Rock ‘n’ Reel: The Importance of Music in Marvel Movies

When constructing the perfect popcorn blockbusters, producers have a lot to consider. From casting the hottest actors in Hollywood to finding the perfect location for the action to take place, the framework for success has many prerequisites. Within these parameters lies the noble soundtrack, which is often curated from pre-released material and will feature alongside the film’s original score.

In some cases, an artist may be commissioned to release new material especially forthe film, such as Kenny Loggins classic ‘Danger Zone’ that featured in 80s hit, Top Gun or, more recently, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s ‘Shallow’ from the most recent A Star is Born. A less favourable method is to release remixes or covers of pre-released songs; Pitbull’s unforgivable cover of Africa’s ‘Toto’, as featured on last year’s Aquaman, is still etched into my mind.

These tracks all possess a familiarity or catchiness that draws audiences into a deepbond with the fictional world shown onscreen. Before you know it, your mam has her own rendition of ‘Shallow’ that she likes to perform three glasses of wine deep into the Christmas karaoke session. Though Gaga is a fine addition to the karaoke playlist, rock music, more generally, has always possessed the necessary catchinessto get anyone singing along.

No strangers to the movie marketing formula, Marvel has always had a keen awareness of the importance of a solid soundtrack throughout their filmography. As far back as the pre-MCU days of 2002, and the release of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, came the dosage of rock. More specifically, Nickelback. At the peak of their ballad-bound career, Nickelback took to the movies to soundtrack spidey’s first big-screen adventures.

The track, ‘Hero’, was synonymous with many of the band’s other releases of the time and included archetypal Nickelback features such as strained vocals, intense lyrics and a somewhat lacklustre guitar riff. The beauty was not in the fine details of the song, however, but rather the grandeur that it installed into an already excitable Toby Maguire as the web-slinging superhero. It was action-packed and a major payoff.

The music video unified these two areas with dizzying effects. Spidey zipping through the New York skyline, Kurt and the band performing on a rooftop, with a few intercuts to scenes from the film itself. It was in your face, but it resonated with a sense of epic heroism that the film and its protagonist deserved.

Fast forward six years and Marvel are on the verge of their own epic journey. The release of Iron Man marks the beginning of what would become one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema history – the marvel cinematic universe. The opening sequence introduced the company in a characteristically bold fashion.

As charismatic billionaire Tony Stark is chauffered through the vast deserts of Afghanistan by American troops, audiences are bombarded by the iconic opening riffof AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’. The emphatic rock track, previously butchered by your dad at the annual summer BBQ, presupposes the imminent danger that follows when the vehicle is hit by an enemy missile.

From this moment, the Aussie rockers became a fine pairing with the Iron Man trilogy, where they had tracks feature in scenes of action, entertainment, or simply just Robert Downey being his usual, cool self. As the wheels on the Marvel train didn’t show any signs of slowing down, the company took strengthened its merchandise distribution to ensure that viewers bought into the films. Whilst the AC/DC-infused soundtrack of the Iron Man films all got shiny vinyl releases, Guardians of the Galaxy marked a genius crossover between contemporary movie marketing and nostalgiac music paraphernalia.

In Guardians, Peter Quill’s cherished cassette player, as gifted to him from his dying mother, contained an abundance of overlooked rock ballads. With tracks ranging from The Runaways ‘Cherry Bomb’ and Blue Swede’s ‘Hooked on the Feeling’ to the more recognisable sounds of Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’, the film accumulated all the best bits of Marvel’s previous music-driven films. Such was the success of the soundtrack that the film released actual cassettes, embellished with authentic labelling and colouring, for fans to purchase.

The soft ballads and punk bangers that were at the forefront of the 2014 blockbuster typified the whole careless fun that characterises marvel movies. Without straying to deep into the murky waters of recent headlines, whether superhero movies are, in fact, cinema is perhaps to miss the point of their purpose altogether. What the films offer onscreen is a fine serving of entertainment, emotion and intensity, all the while the specially-curated soundtrack is getting you to sing along to every moment.

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