At first, Tyler Bates seemed an odd choice to usher Guardians of the Galaxy into Marvel's musical canon. More closely associated with the edgy, experimental sounds of Dawn of the Dead and Sucker Punch, the composer's style seemed incongruous with the studio's recent turn towards the brawny, orchestral sound of the prolific Brian Tyler. But as it became clearer that Guardians was not going to be your average Marvel film, nor would it adhere so closely to Marvel's established formulae, Bates' involvement became more a point of intrigue than concern. Indeed, Guardians was to be a film about misfits, by misfits, and for misfits though, to be sure, more than just the misfits of the world would turn up to see it. Bates, a misfit of the scoring industry in his own right, no longer seemed so out of place.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Guardians of the Galaxy is that the composer approaches it rather traditionally, that is, with a full orchestra in "space opera" mode and a handful of recurring themes. Given that this is a Marvel "team-up" movie (and, you know, we can't fully unleash the main theme until the crew comes together), Bates' main Guardians theme is regrettably underrepresented in the score. And it's actually a memorable, nimble little thing, explored in grand, flashy style in the rousing "Black Tears", a clear standout of the score and Bates' career as a whole. Constructed on the persistent tempo of "The Collector" and "Sacrifice", the cue builds to a no-holds-barred crescendo of unabashed heroism, rivaling some of the best cues in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The theme also gets full treatment at the conclusion of "The Kyln Escape", and is repeatedly toyed with in the impressive "Guardians United" before coming together in a pair of infectiously heroic bursts. Indeed, Bates is at his best when exploring variations of this theme, though this is not to say that there are not other worthy ideas present in the score. There is a simple but resonant theme underscoring the film's more emotional scenes (most often instances of self-sacrifice, after which characters are miraculously, err, not dead... this is Marvel after all!) explored in "To the Stars", "Sacrifice", the wondrous "Groot Cocoon", and the retro "Groot Spores". Also of note is a spirited theme for the Nova Corps (Xandar's inter-galactic militia) heard in "The Ballad of the Nova Corps (Instrumental)" and then, curiously, almost never again.
This is one of the weaknesses of Bates' score, that is, that it occasionally introduces new and intriguing ideas only to drop them before they can be explored in any kind of depth. Perhaps the planet-hopping nature of the film necessitates this, but the score ends up coming across as a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas that struggle to develop into an overarching narrative. And this isn't helped by the forgettable material ascribed to the film's collection of villains - the grumbling, growling "Ronan's Theme" is little threat to the infectious Guardians theme - nor by the generic underscore that fills the gaps between brilliant highlights. Indeed, this score is at its best when exploring its handful of stronger thematic ideas and not this generic, middling material. The dexterous main theme ("Black Tears"!), the theme of sacrifice/wonder, and the fleeting Nova Corps "ballad" are all great fun, and it is in these moments that Guardians of the Galaxy proves surprisingly fresh. While it may not restore complete faith in Tyler Bates, this score certainly instills optimism for his next foray into the Galaxy.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "The Kyln Escape", "The Collector", "Sacrifice", "The Ballad of the Nova Corps", "Groot Spores", "Groot Cocoon", "Guardians United", "Black Tears"
Label: Hollywood Records
Availability: 29 track score-only edition and 41 track "Deluxe" edition, featuring 12 source songs