Matt Taylor on the music of Avengers: Infinity War trailer…
On September 12, 2016, YouTube channel ‘Every Frame a Painting’ published a video entitled The Marvel Symphonic Universe. In it, channel creators Tony and Taylor interview members of the public around Vancouver, asking them to sing theme songs from famous movies, in particular the themes of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and James Bond. Unsurprisingly, the themes are nailed by the public. They are then asked to sing any song from a Marvel movie. Here, everyone is stumped. Tony and Taylor wonder why this is, and in the video essay that follows, they put it down to three reasons:
1) The idea of safety; if we see something funny or sad, this is reflected in the music we hear
2) Distractions; some excellent pieces of music are covered by things such as narration
3) Much of the music doesn’t evoke an emotional response; it’s just background noise
While they do make some points I agree with (the edited sections of Thor and Captain America: The Winter Soldier particularly are better than what we got in the final films), one thing did spring to mind as I was watching: Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme. It’s a theme that is synonymous with grandness and heroics – the first time we hear it, properly and in full, is when we see that shot in Avengers Assemble. You know the one I mean – the 360° shot of our heroes ready to do battle against Loki’s army. At the time it was an unprecedented feat of cinematic filmmaking, and still, nearly six years later, it never fails to put a smile on my face. The music reflects this perfectly – so why can’t people remember it?
In November 2016, HelloLillyTV published a response to Tony and Taylor’s video, titled: The Avengers Theme – a response to ‘The Marvel Symphonic Universe’. The narrator here ponders why such an excellent piece of music cannot be remembered by the general public, and in the end decides that it’s down to marketing. For the examples that Tony and Taylor gave, and many others mentioned here, iconic theme songs are used in the film’s trailers – Star Wars, Harry Potter, James Bond, Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mission: Impossible, and Jaws, to name but a few, all use their respective themes in the trailers for their films, and that’s why they’re so well-known. There’s a reason why the teaser trailer for The Force Awakens put a massive grin on the face of every fan that watched it: it’s because John Williams’ music has become so ingrained in popular culture that it resonates with everyone who’s even remotely aware of Star Wars.
This is something that, largely, Marvel movies haven’t done. The first trailer for Avengers Assemble used We’re In This Together by Nine Inch Nails, and the teaser for sequel Age of Ultron was cut to a creepy cover of I’ve Got No Strings from Disney’s Pinocchio. In the case of Avengers Assemble, this is somewhat understandable; it was likely that the music hadn’t been completed at the time of the trailer’s release, hence its absence, but with Age of Ultron it’s a little trickier to understand. The trailer itself is excellent; we see our heroes back in action, get a vague sense of a story, and James Spader is terrifying as Ultron. My issue with it is that the music it uses, and the subsequent impression we get, massively mis-sells the entire film. The end result isn’t terrifying, far from it, and at times it’s so unbearably quippy that we’re left wishing we could just have this one trailer. Would it have been better to use different music? Almost certainly – the trailers for the Guardians of the Galaxy films have shown that trailer music generates association and memorability, with three main trailers for both films using Blue Suede’s Hooked On a Feeling, a song now more associated with the Guardians than their actual theme, written by Tyler Bates for the films.
That all changed, however, when, on November 29, 2017, Marvel Studios released the trailer for the highly-anticipated culmination of their cinematic universe: the third Avengers film.
In the space of this 2-minute, 24-second trailer, we hear three distinct versions of Silvestri’s Avengers theme – three more than we heard in the entirety of Age of Ultron – and each one conveys a different emotion.
First, we hear several high notes played on a piano, layered over Nick Fury’s ‘There Was an Idea’ monologue, here given by various Avengers. It’s not the entirety of the Avengers theme, but it clearly is the theme, and the high notes coupled with the images we see (Tony Stark holding a limp hand; Bruce Banner looking shocked having apparently crashed through a building; Doctor Strange and Wong looking down at him; Vision and Wanda Maximoff being a thing together; Thor looking out from the window of the Milano; and Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff looking rather worried on the outskirts of Wakanda – there’s a lot of looking involved in this opening) convey a feeling of utter despair.
This feeling is doubled down on when we hear a second version of the theme played over the Marvel Studios logo – it’s lower, more sombre, played on brass, and immediately fills us with dread. My first thoughts here were “oh no, who’s going to die?”, which is exactly what directors Anthony and Joe Russo want us to think – they’re preparing us to finally go dark in an Avengers film (no, I’m not calling Civil War an Avengers film), and a warped version of their heroic theme is a way of getting us ready for it.
After this, the trailer kicks into gear and the theme disappears for a while. The music we do get appears to be associated with villain Thanos, on a quest to obtain the six Infinity Stones and “balance the universe”, and it’s suitably intimidating. We see more of the Avengers and some fantastic action cut to the beat of the music – highlights include “get this man a shield”, Thanos throat-slamming Spider-Man to the ground, and him laying out Iron Man with a single punch. What this all builds to, though, is a magnificent crescendo of both action and music that rivals that shot from the first Avengers film.
The action in question takes place largely in Wakanda (the African nation home to Black Panther – lovely to see it front and centre here), and we see the armies of Thanos and Wakanda charging into battle, culminating in a superb slow-motion shot of the Avengers running to camera – the Avengers here are composed of War Machine, the Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Captain America (equipped with some neat-looking Panther gauntlets rather than his signature shield), the Hulk, Okoye, Falcon, and Black Panther. The music accompanying it is the same as before (what we’ll call Thanos’ theme), but slower, louder, and building. It excellently builds up our anticipation before we cut to black, and are greeted with the crescendo of Silvestri’s Avengers theme over a glorious golden title: Avengers: Infinity War.
Finally, it seems, they’ve done it! Marvel Studios have used a character theme in a trailer. What was already an excellent trailer is capped off with the use of a piece of music that reminds us of what we’ve been through with these films. It’s at once a glorious celebration of heroism, and a sorrowful mourning for those we’ll undoubtedly lose.
The question remains, though, will it work? Will the Avengers theme become as memorable as the themes of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and James Bond? Only time will tell, but I, for one, hope it does – it certainly deserves to be – and with this Infinity War trailer, Marvel Studios have finally taken the first step to ensuring that it will be.
Matt Taylor is a student and film critic – follow him on Twitter here.