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Marvel Cinematic Universe Trailer Music, Phase I: A Musical Analysis

By Paulo Camacho

It has become one of the more anticipated events to have been cultivated with YouTube culture in recent years: the worldwide release of a brand new movie trailer. This has become especially true for comic book movie fans — with the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes having firmly taken hold of popular culture, the hype for a comic book film builds to a fever pitch with every new trailer released. On October 16th, Marvel Studios did just that — in this instance, with their new film set for release next February, “Black Panther”:

While the introduction of familiar comic book characters, combined with the stunning visuals in comic book movie trailers, contribute a significant amount to this hype, one must not forget the role of the music used in said trailers. From popular songs both past and present, to instrumentals usually made specifically for adrenaline-themed videos, trailer music plays the vital role in setting the tone of the movie it represents.

Marvel Studios, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in particular, understood this creed, and used trailer music as effectively as a burgeoning studio could. It started with their Phase I films: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers. This was probably when the anticipation build-up was at its most vital — after all, when the MCU was at its infancy, comic book movie audiences were still getting the bad taste of the widely-panned “Spider-Man 3” out of their mouths. I have singled out the following five songs used in Phase I MCU film trailers:

Audioslave — Cochise

Iron Man (Official Trailer) [Starts at 1:35]

2008’s “Iron Man” was the film that started it all for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starring Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role, the then-43-year-old’s charisma was tailor-made for the “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” that would later fight The Nine Rings terrorist group in his trademark red-and-gold super suit. It was an ambitious project for director and co-star Jon Favreau, as “Iron Man” would stand as the flagship for the establishment of an entire movie universe — a media endeavor that had rarely been attempted in the history of American cinema.

With that in mind, Marvel Studios had to come out with an impressive trailer that captured the mood of the film, its leading man, and the high-octane action that audiences could expect. The use of Audioslave’s seminal hit song, “Cochise,” in this case, was actually kind of fitting to the theme of the film, and its trailer (whether or not that was deliberate is unclear). Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello, speaking to the overall mood of the track, said of the Apache Chief that bore the song’s namesake:

“Cochise the Avenger, fearless and resolute, attacked everything in his path with an unbridled fury.”

Ironic, considering Tony Stark’s Iron Man was the first to be recruited to the movie universe’s “Avengers Initiative,” and that his super suit was essentially a near-unstoppable one-man army. And the visuals that went along with “Cochise” match up nicely to the music’s overall theme: displays of the Iron Man Suit’s awesome power, in addition to jump cuts of the film’s more interesting moments, accentuate the track as an excitement-producing piece of media.

Cinetrax — Try To Catch Me

The Incredible Hulk (Official Trailer) [Starts at 0:43]

As a hard reboot of the 2003 Ang Lee film “Hulk” starring Eric Bana, 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” follows Dr. Bruce Banner, played by Edward Norton. Banner is on the run from the United States military, who hope to capture and harness the power of Banner’s alter-ego, The Hulk — an oversized, green monstrosity with superhuman strength and invulnerability that appears when Banner’s heart rate goes over 200.

As the story suggests, the majority of “The Incredible Hulk” basically amounts to a manhunt film — the government is tasked with tracking down a superhero-in-hiding. Meanwhile, the protagonist must stay one step ahead of them, while seeking a cure for his dangerous condition. With that in mind, Cinetrax’s “Try To Catch Me” fits perfectly with the film’s central theme. It is the tribal drums that drive the high-octane song, audibly illustrating a classic movie chase scene. Paired with scenes where Banner is being stalked by the military, the song takes on that heart-pumping feel of a man trying to escape a harrowing situation.

Granted, the track, itself, is tailor made as the kind of stock music studios can use for various purposes, the fact that it is titled “Try To Catch Me” implies that the writers know exactly what kind of track this is, and what it should be used for.

AC/DC — Shoot To Thrill

Iron Man 2 (Teaser Trailer) [Starts at 0:28]

2010’s “Iron Man 2,” the anticipated sequel to the MCU’s flagship franchise, sees its protagonist enjoying his transition into a very public double-life as both multi-billionaire corporate tech/weapons mogul Tony Stark, and technologically-enhanced superhero Iron Man. The scene portrayed in the above teaser trailer illustrates this perfectly, as it ends up being an alternate, unused version of the film’s first scene: It shows Robert Downey Jr.’s Stark getting over a hangover before leaping from a military plane into his eponymous Stark Expo.

Interestingly enough, the song is also used on two other occasions: in the actual opening scene for the theatrical release of the film, and in a scene in “The Avengers” team-up film, where Iron Man/Tony Stark plays the song over a hacked PA system in Stuttgart, Germany, as he arrives to back up a newly-recruited Captain America in capturing the film’s main villain, Loki.

In any case, “Shoot To Thrill” essentially acts as Iron Man’s unofficial theme song — something that suits Tony Stark, thematically speaking. After all, the song talks about the exciting yet self-destructive double-edged sword that is life as a rock star.

This fits perfectly to Tony Stark’s current predicament in the film — he gets to live the life many men dream about: a charming, wealthy playboy who also happens to be a superhero. However, that life comes at a hefty price — in this case, a bevy of enemies that want revenge for his past exploits; not to mention that the device that both powers his super suit and keeps him alive (it acts as a magnet that keeps metal shrapnels at bay from reaching his heart), is simultaneously killing him, its foreign substance composition slowly poisoning his bloodstream. On top of it being a hip, raucous rock ballad from AC/DC, it’s a perfect song for the Iron Man franchise, and for this trailer.

Hi-Finesse — Destructo

Thor (Official Trailer) [Starts at 1:33]

Continuing with Phase I of the MCU, 2011’s “Thor” told the story of the kingdom of Asgard, and its arrogant crown prince, Thor Odinson. After disobeying his father, Odin, and possibly igniting a race war with their ancient rivals, the Frost Giants, the elder Norse deity strips his son of his godly power and banishes him to Earth, in a “Science meets Sorcery” redemption tale between two worlds.

This theme, combining science and sorcery as two sides of the same coin, is subconsciously reflected in their choice of music — particularly, with their use of the electronic track “Destructo,” by Hi-Finesse Music & Sound. The Santa Monica-based music production company specializes in producing high-intensity instrumental themes, and have worked with a number of major studios, including Marvel, for years.

“Destructo,” in particular, with its heavy guitar riffs and driving, aggressive beats, works perfectly with the film’s high concept of fantastic, neo-medieval worlds like Asgard. In particular, the tune echoes other high fantasy universes, such as Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, or Warcraft.

The Glitch Mob — Fistful of Silence

Captain America: The First Avenger (Official Trailer) [Starts at 1:27]

As the last solo film of Phase I before “The Avengers,” 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” was a World War II film as only Marvel could tell it — through the eyes of mild-mannered civilian turned world’s first Super Soldier, Steve Rogers. As the first and only successful iteration of the US government’s Super Soldier program, Rogers would go on to systematically take down the clandestine Axis Deep Science division, HYDRA, and its leader, the Red Skull.

Considering the vast majority of the film is set in 1940s Eastern Europe, at the major sites of WWII, one would think that the publicity — especially the film’s trailers — would reflect that. However, because it is a Marvel film — complete with superheroes, supervillains and otherworldly weapons technology — its trailer music would establish this theme with the electronic track “Fistful of Silence” by Los Angeles-based group The Glitch Mob.

Starting with what sounds like a contemporary war anthem with an electronica feel, “Fistful of Silence” builds from there to a variety of battle scenes from the film — combining a driving, modern track with an apt juxtaposition of 1940s wartime setting with modern, sci-fi warfare.

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