in the film as much as you think (he’s only in it for less than 20 minutes) but he’s an absolute comedic riot from beginning to end. It very much showcased the versatility of Keaton’s acting chops, which should’ve been enough proof that he was more than capable of taking on the lead role in Burton’s next film (more on that in a sec). But the rest of the cast is really solid as well; Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, and Winona Ryder in one of her earliest roles. In short, with an excellent visual style and a scene-stealing performance from Michael Keaton in the title role, Beetlejuice is definitely a classic in Tim Burton’s directorial career. What more can be said but… “Day-o, day-o, Daylight come and me wan’ go home”

Rating: 5/5!

BATMAN (1989)

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Having talked about this film before in my retrospective onthe Batman franchise back in May 2014, I’ll keep things rather brief this time around in detailing Tim Burton’s 1989 adaptation of the popular DC Comics character of the same name. This film is very much one of the pioneering entries of the superhero genre, namely in regards to it establishing a much more serious tone than the more light-hearted and sometimes very campy superhero film/TV projects of years past, especially those that involved Batman. As for the film itself, it’s admittedly become rather dated in certain parts, namely from the odd choice of having a soundtrack full of Prince songs. However, it still holds up in quite a few other places, namely in regards to its lead performances. Michael Keaton, despite being the original archetype of a controversial superhero film casting choice, proved to be an excellent Batman thanks to his ability to be totally unassuming while as Batman’s true identity, billionaire Bruce Wayne. But the real star of the show is Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Nicholson very much steals the show as the eccentric villain but the film does do a solid job of balancing out the roles of Batman and the Joker in the story (at least when compared to the other Burton Batman film… more on that in a bit). I also like how this film does connect the two characters by showing that both were responsible for making them who they are today; the Joker, back when he was known as ‘Jack Napier’, is revealed to be the mugger who killed Bruce’s parents while Batman is the one who knocks Napier into a vat of chemicals, which turns him into the Joker. Sure the part about the Joker killing the Waynes obviously isn’t ‘comic-accurate’ but in the case of the 80’s era Batman films, I think it’s a decent plot twist. In short, despite the parts of it that haven’t aged very well, Burton’s Batman is still a pretty solid entry in the superhero genre and will always be one of the most important as it helped kick-start a new generation of films for the genre while reaffirming Batman’s status as one of the genre’s most popular characters.

Rating: 4.5/5


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Edward Scissorhands is easily one of Tim Burton’s most personal films. Keeping in line with Burton’s tendency to focus on outcasts (e.g. Pee-Wee, Batman, etc.), the film tells the story of the titular Edward, an artificial man whose inventor died before he was finished, resulting in him having scissor-like tools for hands. Found alone in the inventor’s abandoned mansion by the local Avon saleswoman, Edward soon finds himself being introduced to suburban life. What follows is quite simply one of Burton’s absolute best films. Of course visually the film is excellent, from Burton’s typical ‘dark’ visuals to the intentionally cheesy pastel colors that are used for the houses in the suburb. But at its core, the film also very much wears its heart on its sleeve by allowing us, the audience, to fully sympathize with Edward. This was the first collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp and the latter delivers one of the best performances of his career as the titular character. He’s very much an endearing character and it’s fun to watch him interact with the real world. Obviously though, his ‘scissor hands’ prove to be a problem at times, sometimes leading to unfortunate situations. And I won’t lie… the ending to this film is quite the emotional one as Edward accepts his fate as an outsider and shares one final moment with the girl he fell in love with, Kim, played by Winona Ryder who also does a fantastic job here as well. In short, Edward Scissorhands is a very touching and beautiful tale of, to quote the film’s theatrical poster, ‘an uncommonly gentle man’. This is arguably Tim Burton’s masterpiece.

Rating: 5/5!


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This might be a rather controversial opinion but unfortunately I don’t think that Burton’s second Batman film, 1992’s Batman Returns, holds up very well after all of these years. This was very much a case in which Burton was given perhaps way too much creative control over the project because while the film once again carries his trademark style, it goes a bit overboard this time around. It legitimately gets to the point where it actually proved to be rather controversial amongst parents, to the point where McDonald’s canceled their Happy Meal toy-line for the film, who didn’t want their kids to see it due to more intense scenes of violence and even a few sexual innuendos. And yeah, all of the sexual references do feel quite out of place. Seriously the whole scene in which Catwoman and the Penguin meet for the first time is pretty much nothing but sex talk (Penguin: “Just the pussy I’ve been looking for”). But another issue with the film is that it actually restricts the role of Batman in the story despite the fact that, you know, he’s supposed to be the main character of the damn film. Clearly Tim Burton wasn’t that big a fan of the character because in both films, the villains technically get more screen-time than the Dark Knight himself. It may have worked fine in the previous film as a result of the solid balance between Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson and their overall roles in the plot but here Keaton really doesn’t get much to do this time around. Instead, the focus shifts more towards Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, who are admittedly rather ‘meh’ villains at best.

DeVito’s take on the Penguin very much contrasts with the typical portrayal of the character in the comics. Instead of being a classy mobster and a ‘gentleman of crime’, this film envisions the character as a deformed/creepy ‘sideshow freak’ who plots to kidnap/drown all of Gotham’s first born sons. And while the film does try to make the audience feel sorry for him at times due to his tragic backstory as an orphan and scenes in which he is ridiculed, his generally detestable nature and, you know, the aforementioned ‘killing first born sons’ scheme basically negates any of the film’s attempts at doing just that. At the very least, DeVito is still pretty memorable in the role. As for Pfeiffer as Catwoman, her overall role in the plot lacks focus at times but she is very much one of the film’s biggest standouts as the iconic ‘cat burglar’. Christopher Walken also proves to be quite memorable as the other ‘villain’ of the film, businessman Max Schreck. But as I stated earlier, an overt focus on the villains, not enough Batman, and an overuse of Burton’s visual style results in a film that’s way too dark and actually rather dull for the most part. As far as the pre-Nolan era Batman films are concerned, I actually prefer Joel Schumacher’s first Batman film, 1995’s Batman Forever, over Returns. And I know that seems like blasphemy to some people but A.) at least I didn’t say Batman and Robin, am I right? And B.) as cheesy as Schumacher’s films are compared to Burton’s films, Forever actually focused on Batman even with its dual villains (which actually became the trend for all future Batman films leading up to Batman v Superman). So unfortunately, due to a lack of focus, especially in regards to its titular protagonist, as well as an overly dark style, Batman Returns was a pretty lackluster follow-up to the 1989 Batman.

