In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this contrast is drawn in an even harsher light. Two years after "New York", apparently the official euphemism for the world-colliding finale of The Avengers, Steve Rogers lives in Washington D.C., working full-time for super-spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Slowly but surely, he's adjusting to his new life in 2014 and his role in the bigger machine of S.H.I.E.L.D. But when Rogers discovers that something is awry in that machine, his world erupts into a volatile battleground of deception and intrigue, forcing him to team up with allies new and old to uncover a conspiracy that threatens the entire world. It's a surprisingly astute and timely examination of the trade-off between security and freedom, and has been widely hailed as Marvel's boldest post-Avengers film yet.
Of any character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the good-natured Steve Rogers has had the strongest musical tradition. Alan Silvestri's bold, anthemic identity for the character, the memorable "Captain America March", has proven Marvel's most enduring theme, also appearing briefly in both Silvestri's The Avengers and Brian Tyler's Thor: The Dark World. The latter inclusion seemed to suggest to film score enthusiasts that Marvel had finally come to its senses about maintaining thematic continuity across its films. With the announcement of composer Henry Jackman as Silvestri's successor, however, everything was again thrown into question. Would Jackman scrap Silvestri's material in favor of his own, or would the previous composer's work live on? The answer, as it were, is multifaceted. In short, Henry Jackman suggests a very different Captain America through his score. With the aim of ushering the Star Spangled Man into the 21st century, Jackman approaches The Winter Soldier from an entirely different perspective than Silvestri, substituting occasionally sleek, contemporary action fare for that composer's bold, orchestral patriotism. Perhaps more so than with Tyler's Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, this departure from previously established tradition makes sense. Where it begins to falter, though, is in the strength of some of Jackman's new material.
For The Winter Soldier, Jackman switches out Silvestri's overtly patriotic fanfare for a more subdued, anonymous take on the hero, emphasizing the tragic aspects of the character whilst still retaining some sense of wounded patriotism. "Taking a Stand" represents the best of his new Cap' theme and, arguably, the best of the score overall. Jackman builds a lot of forward momentum in this cue and, in its second half, manages to carry the theme to a fittingly heroic climax. "Project Insight" features a brawnier, more martial take on the theme on brass and snare drums, while "End of the Line" translates it to slow, somber piano for the film's resolution. The sweeping crescendo at the close of "Time to Suit Up" alludes to the theme's incarnation in the concluding "Captain America". At nearly ten minutes in length, this is easily the lengthiest treatment of the theme, if not overly so. On a foundation of slow ostinatos and pulsating electronics, Jackman builds his theme from the ground up, culminating in a full, heroic statement around two thirds into the cue. It's a little sluggish for some of its runtime and is plagued by a slow-fade out that gives little definitive resolution to the score, but the track nevertheless provides an adequate closing restatement of Jackman's Captain America theme.
To be sure, Jackman provides a theme for the character suitable to the tone of the film. It is only ever as patriotic as the film calls for it to be which, often times, is not very much so. Conceivably, Jackman might have thought as much as the next guy that his score was going to be in the vein of Silvestri's effort, with big themes, classically patriotic orchestrations, and all of the bells and whistles; we at least know that he's talented enough to craft that kind of score. The Winter Soldier, though, is not the hokey, pulpy The First Avenger, and perhaps there is an argument to be made for the character's sonic reinvention, at least for this entry. The Winter Soldier is much more in the vein of a contemporary, espionage thriller than anything Marvel has done before, so Jackman also infuses it with a great deal of the sound that we've come to associate with that genre. The muted atmospherics, chopping osinatos, and rhythmic electronics and drum loops are all here, "Lemurian Star" starting off the album and featuring many of these elements for the film's stealthy hostage rescue. "Lemurian Star" may lose the interest of those in staunch position of the sound popularized by Hans Zimmer and his Remote Control Productions composers, as will the underdeveloped loops of "Fury". Both of these cues are functional in the film, quickening the pace and bolstering the tension of the onscreen events, though "Fury" and some of "Lemurian Star" are passable on album. There's just nothing particularly new here.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Henry Jackman's Captain America: The Winter Soldier is his handling of the film's relentless, mechanized villain, the Winter Soldier. There's been a lot of uproar about this aspect of the score, with loaded phrases like "the death of film music" even being thrown around by some. Undoubtedly, Jackman has constructed something intentionally provocative, violent, abrasive, and, dare I say, unmerciful. The death of film music, though, this is not. When I first heard the strange, processed cries, brass bellows, bass drops, and clanging, industrial percussion on album, I was taken aback and couldn't make it through it. I just had to see how it would work in the film and, you know what, it works surprisingly well! It's savage, vicious, heartless stuff, encapsulating well this unstoppable killing machine. Heard most prominently in "The Winter Soldier", a six and a half minute suite of the material, Jackman's theme for the character is in every way the antithesis of Captain America. Really, I have to at least applaud the composer for having the guts to write something so immediately unlikable. Much to my surprise, it's the music I left the theater humming... the most horrible, abrasive, and barbaric ear-worm I've ever heard.
With the exception of some well-constructed action cues like "The Causeway", which features the Winter Soldier material heavily, "Into the Fray", and "Countdown", much of the rest of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is defined by nondescript, ambient soundscapes. "Alexander Pierce", "Frozen in Time", and "Hydra" are plodding and feature restrained, mysterious atmospherics, while "Natasha" and "An Old Friend" rely on very muted, sustained strings. Only "Smithsonian" stands out among the rest of the album's material, signifying Jackman's one chance to go full Copland and spin some classically symphonic Americana.
While a brief statement of Alan Silvestri's Captain America theme in the opening sequence of Captain America: The Winter Soldier might suggest a future for it in upcoming entries, listeners hoping to hear a continuation of that sound in the remainder of The Winter Soldier will be sorely disappointed. That being said, there is little about Jackman's score that one should find outwardly offensive. Much of the approach is comfortably formulaic, but Jackman's Captain America theme gets the job done and, in the case of "Taking a Stand", has the potential to be quite engaging. Additionally, his material for the Winter Soldier represents an effective, albeit brutally industrial treatment of the concept's villain, something that will surely not appeal to everyone but, for those open to it, will rattle your subwoofers and send your stomach sinking. While I do think (and hope) that Silvestri's superior theme for Captain America will endure as inseparable from the character, Jackman's effort suffices enough in its absence, even if some of it comes across as a tied retread of things we've heard before. Though it may indeed be one of the weaker scores to be put to a Marvel film, I'm not so sure that it's the thoughtless dreck that so many are making it out to be. Hell, I've found myself listening to it more than I'd like to admit.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "The Smithsonian", "The Winter Soldier", "Taking a Stand", "The Causeway"
Label: Intrada Records
Availability: 20 track edition