Music and super-heroes have, for some reason, never been able to get along. Looking at the track listing for the Avengers sorta-kinda movie soundtrack, Avengers Assemble, we can see right away that finding songs to fit these films is a bit of a problem area for Hollywood. The album consists of songs from the most nauseating radio rock weeny faces, bands like Evanescence, Bush, and Papa Roach. Aside from the flagship track, “Live to Rise” by Soundgarden, none of the songs were actually featured in the film, which is a huge blessing. The majority of the movie, right up until the first end-credits scene, was set to a pretty effective action movie score by Alan Silvestri. However, just to think that someone thought of the Avengers and then compiled these particular songs and bands together is pretty galling.
And this isn’t the first time this has happened. The first Spider-Man movie was plagued by a god-awful collaboration between Nickelback and Saliva, in addition to Aerosmith butchering the classic ‘60s Spidey theme song (incredibly frustrating since the Ramones already did an amazing version of this song in 1995). The next Spidey movie soundtrack only got worse with whiny entries by Dashboard Confessional and other pop-emo acts that made me want to take my car keys and stab my ears out in the theater. The Iron Man 2 soundtrack was comprised solely of AC/DC songs, which fits Favreau-Iron Man’s personality, but who needs another compilation of AC/DC songs? The Daredevil soundtrack was probably the worst, though, as it pretty much put cheese rockers Evanescence on the map, a map that we are all hoping has been tucked away safely with the Cosmic Cube and the Ark of the Covenant.
The kind of music that I would love to see used on a super-hero movie soundtrack is more reflected in post-modern super-hero films like Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Both films made use of songs (either in the film itself or in the previews) from The Prodigy’s excellent 2009 album, Invaders Must Die. The songs combine punk and dance in a way that can only be described as super-heroic. They’re fast and punchy, and the lyrics are made up of a few quick ideas and catchy slogans rather than instructions that spell out how you should feel while you listen to the song (feelings suck!). If you’ve ever seen these guys live or watched their recent live DVD, you’ll know that their shows look like the places we will be spending our Saturday nights 100 years from now when super-heroes rule the world.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World also made use of bands like indie new-wavers Metric and chiptune maestros Anamanaguchi, both are bands that would sound pretty good playing behind a shot of Spider-Man as he swings around midtown Manhattan. Honestly, if Disney can get Daft Punk to write the score for Tron: Legacy and release a badass remix album of that score featuring M83 and The Crystal Method, there’s no reason why Earth’s mightiest heroes should get short changed.
To be clear, I am not necessarily trying to be a musical elitist here, nor am I advocating that we pick certain kinds of music over other certain kinds of music. I just think that super-hero movies are best when they are fun (with the exception of the Nolan Batman stuff, which really makes that Michael Mann tone work for its particular super-hero saga), and the music should be fun too. We don’t need a bunch of old, washed-up arena rockers from 40 years ago trying to hack up a lung to sing about Tony Stark, and we don’t need a bunch of MTV pretty boys whining about girls they met at a bonfire when Spider-Man has just kicked Doctor Octopus’s ass and saved New York City. Super-heroes aren’t wimps, they’re pop stars. They might be regular people in the beginning, but when they put on the mask, they are performers; the coolest, baddest performers you’ll ever see. Super-hero music should reflect that. It should make you want to move and put on a show.
“We’ve got to make Superman, Spider-Man, and everyone dance,” Bollywood Film Star Shah Rukh Khan told a BBC reporter at the October 2011 premier of the hit film, RA.One. It was actually reported back in 2008 that Khan was attached to play Spider-Man in a live-action Bollywood version of the web-slinger’s story, which supposedly would feature a Spidey that could fly through the air at supersonic speeds, however the project was ultimately destined not to leave the ground. Instead, Khan went on to star in Ra.One as an original Indian super-hero, G.One (meant to sound like Jeevan, an Indian name meaning “Life”), who is a composite of everything cool about super-heroes and super-hero movies.
The film tells the story of Shekhar Subramanium, a video game designer who is trying to create a character that will impress his young son, Prateek. Well, Prateek is going through an awkward teenage phase, in which he detests his father and idolizes bad guys, so Shekhar’s solution is to create Ra.One, a high-tech update of the Indian mythological villain, Ravaan. He then programs a protagonist into the game based on himself for the player to fight Ra.One with and develops a system of defeating Ra.One that is based on a HART device, which is similar to Tony Stark’s chest piece. The Ra.One A.I. eventually takes on a life of its own and makes the jump into the physical world by possessing a dummy of himself built for the video game’s premier. He goes on to kill Shekhar, but Prateek manages to resurrect some semblance of his father when he brings G.One to life in the same way to defeat Ra.One.
Overall, the movie is pretty bad. It’s nearly three hours of convoluted storytelling, cheesy special effects and annoying characters. I’d say it’s on par with Power Rangers: The Movie, but it still does a few things right. One of those things is casting Kareena Kapoor as Shekhar’s wife, Sonia. The item numbers, which is what they call Bollywood’s trademark song and dance numbers (item being a term they used for women), are the other part this film gets right. In these scenes, the movie abruptly stops for a couple minutes of shameless, unadulterated fun in which Khan wins over Kapoor with his amazing dance moves and pop vocals (which aren’t really his), and then she, in turn, wins him over with hers. (Nevermind that these characters are already married and have a teenage son.)
In this film, the song and dance numbers include about twenty backup dancers of both sexes for each character, with everyone smiling and winking as they jam out. The whole thing is totally over-the-top and silly, but that’s why it works. (And yes, it works way better than the Peter Parker disco crap from Spider-Man 3, in which the main character just looked like he needed to be punched in the face.) You’re not supposed to take this stuff seriously. They don’t, so why should you? Do we need to take super-heroes seriously all the time, or can we have fun with them? Can’t we just enjoy a guy on screen being able to do the things that we can’t do, like dance as well as Michael Jackson and win over the single hottest chick in modern cinema? I mean, that’s what super-heroes are there for, aren’t they?
I’m not saying that Iron Man needs to start popping and locking in the middle of his next cocktail party in order to get Scarlett Johansson’s attention (although that would be epic). But I would advocate a return to focusing on what made super-heroes cool in the first place and how music might bring that latent element of super-hero film to the surface. Maybe a well-choreographed, bad-ass, Spidey-style martial arts fight scene set to The Prodigy’s “Warrior’s Dance” while Mary Jane watches and swoons or something. That would be male adolescent wish-fulfillment at its most exquisite, and that’s where super-heroes came from in the first place. Now that Hollywood has given us the opportunity to see them in IMAX 3-D, why not show a little of that off? Not in every movie, just in some of them. The fun ones. Let’s make it happen. And then maybe I can star in one and finally have my chance to win over Kareena Kapoor.
You gotta have goals in life, right?