Rating: 2.5/5

ED WOOD (1994)

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Serving as Tim Burton’s very first R-rated feature, Ed Wood tells the true story of filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., who in the 50’s became known for directing a bunch of films that would become regarded as some of the worst of all-time, namely due to his tendency to shoot fast and on the cheap. Specifically, this film focuses on the productions of three of his most famous films; 1953’s Glen or Glenda, 1955’s Bride of the Monster, and 1959’s Plan 9 from Outer Space. However, despite the poor reception that his films have garnered over the years, this film actually doesn’t try to demonize him. Instead, it celebrates him not by the merit of his work but through his passion for the art. No matter what the struggle, whether it was his producers constantly giving him notes or him not having enough money for filming, he mustered on because he loved doing what he was doing. As a result, up-and-coming filmmakers will no doubt connect with this film and more importantly the dreams of its main character and the idea that one’s visions are worth fighting for, the latter of which is told to Wood by none other than Orson Welles (played by Vincent D’Onofrio but voiced by Maurice LaMarche in a memorable cameo). But the film itself is also a highly entertaining biopic that’s very well-shot with its great use of black-and-white and its great attention to detail in regards to recreating the low-budget stylings of Wood’s films. Johnny Depp absolutely shines in the role of Ed Wood while Martin Landau absolutely transforms into horror icon Bela Lugosi in his Oscar-winning turn. Ed Wood is a film that both celebrates and makes fun of its title character. It recognizes that his films weren’t really of the best quality but it celebrates him for his unabashed passion. The end result is definitely another one of Burton’s best… and also one of his most underrated because it didn’t do so well commercially. Regardless, film fans will no doubt love this clearly unconventional love letter to the art of filmmaking.

Rating: 5/5!


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Based on the ‘infamous’ sci-fi themed trading cards of the same name that were produced in 1962, Mars Attacks!... is a very, very goofy film. That’s the key thing to remember when it comes to this film; it is absolutely ridiculous from beginning to end. With this film, Tim Burton very much made a sci-fi B-movie. From the intentionally cheesy visual effects (that were originally meant to be done via stop-motion animation before being changed to CGI in order to keep costs down) to the massive ensemble cast portraying a group of straight-up stereotypical characters, this is very much paying homage to the sci-fi B-movies of the 50’s. And when I say massive ensemble cast, I mean ‘massive ensemble cast’. You got Jack Nicholson (in two different roles, no less…), Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox… and that’s seriously just to name a few. Admittedly the film takes a little while to get going as it doesn’t really get into anything alien-related until half an hour in. But once they do officially bring in the aliens and they start blowing s*** up… yeah that’s when the film starts to get really entertaining. Like the other big alien sci-fi flick that was released in 1996, Independence Day, this is very much an unadulterated popcorn flick. It is completely silly and the scenes in which the aliens attack are completely chaotic… and this film is very much self-aware of that. It clearly knows how goofy it is. I mean for crying out loud the way the aliens in this film are killed is via Slim Whitman’s ‘Indian Love Call’. In short, do not go into this film expecting Oscar-worthy material because you obviously aren’t going to get any of that here. It’s pretty darn mindless and completely cheesy from beginning to end… and it’s so damn entertaining. What more can be said but… Ack Ack! Ack Ack!

Rating: 3.5/5


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Burton’s first major R-rated ‘horror’ film, Sleepy Hollow is a unique spin on the classic short story ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving, which was most famously adapted by Disney in 1949. Burton’s version takes it in a much darker direction while also straying in certain ways from the original plot. Namely, this film re-imagines the character of Ichabod Crane as a police constable who investigates into a series of killings in Sleepy Hollow that were supposedly committed by the mythical ‘Headless Horseman’. But ultimately this film isn’t as much of a ‘horror’ film as you might expect. It certainly has some dark moments as well as a solid atmosphere but overall the film actually sort of maintains a rather campy tone. That’s pretty much Burton’s filmography in a nutshell. Even with all of his films’ dark undertones and creepy imagery, they tend to be very light-hearted in tone to the point where some might find the humor in his films to be a bit too silly at times. But in the case of Sleepy Hollow, perhaps that was the point. This could be seen as an ode to the classic horror films produced by Hammer Films, namely from a stylistic perspective, and if you’re able to accept all of the goofy moments in this film, you’ll find it to be a pretty entertaining horror adventure. Depp is solid as Ichabod and is joined by an impressive ensemble cast that includes Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon, and even Christopher Walken, yes Christopher Walken, as the Headless Horseman. So in short, I suggest that you go into this not taking it too seriously and not expecting it to be a straight-up horror film because if you do, you might be rather disappointed.

Rating: 3.5/5


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Just like Burton’s Batman films, I had gone over this film before in a previous post. In this case it was my retrospective on the Planet of the Apes franchise back in 2014 so, again, I’m going to keep things simple on this one. Basically, this was a case in which Burton wasn’t really the best choice to helm a film like this. This remake of the 1968 sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes doesn’t really feel much like a Burton film at all. Seriously if it wasn’t for the fact that Burton is one of those filmmakers who always does opening credits in his films, you’d swear it was directed by someone like Steven Spielberg. This is probably the most ‘Anti-Burton’ esque film of his career and it really shows. It’s also quite dull for the most part and most of the actors’ performances reflect that, namely Mark Wahlberg in the lead role of astronaut Leo Davidson. The only real standout member of the cast is Tim Roth as the main villain, General Thade. And of course, as many have pointed out, the film’s biggest disaster comes in the form of its ending. Simply put, it makes no sense as there was no indication as to how Thade managed to escape from the imprisonment that he ended up in during the final battle and was able to basically become the leader of an all-ape Earth. While Burton claims that this was meant to set up a sequel, that sequel never came to be and instead the franchise rebooted with the Andy Serkis-led Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which to put it bluntly are very much superior films. I’ll admit I don’t dislike this film as much as most of the internet does but there’s no denying that it was a pretty darn lackluster remake and one that Burton probably shouldn’t have decided to take on as it ends up being the least ‘Burton’ esque of his entire career.

Rating: 2/5

BIG FISH (2003)

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In a way, Big Fish is Tim Burton’s Forrest Gump. Both films center around an individual and the fantastical adventures that this person has during his life. However, this film is so much more than just ‘Tim Burton’s Forrest Gump’. It is a particularly personal tale of a man who tries to reconnect with his father during the latter’s final days, as he feels that he doesn’t really know anything about his father as the result of all of the ‘tall tales’ that he often tells. So is the tale of Edward Bloom, who according to his stories met a giant, worked in a traveling circus, and caught a big catfish using his wedding ring as a lure, among other things. All of this results in an extremely charming ‘fantasy drama’ that very much maintains Burton’s knack for a unique visual style. The film also has a terrific ensemble cast, including Ewan McGregor as young Edward, Albert Finney as old Edward, Billy Crudup as Edward’s son Will, Jessica Lange as Edward’s wife Sandra, Alison Lohman as young Sandra (and seriously talk about one of the most pitch-perfect ‘younger version of a character’ castings ever because Lohman so closely resembles Lange in this film), Marion Cotillard as Will’s wife Josephine, Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi, Helena Bonham Carter, and so on and so forth. I’ll admit that when it came to this particular entry in Burton’s filmography, I went into it fairly blind. I had heard about it before but never really knew much about it. And that ultimately was the lead-in to how I first watched this film… and I was pleasantly amused by what I saw. Overall I do think that it’s one of Burton’s best films; certainly one of his more underrated efforts. It’s very much a Burton film but one that has a strong emotional core as shown through the reconciliation of Edward and Will Bloom. If you haven’t seen this one before, this is one that I do highly recommend.

