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Great responsibility begets great abuse of power in Hans Zimmer and The Magnificent Six’s ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’

906429 - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Hans Zimmer and The Magnificent Six
Columbia, Madison Gate

“My name is Richard Parker. I have no idea what’s going on.” The cryptic video message from Peter’s dad, a storyline first teased in The Amazing Spider-Man, continues in the sequel to Sony’s reboot of its cash cow franchise. Of course, Papa Parker isn’t confused over the connections between his family and the machinations of OsCorp, nor does he hint at why The Amazing Spider-Man 2 might link Peter’s powers with the fate of his enemies. Neither does Marc Webb, for that matter. The universe of Webb’s second superhero flick in 4 years doesn’t expand so much as it has more stuff thrown at it. More villains, more plot threads, and more music.

And when it comes to The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s score, “more” is key. After James Horner’s unremarkable work in the 2012 reboot, Columbia Pictures turned scoring duties over to Hans Zimmer and a cadre of musicians that includes the likes of Pharrell Williams and The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Collectively credited as “Hans Zimmer and The Magnificent Six,” the self-implied supergroup is here to make changes. Their first order of business? A new theme for Spidey. Appearing first in “I’m Spider-Man,” the new motif juices up the instrumentation in Horner’s titles with, well, more. Trumpets are louder and an underlying synth bounces and shimmers. The bluntness and brass bring to mind a lesser iteration of John Williams’ Superman theme, but this is more a gilded prelude than a matured composition. The new theme is miles away from Danny Elfman’s ideal, which, a decade later, still stands above its successors in combining the gift and curse inherent its hero’s plight. Zimmer and company merely commit to sounding “new.”

Spidey’s theme is digitized in “So Much Anger” and absorbed into a quiet ensemble with “Ground Rules.” A trembling oboe in “You’re My Boy” provides pathos and pain in a weepy dialogue between Peter and Aunt May, and “We’re Best Friends” transforms the bouncy synth in “I’m Spider-Man,” shaping what once sounded like the temp track for a timeshare commercial into a touching moment with piano, strings and a resonant guitar. That guitar might be directly owed to Marr’s presence, as Zimmer’s collaborators seem to have encouraged a more diverse instrumental palate in the composer. Zimmer’s treatment of emotional beats in 12 Years a Slave and the James Newton Howard-less The Dark Knight Rises stretched feelings into miniature sunrises and sunsets. Here, he opens up with the characters. If The Amazing Spider-Man 2 succeeds in depicting Peter’s relationships with Gwen Stacy and Aunt May, the “feely” parts of its score deserve as much credit as any performance.

Zimmer seems genuinely interested in tweaking what has become his instantly recognizable (and widely parodied) signature. By now, we’ve all heard it. Alongside a cappella remixes of Inception trailers and second-rate copycats, Zimmer’s braaaahms have a new companion in dubstep. Electro, meet electronica. The inspiration behind Spidey’s new villain and his high-energy sound seems like the result of obvious associations, but its coiled punches package Jamie Foxx’s Electro with a sudden and dangerous immediacy. The whips and crashes in “My Enemy” beef up the character’s temper tantrum in Times Square, with the track crackling or revving up at his behest. Later, “Still Crazy” smashes the techno-chaos against Spidey’s fanfare in a mashup that tries to match its corresponding battle with similar sonic stakes.

The presence of a genre as contemporary as dubstep is commendable for its risk-taking, particularly in the shrinking creative real estate of superhero movies. Zimmer showed an interest in blending muscled brass with electronic music in The Dark Knight Risesbut he and his colleagues push the envelope too far here. Pounding on the heels of a fragile woodwind combo, Electro’s gnarly hyper-produced music doesn’t enrich or complicate his alter-ego’s awkward oboe motif; it undermines any complexity between Max Dillon’s sensitivity and psychopathy. That goes double for the spoken word elements, rambling whispers from the villain’s id that boil into screams of fury. Their lyrical content, equal parts interior monologue and Korn lyrics, spoil what might have been a clever psychological window into an underwritten character with a distracting trance and come to dominate any element they’re combined with — dubstep or otherwise. “My Enemy’s” 8 minutes are pulled straight from one of The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s longer action sequences, but the track’s emotional blueprint renders the scene a chaotic juggling act. (On a related note, Columbia and Madison Gate’s deluxe release includes a bonus set of “inspired by” pop numbers and condensed character suites. “My Enemy” belongs on that disc.)

The Amazing Spider-<Man 2 only feels like half of an effort, a chain of solid ideas dragged down by masturbatory experimentation. Traces of discipline shine through in Harry Osborn’s theme, which uses the whines of a lone siren in “Special Project” and “I’m Goblin” to economical effect, but the work possesses as much self-restraint as one would expect from musicians who refer to themselves as “The Magnificent Six.” And yet, their work chugs on with all the determination of the superhero-industrial complex. “You’re That Spider-Guy”  doubles down on Spidey-s theme albeit with a dark and foreboding coda this final time around. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, you can literally hear the sequel coming.

— David Klein