“And they say that a hero can save us/I’m not gonna stand here and wait”
— Chad Kroeger, “Hero”

Marvel’s the Avengers are a mighty team of superheroes called together to vanquish evil forces so powerful that the strength of one hero is not enough. With their combination of bravery, brute physicality, cunning wit, technological know-how and teamwork, they save the world through the cumulative total of their diverse abilities. They are wildly different, but together they form an entity that’s eclectic and cohesive. More than anything, the Avengers are an argument for collaboration and adaptation, for checking your ego and personal hang-ups at the door in favor of pursuing a common good. The Avengers themselves are like a great movie soundtrack, so how come The Avengers soundtrack sucks so much?
After years of movies of dubious quality (cough, Thor, cough) and countless corporate tie-ins (drive your Avengers-approved Honda to buy some Avengers-approved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!), Marvel’s gargantuan movie/investment/all-encompassing-corporate-goo-monster The Avengers will finally crash into theaters this weekend. The reviews are in, and they’re mostly positive, with some finding it a bit overblown and others refusing to see the movie on (understandable and compelling) ethical grounds.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, though I plan on checking it out soon. I have however spent some time with the film’s soundtrack, which is pretty horrible in all of the most predictable ways. The album kicks off with its most noteworthy track, “Live To Rise” by the recently reunited Soundgarden. As far as reunited grunge ballad cash-ins go, it’s pretty inoffensive; the opening riff suggests the band is at least somewhat reinvigorated and still capable of reproducing that distinct ’90s guitar crunch. Things get more distressing as you continue: Papa Roach, Shinedown, Bush and Evanescence all provide songs that sound as though they traveled through some alternate universe wormhole where brooding metallic-sheen rock rules the land and Scott Stapp is our sitting president.
The disappointing thing about the Avengers soundtrack is not that it’s particularly offensive or generic. The problem is there are no odd gems or bizarre collaborations. There are no misguided experiments. It’s as smooth and bland as Chris Evans’s chiseled abs. Maybe I’m an idiot for wishing for something better or stranger, but here’s the thing: I have a soft spot for superhero soundtracks and, as a humble student of superhero soundtrack history, I can tell you they used to be better.

For example, the soundtrack to the pretty forgettable film Superman III is a treasure trove of eccentric early-’80s oddities. A hybrid score/soundtrack collection, the first half features composer Ken Thorne’s score, which drew heavily on themes created by John Williams, but the second half is where things get adventurous. Musical innovator and synth-soundtrack maestro Giorgio Moroder was brought in to provide his distinct futuristic touch to the proceedings, and his songs are both undeniably fun and a little bonkers considering the context. Moroder and honky-tonk country act Roger Miller team up for “They Won’t Get Me,” an oddly moving cowboy-electro song. It’s precisely the type of creative and inspired collaboration at which soundtracks can excel.

Next page: Batman and Judge Dredd lead the Silver Age of superhero soundtracks

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