Rating: 4.5/5


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And now we come to what is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated films of the 21st century. Sure it did well at the box-office and it fared perfectly fine with critics but it seems to me that you don’t really see this film talked about that much in a positive manner nowadays. I find that this is mostly due to the result of comparisons between this film and its predecessor, 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and I can only imagine how much more frequent these comparisons have become in the wake of the recent passing of the original film’s Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder (R.I.P.). But when it comes to this new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel, I feel that Burton’s version is arguably just as great as the original film. Now the main reason why this film tends to get a lot of flak nowadays is Johnny Depp’s turn in the role of Willy Wonka. And yes, I’ll admit that there is a quite noticeable awkwardness to his performance as Wonka, with Depp’s version of the character acting very ‘Michael Jackson’-y throughout. Not only that, but compared to Gene Wilder’s Wonka, Depp’s Wonka doesn’t really seem to care that much about the kids who win the Golden Tickets even though, as we all know, the whole point of the ‘factory tour’ was that he was trying to find an heir. However, I don’t think that he’s outright terrible in the role. He legitimately does have his moments from time to time, which admittedly is due to the fact that, as noted earlier, this Wonka can be rather awkward at times, like when he tries to sound hip while talking to Mike Teavee. And for the record I don’t care how stupid it is, I always laugh when he says ‘Slide me some skin, soul brother!’ I also think that it’s actually pretty cool that the film decides to explore the character’s back-story, namely his rocky relationship with his father Wilbur (Christopher Lee).  

Ultimately, though, one of the main reasons as to why I feel that this version is just as good as the original is the fact that this version is actually much more faithful to the novel. That’s nothing against the 1971 film, for the record, but admittedly that version did deviate from the source material quite a bit, from Charlie’s father being ‘absent’ to having the character of Slugworth, Wonka’s candy-making rival, blackmailing the kids into stealing Everlasting Gobstoppers. Simply put, there’s a good reason why Dahl wasn’t too big on that version, to the point where he refused to have an adaptation made of the sequel novel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. As for the newer film, while there are still some changes (e.g. the aforementioned added back-story given to Wonka), it does stick to the plot of the novel a lot more. Plus, as one would expect from a Tim Burton film, it’s an absolute visual delight from beginning to end, especially once the characters enter Wonka’s fabled chocolate factory. From the elaborate rooms of the factory to the Oompa Loompa songs done by Danny Elfman that were lifted straight from the books, this is a very entertaining film that is very much a Burton film in every way. It’s a shame, then, that the film doesn’t get a lot of positive attention nowadays. And don’t get me wrong, if I were to compare the two Chocolate Factory films, the original is still the better film; it’s a classic in every sense of the word. However, that doesn’t mean that Burton’s take on the story isn’t worth checking out too. Ignoring Johnny Depp’s take on Willy Wonka for a moment, the film primarily shines thanks to its faithfulness to the source material and Burton’s always terrific visual style. This was always a personal favorite of mine growing up and as a result, I’d argue that it’s just as good as the original and is most certainly better than the internet frequently puts it out to be.

Rating: 5/5! (Yes, 5/5!)


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While 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas obviously still stands as the most famous stop-motion animated film that Tim Burton was involved with, there is a common misnomer that he himself directed the film. However, while the film very much felt like a Burton film in every way, it was Henry Selick who directed the film while Burton only produced it. 2005’s Corpse Bride was Burton’s first true stop-motion animated directorial effort. Released just a few months after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and co-directed by Mike Johnson, who was an animator for both Nightmare and the other stop-motion film directed by Selick and produced by Burton, James and the Giant Peach, the film’s animation was done by none other than the current top dogs of stop-motion animation, Laika Entertainment. As a result, the stop-motion animation is just as terrific as it has been in their more recent efforts. Design-wise, this is a Burton film through and through and it maintains his trademark dark and quirky gothic style complete with some fun bits of humor, some legitimate emotional moments, and a collection of toe-tapping songs provided by, who else, Danny Elfman. The story, in which a young man named Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) accidentally ends up ‘marrying’ a ‘corpse bride’ named Emily (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), is an enjoyably original ‘fairy tale’-like story and Depp and Bonham Carter do a really nice job in regards to making their characters a likable lead duo, particularly Bonham Carter as Emily. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is Burton’s ‘best’ stop-motion animated film, as a result of it being perhaps a little underwritten in some parts (i.e. the villain), but it’s still a very enjoyable 75-minute affair that is pure Burton in every sense of the word.

Rating: 4/5


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For his next film, Burton took on his first full-blown musical with an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 Tony Award winning musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Johnny Depp (of course) stars as the titular Sweeney Todd AKA Benjamin Barker, a London barber who enacts his revenge against those who wronged him in the past, namely the Judge that banished him due to the affections that he had for Todd’s wife, by killing them during appointments with him. All the while his assistant, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter, of course), uses the bodies for her meat pies. Like Sleepy Hollow, this is very much an R-rated Tim Burton film; violent and bloody. But also like that film, the graphic violence of this film’s story is, in a way, played up more for camp. All of this comes together in yet another delightfully visual flick, courtesy of Burton, while also being well-balanced by Sondheim’s music. And said music is handled very well by the cast, even Johnny Depp who is obviously not known for doing musicals. Probably my favorite songs from the soundtrack include the piece ‘Johanna’, sung first as a solo by sailor Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) as he becomes enamored by Todd’s titular daughter and later done as a quartet involving Anthony, Todd, Mrs. Lovett, and a beggar woman, and ‘Pretty Women’, a duet between Todd and his arch-enemy, Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). As someone who is a fan of musicals, I feel that this is definitely up there as one of the best of the past few years. It was certainly an ‘against-type’ kind of film for Burton but ultimately the dark nature of the musical’s plot ended up matching perfectly with his directorial style. As a result, the film is a delightfully campy but stylistically terrific experience.

Rating: 4.5/5


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Burton’s slew of polarizing ‘remakes’ continued with Alice in Wonderland, the first of Disney’s current trend of live-action re-imaginings of their animated classics. In this case, however, Burton’s Alice is actually a ‘pseudo-sequel’ to the events of Lewis Carroll’s original novel and, in turn, the original Disney animated film from 1951. The film sees a teenaged Alice return to Wonderland (referred to in the film as ‘Underland’) where she finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) for control of Underland. As noted before in my review of the sequel, while Burton’s film proved to be quite polarizing amongst critics and audiences, it did somehow manage to reach a billion at the box-office. So to reiterate another point from that review, that means that while this film very much has its critics, it also has its fans and I’m not afraid to admit that I am a fan of these live-action Alice films. Sure they do have some noticeable flaws, namely in regards to the writing. In the case of this film, the plot does seem a bit too complicated at times for a story that’s usually portrayed as being nothing more than a series of random encounters that Alice has in the world of Wonderland (sorry, Underland). All this stuff about her having to live up to the prophecy of her being the one who slays the Jabberwocky kind of hinders the film because Alice ends up spending most of the film unsure of herself and constantly denying what’s going on by saying that she’s only in a dream. It wouldn’t be until the next film when Alice truly became a confident heroine. It should also be noted that perhaps Burton’s ‘dark’ style was a bit overdone in this film as it maintains a generally diluted color scheme throughout. Not only that, but there are a few scenes that do kind of push the limit of the PG rating, most infamously a scene in which Alice traverses the Red Queen’s moat on the heads of her victims.

