Among the many types of pressure that a movie like “Ant-Man” faces upon its release, the quality of the soundtrack seems relatively small compared to the ridiculous premise, the offbeat character, and the tonal balance. But make no mistake. The score IS important, and needs to be nurtured with the same love as the film itself. The reason why I’m pointing this out is because Marvel doesn’t always get that music is a crucial storytelling device. That without a really well-cooked meal for the auditory senses, the emotional attachment is at risk of completely evaporating. The weakest part of the MCU experience is frequently the lack of any engaging music. It’s not that the studio can’t find proficient composers with immense talent. But what they bring to the table is mostly, with a few exceptions, set on autopilot. The scores tend to be serviceable and safe rather than evocative and spirited. They simply have no identity. With Ant-Man, though, the musical conversation has suddenly become a lot more interesting and exciting.
Christophe Beck, who previously worked for Marvel on the 2005 film “Elektra”, has made his first venture into the MCU. How did he do? Rather marvellously (no pun intended)! The massive collection of 27 tracks is, contrary to the hero it supports, a very grand and booming gesture. It is also an inherently sneaky and fun listen, breaking the usual formula to seek towards a more retroactive approach to the material. The classic orchestration and sweeping string-sections are still very much present here, but this time they are juxtaposed by 1960’s big-band percussion, pulsating bongo rhythms, and even a bit of saltwater surf rock. Saxophones also play a key role in the instrumentation, adding subtle spy-thriller sensibilities to the mix in order to emphasise the fact that this is truly a heist film. All the new ingredients come together on compositions like “Ant 247”, “I’ll Call Him Antony”, and the album closer “Tales to Astonish!”, all of which are some of the finest and most exciting pieces ever written for a superhero film. Yes, you read correctly.
The theme song for Ant-Man himself is of course the one that has to carry it all. Is it memorable? Can we hum along to it? The answer is a loud and resounding yes! It starts off very quiet and low-key, then builds and builds until it explodes into a thick haze of shouting horns, exhilarating drums patterns, and a super-sexy 007-esque string-arrangement. Only time will tell just how well it will rank among the other great superhero themes, but I have a strong feeling it could find its way up there someday. As for the rest of the soundtrack, most of it is a nice blend of familiar structures and fresh dynamics, mostly avoiding feeling like a retread of other Marvel scores.
Not all tunes are as equally compelling as the ones already mentioned in this review. But then again, we have to remember that much of the music must be experienced in context of the picture. After all, not every cue can be as intricate and melodious as the main attractions. I don’t think any score has ever been able to pull that off, to the point where every piece is entirely different from the one that came before it. With movies and music, it’s all about the flow. Ant-Man has a great flow, which is something you can’t say about most of Marvel’s other musical creations. This is definitely a much leaner and more playful body of work than what we usually get from people like Brian Tyler and Alan Silvestri. I think Beck was a smart choice for this project, primarily because of his ability to easily switch from big and commercial to small and independent. He really does the character justice, and thanks to his eminent slight of hand, we now have a soundtrack that is truly worthy of the name, the movie, and the fans.