But despite the flaws of its script, I still found the film to be fairly enjoyable. Even with the rather gloomy color scheme, the visual effects and overall production design in this film truly are fantastic. Sure they may get a little overbearing after a while, namely due to the fact that almost all of the scenes set in Underland were pretty much shot entirely on a green-screen, but this film still very much succeeds in regards to its visual style. As with the cast, they’re perfectly fine. As noted earlier, Mia Wasikowska’s Alice stood out more as a lead heroine in the sequel but she’s still fine here. The same can be said for Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Of the ‘human’ cast, the biggest standout of the film is Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Simply put, the character is an extremely over-the-top villain and Carter absolutely steals the spotlight whenever she’s on screen. But the film also has a pretty impressive voice cast who take on the roles of the various creatures of Underland, including Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat and Alan Rickman as Absolem the Caterpillar. So in short, while this film certainly isn’t perfect it’s not one of the worst things either (the same can be said for its sequel but we’re not talking about that one today seeing how it wasn’t directed by Burton). If you’re someone who’s a big fan of the Carroll books, I’m pretty confident that you’re going to absolutely detest this film for all of the changes made to the world of Wonderland and its characters. But if you’re willing to accept some of the stranger elements of this particular adaptation, it’s ultimately harmless. I’ll admit I’m still sort of boggled by the fact that this film managed to gross over $1 billion at the box office despite its generally mixed to negative reception but like I’ve saying over and over again, these films ‘do’ have their fans so there’s at least one legit reason why it was able to reach that mark.

Rating: 3.5/5


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The most recent collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to date, Dark Shadows is based on the gothic soap opera of the same name created by Dan Curtis that ran from 1966 to 1971. The film, however, is unfortunately a rather bland affair despite the best efforts of Burton and the film’s cast. The biggest problem with the film is that it is very uneven, primarily in tone. The film mostly tries to be a comedy with its ‘fish out of water’ plot of Barnabas Collins (Depp) adapting to modern life in 1972 after being buried alive for nearly two centuries after being turned into a vampire by a vengeful witch. However, at times the film also tries to be a dark horror flick and while that actually does keep in line with the show’s original tone, it means that the film is constantly off tonally. And even then, the humor in the film is pretty lackluster. There are a few legit chuckles here and there but ultimately most of the jokes fall flat. This general unevenness also extends to the writing as well. Focused primarily on Barnabas and the conflict that he has with the witch who turned him into a vampire, Angelique (played by Eva Green, who enjoyably vamps it up in the role), certain members of the cast end up getting severely underused as a result. This includes Jonny Lee Miller as Roger Collins, to the point where he’s literally written out of the film entirely before it’s over, and Chloe Grace Moretz as Elizabeth Collins’ (Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s easily one of the biggest standouts of the film) daughter Carolyn who without giving it away has a rather big reveal at the end that comes right out of nowhere. So unfortunately, Dark Shadows ends up being a really disappointing effort from the duo of Burton and Depp. While I’m sure that they put their all into it, and the film certainly does have Burton’s trademark visual style along with a pretty nice 70’s rock soundtrack, the film ultimately suffers from a severe lack of focus when it comes to trying to figure out just what it wants to be.

Rating: 2/5


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In 1984, back when he was still working at Disney, Tim Burton directed a 30-minute black-and-white short film titled Frankenweenie about a boy named Victor Frankenstein who, in the footsteps of his namesake from the classic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, re-animates his dog Sparky with electricity after he is hit by a car. However, this ended up getting Burton fired from Disney because the studio felt that he had wasted company resources on a project that they felt they couldn’t market to their usual target audience. However, the short film was eventually released on home video, albeit partially censored, and 28 years later, after Burton re-teamed with Disney to make Alice in Wonderland, Burton returned to his original story to make a feature-length black and white stop-motion animated remake. In preparation for this film, I did watch the original short film and I must say that it’s quite good. Even as a fairly short 30-minute film, it was very much one of the early showcases of Burton’s talents as a director. The same can be said for the remake as well. Obviously some things had to be added to meet a longer run-time, namely a subplot in which Victor’s classmates re-animate their own pets, but the same solid story, which at its core is a heartwarming ‘boy and his dog’ story but is also a fun homage to classic monster films, namely Frankenstein of course, is still very much there. The stop-motion animation is excellent, especially thanks to the film maintaining the original’s black and white color scheme, and, of course, perfectly captures Burton’s gothic and quirky style. So in short, Tim Burton’s feature-length take on Frankenweenie is definitely another one of his best films as it’s also another one of his most personal efforts. I’m not going to compare this film to its live-action predecessor but I will say that both are very good and showcase his talents as a filmmaker.

Rating: 4.5/5

BIG EYES (2014)

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After a long string of remakes and adaptations of various bits of media, Tim Burton scaled back things quite a bit for his next film. With a small $10 million budget, Burton helmed the second biopic of his career in 2014 with Big Eyes. This film tells the true story of artist Margaret Keane, who is most well-known for her portraits of ‘big-eyed waifs’ that became hugely popular during the 60’s. However, as it turns out, during their successful run the whole world was led to believe that they were actually done by her husband Walter Keane. It’s a fascinating story with a terrific arc for Margaret as she learns to stand up for herself in order to get the credit that she truly deserves for her ‘big eyes’. Amy Adams is absolutely fantastic in the role of Margaret, making her an incredibly endearing person with the aforementioned terrific character arc. Christoph Waltz is also fantastic in the role of Walter, as Waltz’s charisma perfectly fits Walter’s talent for showmanship, hence why he was able to turn Margaret’s paintings into the global phenomenon that they became despite the fact that he was taking all the credit for it. Stylistically, Burton definitely toned down a lot of his usual visual directing habits for this film, restricting it to mostly scenes in which Margaret imagines other people having big eyes like the children in her paintings. But despite that, it still very much feels like a Burton film and it sports a nicely bright color scheme that no doubt matches the art seen on screen. At the end of the day, what ultimately mattered was the story of what Margaret Keane had to go through, namely dealing with her credit-stealing husband, in order for her to take full credit for her work. And as a result, Big Eyes is definitely one of Burton’s best films. It’s certainly one of his most scaled-back efforts from a filmmaking perspective but considering the increasingly negative opinion towards his more recent big-budget efforts, I have the feeling that many people were happy to see him dial it back with this film.

Rating: 5/5!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven (2016) review

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In 1954, Akira Kurosawa, one of the most famous directors in the history of cinema, directed an historical epic titled Seven Samurai. The film centered on a group of Ronin (samurai without masters) who are hired by the residents of a farming village in order to protect them from a group of bandits that are terrorizing the town. The film is often regarded by many critics as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, so much so that in 2010, Empire magazine put it at #1 in their list of the “Top 100 Best Films of World Cinema”. It also had a huge influence on numerous films in the years after its initial release, including Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and even Star Wars. And in 1960, it ended up getting an Americanized remake titled The Magnificent Seven, which re-imagined it as a western and featured an all-star cast that included the likes of Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, and Charles Bronson. It is this version of the story that gets a remake this year courtesy of Antoine Fuqua, director of Training Day and The Equalizer. I named those two films in particular because both starred Denzel Washington, who won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in the former. Sure enough, Washington leads an, as expected, all-star ensemble cast in Fuqua’s new re-imagining of this classic story. Now to some, it may seem like an impossible task to try and live up to the high standards of both the original Magnificent Seven (even though that film is itself a remake) and Seven Samurai. And while this new film ultimately may not necessarily live up to those exact standards, it’s still a very enjoyable old-school Western on its own merits, especially thanks to solid direction and a well-rounded cast.

Set a little over a decade after the end of the Civil War, the film begins as the residents of the small mining town of Rose Creek find themselves under attack from a corrupt industrialist named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who states that he and his army will return in three weeks to take everything that the residents have. Knowing that the town has no real way of dealing with Bogue and his men, recently widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), whose husband Matthew (Matt Bomer) had been killed by Bogue during the attack, and her friend Teddy Q (Luke Grimes) head out to find someone who could possibly help them. Eventually they do end up finding their man in warrant officer/bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Once he agrees to help the two of them, Chisolm then proceeds to recruit a group of gunslingers to help him combat Bogue and his forces. These 6 other men include gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheux (Ethan Hawke), Robicheux’s partner/knife-wielding assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vazquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Recognizing that the seven of them are very much outmatched against Bogue and his army, the group begins to train the townspeople of Rose Creek so that they can all stand a chance against the massive army that is about to come their way.

If you’ve seen either Seven Samurai and/or the original Magnificent Seven, you’ll no doubt notice some major similarities between these three films in terms of plot. As a result, the film admittedly can be a bit predictable at times. But even with this in mind, the film still is a very solid and entertaining entry in the Western genre. Fuqua’s direction is solid and as one can probably expect from a Western, it’s certainly well-shot (e.g. landscape shots). And while the plot (a bad guy tries to take over a town and a bunch of rogue gunslingers join forces in order to stop him) is fairly simplistic, at the end of the day the simplicity of the story might actually be for the best. This isn’t a ‘revisionist’ Western that tries to craft a new spin on the typical Western tropes. It’s just paying homage to the classic Westerns of old, including the 1960 classic that shares its name. At its core, the most important part of the film is in its title, the Magnificent Seven, and overall it does do its job in regards to focusing in on this gang. I also really like how the story sees the group working with and training the people of Rose Creek so that they too can deal with Bogue and his men. Granted, the titular Seven are still the main focus of the film but it’s still a pretty cool spin on the typical Western story. And as for the action sequences, they’re definitely a major highlight, especially the two big shootouts in the film, one of which of course being the final battle between the Seven/people of Rose Creek and Bogue’s men. Sure these are basically the two biggest action sequences in a film that’s fairly long (two hours and 13 minutes to be exact) and definitely has its fair share of ‘slow burn’ moments that are commonly seen in Western films. But even with that said, they are set up pretty well and are fittingly lengthy battles.

As for the titular Seven themselves, admittedly they don’t get that much to work with in terms of character development. Granted, the film gets away pretty fine without having to really develop any of them but their character traits, motivations, and backstories are still very simplistic. Perhaps the one member of the cast that gets the most in terms of character development is Ethan Hawke, as it’s established that despite his talents as a sharpshooter, Robicheux is haunted by everything that happened during the Civil War, which ends up affecting him during gunfights. But even with the slim characterizations in mind, the main cast of leads certainly do a terrific job. Clearly they had a lot of fun making this film and it definitely shows through their excellent camaraderie with each other. It’s also quite a diverse cast of characters. Denzel Washington is his usual badass self in the lead role of Chisolm while Chris Pratt displays his ‘Star Lord’ esque swagger in the role of Faraday. Ethan Hawke, as noted earlier, arguably gets the most pathos out of the group as Robicheux while Byung-hun Lee is great as the badass silent assassin Billy Rocks. As for Vincent D’Onofrio’s character, tracker Jack Horne, when it comes to the action let’s just say that his turn as Wilson Fisk in Daredevil is a primary indication of just what kind of a warrior his character is. Last but not least there’s general newcomers Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, a pretty badass Comanche marksman, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vazquez, who admittedly is the least-focused on member of the Seven but is still a key part of the team when it matters. And really that’s the key thing to take note of when it comes this group of seven badass gunslingers as every member is essential to their overall success as a unit.

Now I’ll admit that going into this film, I haven’t seen either Seven Samurai or the original Magnificent Seven. As a result, I can’t really compare this new adaptation of the story to those two films (and even then I wouldn’t really do so anyway if I had seen them). But with that said, I can definitely tell that this new film probably won’t be as well-remembered in the long run as its two predecessors. It is a fairly simplistic Western execution-wise, which is evident by both the occasionally predictable plot and the slim character development. Still, on its own merit, it’s definitely a very entertaining crowd-pleaser. Fuqua’s direction is solid and the film’s action sequences, particularly its two big shootouts which are built up quite excellently, are fantastic. And of course, the cast is fantastic as well; heck they’re the biggest selling point of the whole film. Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo clearly had a blast working together and it shows because they have excellent camaraderie with each other and the film makes doubly sure that this diverse cast of characters are a well-rounded team. In short, this new Magnificent Seven isn’t really going to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the Western genre but at the same time it’s not trying to do that either. It’s just trying to pay homage to the Western films of old, which of course include the films that it’s directly inspired by, and ultimately it does succeed in that regard.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, September 19, 2016

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe Film Scores

In the past I’ve ranked the villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a collection of characters that have usually gotten quite a lot of flak from critics and audiences pretty much solely because of the unbelievably high standards set by Loki in the first Avengers film. Basically with that post I argued that a good chunk of the non-Loki MCU villains are better than what most people put them out to be. Well now I believe that I’ve found the second most often criticized aspect of the MCU; film scores. This was just recently made clear to me by the posting of the video ‘Marvel Symphonic Universe’ by the channel Every Frame a Painting. For the record, the video doesn’t outright crap on the scores; it just analyzes why some people don’t find them that memorable. But to quote Tony Stark from the original Iron Man, “I respectfully disagree” with the notion that most of the MCU scores are weak. Why else then would I have a lot of MCU score tracks on my iPod? While I definitely know why people tend to be fairly critical towards the MCU villains, mostly due to ‘lack of character depth’, for a while I never really understood the reasons behind the sudden flak towards the MCU film scores other than an argument that revolves around the supposed lack of a definitive theme that is consistent throughout the franchise’s run. Though looking at the ‘Every Frame a Painting’ video, I guess it’s mostly due to the fact that some feel that the scores get overshadowed by all the other sound effects in the films and that they don’t take many risks. Personally, though, I think that the scores for the MCU films have been pretty darn solid. So today, I’m going to be ranking the current 13 film scores of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the original Iron Man all the way back in 2008 to this year’s Captain America: Civil War. And let me be clear… this is NOT a ‘direct response’ to the ‘Every Frame a Painting’ video. I will admit that at first it kind of was but following a suggestion from my pal Alex Corey, I removed anything from this intro that may have been construed as a criticism of the video.  


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Out of all of the MCU films, Iron Man 2 admittedly has the one score that I’ll admit, for the most part, does sort of match the ‘forgettable’ description that the internet has been throwing around recently in regards to MCU scores. Now I don’t really blame this on the composer, John Debney, who has provided the scores to many of Jon Favreau’s films, including the excellent work that he did on Favreau’s remake of The Jungle Book earlier this year. Debney even got assistance from Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello on this score. However, here their compositions fall flat for the most part. Now don’t get me wrong there are some enjoyable tracks, like ‘Ivan’s Metamorphosis’ which plays over the film’s opening credits as Whiplash prepares his own arc reactor similar to Tony Stark’s. The music does give the scene a sinister feel in order to set-up the character and the same can be generally said for most of the other tracks based around Whiplash. However, for the most part, most of the score is rather meh. The themes for Iron Man do try their best to be similar to those in the first film but for the most part a lot of it unfortunately ends up being kind of generic. Going back to what I said earlier about a ‘lack of consistent theming’, I guess this is probably the biggest example of this situation due to the switching of composers between the first two Iron Man films. Debney was even quoted as saying that there weren’t really a lot of places in the film to use a proper theme. However, I think that the other big reason as to why this score isn’t as memorable as it could’ve been is due to the fact that it’s sort of over-shadowed by the film’s soundtrack album. But to be fair, when said soundtrack album is done by none other than AC/DC, it’s kind of understandable why. Ultimately I don’t think that it’s a ‘bad’ score but it’s certainly the weakest of the MCU film scores. The bright side to this? I have primarily positive things to say about the next 12 scores.    


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The very first film score for the MCU, done for the first Iron Man in 2008, was done by Ramin Djawadi, who of course nowadays is known for his work on Game of Thrones, particularly for the series’ iconic opening title theme. Aside from that, he’s also done the scores for films like Pacific Rim and Warcraft and does a really nice job when it comes to ‘mechanical’-based scores. And ultimately that’s the perfect fit for a character like Iron Man; the name speaks for itself. When it comes to the best track from Djawadi’s score, that honor would have to go to the track ‘Driving with the Top Down’. This track is set to one of the best scenes in the film in which Tony tests out the flying capabilities of his Mark II armor. The music matches the scene perfectly. It starts out slow and technical as Tony first equips the suit. Then it begins to build as Tony launches out of his garage to fly off into the night, leading to an energetic melody that plays as he flies around the area. It then continues to build as he flies straight up into the air in order to attempt a flight altitude record. But then it pauses once he ends up getting dealt with the ‘icing problem’ and starts to fall back down to Earth. But then it builds back up again as his suit powers back up and as he soars down a street, the music kicks in yet again for the climax. Simply put, a terrific moment backed by an excellent track from the soundtrack. I also find it rather funny how the title of the track, ‘Driving with the Top Down’, is an actual line from the film but one that occurs in a completely different scene later on, when Tony is dealing with a pair of F-22 Raptors. Interesting to note, this film’s score was originally set to be done by John Debney. However, he ultimately couldn’t do it due to scheduling conflicts but would of course end up doing the score for the sequel. Tom Morello even helped with this score as well and had a small cameo in the film as a member of the Ten Rings.


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When it comes to Marvel Studios’ now often forgotten Incredible Hulk film, a common criticism that I hear is that some felt that the film was a bit too melodramatic at times, namely in regards to the scenes where they focus in on the relationship between Bruce and Betty. I understand where they’re coming from but personally I felt that a lot of the ‘romantic’ moments between the two were actually pretty well handled. The scene where they share a peaceful moment together in a cave during a thunderstorm was a pretty sweet moment and the same can be said for the scene after the final battle where Bruce (in his Hulk state) shares a final moment with Betty (“Betty…”) before he goes into hiding again. And I think that this is well reflected in Craig Armstrong’s score, particularly in the track ‘Bruce and Betty’ which has a really sweet, sad melody that plays during the scene where the two finally reunite after the five years that they’ve been apart. Speaking of sad tunes, Armstrong even utilized ‘The Lonely Man’ by Joe Harnell, the classic ending theme from the 1978 Incredible Hulk TV series, in the track ‘Bruce Goes Home’. It was one of the many ways in which this film paid homage to that classic series. Another favorite track of mine from the soundtrack was the opening titles theme, simply titled ‘Main Title’. There’s a really nice suspenseful feel to it, which is fitting because this is the sequence that focuses on the incident that turned Bruce into the Hulk and his subsequent run from the law. Armstrong’s score is easily one of the largest MCU scores to date with 45 tracks spread across two discs on its physical release. Length-wise, it’s the fourth longest score in the MCU bested only by Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World, and Age of Ultron. And overall it’s a solid score from a composer who isn’t really known for doing action film scores.


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Obviously when it comes to Guardians of the Galaxy and music, most people primarily think of the film’s soundtrack, Awesome Mix Vol 1. And to be fair, that’s rightfully so as it was one of the best film soundtracks of all-time with its great array of classic songs like ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ and ‘Come and Get Your Love’. However, I also think that the film’s score is pretty solid too. It was done by Tyler Bates, who has done the scores for some of Zack Snyder’s films (e.g. 300, Watchmen) as well as GoTG director James Gunn’s previous two films, Slither and Super. According to Gunn himself, Bates wrote some of the score before the start of filming, allowing Gunn to film to his music. And overall I do think that the main motif that Bates creates for the Guardians is really epic. It’s admittedly a very bombastic motif and is also a bit repetitive given the fact that this version of the theme is used most of the times that it appears in the film but I think it works well given the epic sci-fi nature of the story. Highlights include when the Guardians enter the guard tower in the Kyln and when the Ravagers go into battle against Ronan’s forces. And despite what I just said about the motif mainly being used for action sequences, sometimes it actually is used for some emotional scenes, namely at the end when Star-Lord reads his mother’s letter (there are also a few solid emotional themes too throughout the film). My favorite use of it, though, occurs in the track ‘Black Tears’. This is during the final battle when Star-Lord grabs the Power Stone and the Guardians join together to use its power to destroy Ronan. This track is epic and emotional throughout culminating in, of course, the epic Guardians motif. So in the end, while the soundtrack obviously overshadows the score as was the case with Iron Man 2, in this case I’d argue that the score for Guardians is memorable enough to at least to stand somewhat toe to toe with Awesome Mix Vol 1.


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While director Joss Whedon and most of the Avengers cast returned for the 2015 sequel, Age of Ultron, one person who didn’t return was Alan Silvestri as composer. Instead, Brian Tyler was brought in to do the music for the film, which served as his third score for Marvel Studios after doing both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World in 2013. And while it’s ultimately not the best score that he’s done for Marvel, he still does a pretty solid job with it. Given the darker nature of the plot (e.g. the main villain Ultron), Tyler’s score is a lot more sinister in tone and that’s very much clear right from the main title theme, simply titled ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron Title’, as well as the different opening fanfare at the beginning. For the record, Tyler was the one who was responsible for developing Marvel Studios’ first ‘fanfare theme’, which was first introduced in Thor: The Dark World. However, Age of Ultron used a different fanfare that closely matches the general motif of the score. But Tyler wasn’t the only composer for the film. A few months before the film’s release, it was revealed that Danny Elfman had also contributed to the soundtrack as well. Elfman’s tracks utilize Alan Silvestri’s theme from the first Avengers and as a result, this helps connect the two films while also creating new versions of the theme. His track ‘Heroes’ was the music featured in the end credits and he did the track ‘New Avengers- Avengers: Age of Ultron’, which was of course used in the final scene of the film as the new members of the Avengers assemble in the new Avengers facility in New York. So in short, I’ll admit that Elfman’s tracks are admittedly the more memorable tracks from the score but overall he and Tyler did a really nice job when it came to developing the music for the epic sequel that was Age of Ultron.


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Back when Ant-Man was still intended to be directed by Edgar Wright, Steven Price, who did the excellent score to Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity as well as Wright’s The World’s End, was set to do the score. However, once Wright backed away from the project, Price backed away from it as well, though he would end up doing a superhero film score a year later for this year’s Suicide Squad. Instead, Christophe Beck was brought in to do the score, having previously worked with Wright’s replacement, Peyton Reed, on Bring It On. In a way, Beck seemed like a strange choice for a superhero film’s composer. He’s mostly been known for his work in comedies like the Hangover films and the two recent Muppets films. However, that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t done scores for action films before. He did the score for Edge of Tomorrow, replacing Iron Man composer Ramin Djawadi, and heck this wasn’t even his first superhero film score as he also did the score for 2005’s Elektra. But it’s safe to say that he got far better material to work with during his second go-around in the genre. Simply put, Ant-Man has an excellent main theme. I just love the brassy nature of it, especially the ‘dun dun dun dun’ element of it. To me it fits perfectly with the film’s heist plot and the same can be said for a lot of the other tracks in the soundtrack, like when Scott Lang is testing out the Ant-Man suit. Heck there are even a few emotionally charged tracks as well, like ‘Small Sacrifice’ which plays during the final battle as Ant-Man shrinks to the subatomic level in order to defeat Yellowjacket. Originally, Beck and Reed intended to do a very electronically based score to match the technological aspects of the film. However, they abandoned that idea as they felt that it was ‘too weird’ in favor of a more traditional brass heavy symphonic score. The end result is another highly memorable score from an unlikely action film composer.  


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I’ll admit that I was initially rather disappointed to hear that Patrick Doyle was not returning to do the music for Thor 2 (you’ll understand why I say that later on) but I was still interested in seeing who they would bring in to replace him. At first it seemed like the score would be done by Carter Burwell, who’s well-known for his frequent collaborations with the Coen brothers. However, like the original two directors for Thor: The Dark World, Burwell ended up leaving the project due to creative differences. Instead, Brian Tyler was brought in, making this his second MCU score of 2013 after Iron Man 3 earlier that year. And I must say, I have to give Tyler credit because he does a really nice job when it comes to big orchestral scores. You could definitely tell that based solely on the new opening fanfare that he created for Marvel Studios, with this film being the first to use it. Simply put, whenever this theme was played at the start of many of the Phase 2 MCU films, you knew that epic-ness was about to unfold. As for the rest of the score, it may not exactly match Doyle’s themes from the first Thor but it’s still pretty darn great in its own right. It does its job in regards to matching the epic nature of this plot that revolves around god-like beings and the Nine Realms. However, my favorite tracks from the score are actually the emotional ones that play during a tragic scene. The prime example of this is ‘Into Eternity’ set to the tragic death of Thor and Loki’s mother Frigga. In one word… damn! And that is why Tyler’s score for The Dark World is definitely one of the best parts of one of the more lesser-received MCU films. If anything, it gave us that epic opening fanfare.


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Henry Jackman re-teamed with the Russo brothers to do the score for what is currently the latest entry in the MCU to date, Captain America: Civil War. While he did bring back some of the themes from Winter Soldier, namely the Winter Soldier’s theme which I’ll be going into more detail over later on, ultimately he ended up developing a new motif for the third Cap film along with developing themes for new characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther. And even though this does mean that this ended up being the third straight new main motif for a Captain America film, overall I really like the new motif for this film. I feel that it perfectly encapsulates the main conflict that emerges between the Avengers in the film, mainly due to its generally ‘back and forth’ nature that excellently reflects the power struggles of the story. Ultimately though, the best part of the score comes during the climax of the film. Of course the climax of Civil War was an emotional gut-punch of a finale, as Tony finally learned the truth about Bucky being the one who killed his parents, resulting in an emotional fight between him and Cap as the latter tries to protect his best friend from his other friend’s vengeance. And I feel that the score perfectly captured the emotional drama of the fight. Tracks 18 and 19, ‘Clash’ and ‘Closure’ respectively, are played during this battle, with highlights including the epic buildup that occurs when Bucky attacks Iron Man, gets his metal arm blown off, and Cap and Iron Man clash in the iconic pose from the original ‘Civil War’ mini-series. The climax of the fight, when Cap lodges his shield into Tony’s suit, also features an epically emotional musical cue which builds up all the way to the moment when Cap drops his shield. Goosebumps, I tell you, goosebumps. And ultimately it’s primarily thanks to those two tracks, which paired perfectly with the epic finale, that Civil War’s score lands one of the top spots on this list.


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Captain America! The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan! Truly a patriotic hero like Cap deserves a rousing theme that is just as patriotic as he is. And Alan Silvestri delivered just that with the main motif of Captain America: The First Avenger. This theme perfectly encapsulates the character of Captain America, especially with its heavy reliance on brass instruments. The motif is used frequently throughout the film, most notably in the scene where the device used to turn Steve Rogers into Captain America opens up, revealing his new muscular form, and the scene where Cap and the rescued soldiers of the 107th Infantry return to camp after escaping from a HYDRA facility. And I think that it’s an absolutely terrific theme that pumps you up just like any good college fight song would. The themes of this film were even reused in other MCU films, including The Avengers, which is fitting because Silvestri did the score for that film as well, and Thor: The Dark World during the scene where Evans makes a highly memorable cameo. Another noteworthy track from the score that I really liked was ‘Passage of Time’. This track is played after the scene in which Cap ‘sacrifices’ himself by flying the Red Skull’s plane into the Arctic (the track ‘This is My Choice’ that plays during that exact scene is also fantastic and emotional as well). I’ve always loved this moment from the film as I felt that it was such an effective emotional moment and I feel that the score perfectly captures the tragedy of the loss of Cap from the perspective of his WWII allies, particularly Peggy during a scene in which she’s given Steve’s files which contain a picture of pre-serum Steve. Simply put, another great score highlighted by its great motif.


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And now we come to the film that effectively established the MCU as a premier film franchise and Marvel Studios as the kings of the superhero genre; 2012’s The Avengers. One year after working on The First Avenger, Alan Silvestri was brought back to do the score for Marvel’s epic superhero team-up flick. And I can sum up Silvestri’s excellent contributions to the film with just one track; Track 13, ‘Assemble’. Those who have seen the film (and let’s face it, with a gross of over $1.5 billion, I’m certain most of you HAVE seen it) will know exactly which scene this track is paired with. The Chitauri fleet, led by Loki, is currently in the middle of attacking New York. The Avengers arrive on the scene, with the last one to join them being Bruce who comes in on a motorbike. As a massive Chitauri Leviathan heads their way, Cap suggests to Bruce that “now might be a good time to get angry”, to which Bruce responds “That’s my secret, Cap… I’m always angry” He transforms into the Hulk right then and there, stops the Leviathan in its tracks with a powerful punch, and as Iron Man destroys it and the rest of the Chitauri look on, the Avengers finally do what we’ve all been waiting for since the early days of the franchise; assemble. What more can be said about this epic fanboy moment that hasn’t been said already? Heck it’s still guaranteed to give fans goosebumps even after all of the subsequent films that have come after it. Silvestri absolutely delivered with this score and while he didn’t return for the sequel Age of Ultron, Danny Elfman’s contributions to that film’s soundtrack did utilize Silvestri’s original theme. However, Silvestri is now set to return for the next two Avengers films, Infinity War and the currently untitled fourth Avengers film, which I’m certain will very much please fans as it will certainly mean that he will continue to utilize that excellent theme.

3. Fittingly enough, IRON MAN 3 – BRIAN TYLER

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Iron Man 3 has one of the greatest end-credit themes of all-time, end of story… I’m just kidding I wasn’t going to end it there. Seriously though, this film has probably the best end-credits theme of the entire franchise, ‘Can You Dig It’. Keeping in line with director Shane Black’s appreciation for everything 70’s, this track is highly energetic and perfectly matches the fun 70’s style end-credits. It’s just terrific, but the rest of the score for Iron Man 3 is pretty excellent as well. This was the first MCU film to be scored by Brian Tyler and it still stands as his best MCU score to date. The key reason why is that Tyler did something with this score that the scores to the first two Iron Man films didn’t really do that well. It gave Iron Man a true definitive theme. Obviously throughout this whole post I’ve mentioned that one of the main reasons why some have been really critical towards the MCU scores has been due to the lack of a definitive theme. Thankfully that’s not the case with Iron Man 3. Thanks to Tyler’s strengths in delivering a pulse-pounding orchestral score, the main motif for the film is absolutely perfect. It has a very mechanical feel to it and of course that perfectly fits with the character of Iron Man. It’s a great theme that’s used frequently throughout the film, from Tony putting on the suit as helicopters attack his home to him initiating the ‘House Party Protocol’ to the final scene where he reaffirms that he is Iron Man. That final use of the theme is also cool because instead of the more action-heavy tone that it usually maintains when it is used, this version is slower and toned down which matches the final scene very well. And as a result, Iron Man 3 easily lands a spot in the Top 3 when it comes to MCU scores.  


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This is one score that I find is surprisingly negatively received by most critics. One of the main reasons why is due to the fact that it didn’t really utilize Alan Silvestri’s Cap theme save for the opening scene (“On your left!”). However, I don’t think it’s that big of a loss because of the change in time period, with Winter Soldier taking place in the present compared to First Avenger, which obviously was primarily set during WWII. This film’s score was done by Henry Jackman, who had done excellent work on the last big superhero film that he scored, X-Men: First Class. The same can very much be said for his work on Winter Soldier. Again, even if he doesn’t utilize Silvestri’s motifs, the motifs that he does come up with here are fantastic. First there’s the ‘Winter Soldier’ theme, which of course plays whenever the Winter Soldier appears prior to the reveal that he’s Bucky. To sum it up as simply as possible, this is pretty much the MCU equivalent to the iconic Joker theme that Hans Zimmer created for The Dark Knight. It creates such a suspenseful and sinister atmosphere and was also used to great effect in Civil War, namely when Zemo reveals the video of Bucky killing Tony’s parents. But that’s not the only great track from the soundtrack. I also really like ‘Time to Suit Up’, which as the title suggests is played when Cap and co. prepare to take on HYDRA-overtaken SHIELD. It’s another one of those tracks that has a terrific buildup, culminating when Cap appears on-screen in his classic WWII uniform. There’s also ‘End of the Line’, which of course is named after the iconic line that Cap uses to reaffirm his friendship with Bucky and to also snap him out of his brainwashing. This emotional scene is matched perfectly by the emotional score. So in short, I guess you can say that Winter Soldier has probably the most underrated score of the entire MCU, with its solid motifs that may not utilize the motifs Silvestri did for the first Cap film but are still excellent in their own right.

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And now we come to my personal favorite score in the entire MCU; Patrick Doyle’s score for the first Thor film. I have seven tracks from the score on my iPod, more so than any other MCU film. And ultimately the main reason why I love it so much is the main motif that Doyle creates. I feel that this motif was a perfect representation of the grandeur of a story set around Thor and the universe that is the Nine Realms. But the best thing about it is the fact that, like Michael Giacchino’s amazing motif for the newer Star Trek films, this motif was utilized in different ways. Sometimes it’s used in an epic manner, like in the track ‘Thor Kills the Destroyer’, when Thor finally regains his powers to defeat the Destroyer machine, and ‘Earth to Asgard’, during which we got our first look at the majestic landscapes of the latter realm. It can be used during emotional scenes, like with ‘Forgive Me’, when Thor tries to reason with Loki during the battle against the Destroyer, and the conclusion of ‘Letting Go’, after Thor destroys the Rainbow Bridge, effectively preventing himself from reuniting with Jane for the time being. Track 14, ‘The Compound’, manages to do two different versions of the motif. The track itself starts out with a fun Metal Gear Solid esque theme as Thor sneaks into the compound and then the motif is used in a satisfactory manner as Thor finally finds his hammer. But then of course Thor isn’t yet ready to lift it and the sense of total defeat that he experiences in this moment is perfectly reflected in the score. Patrick Doyle has been a frequent collaborator of Kenneth Branagh and has done some excellent scores over the years, including ones for Branagh’s remake of Cinderella as well as the fourth Harry Potter film, Goblet of Fire, which has my personal favorite opening theme of the entire series. But with Thor, Doyle delivers a fantastic score based around a fantastic motif.

And that concludes my list of rankings for the 13 (as of September 2016) scores of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I said in the intro, this was not meant to be a ‘direct response’ to the video that Every Frame a Painting made. If you’re not a big fan of the MCU film scores, that’s fine; all the power to you. But if you’re like me and you actually do like the scores for the MCU, be sure to sound off in the comments below in regards to your own favorite.