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

By Paulo Camacho

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a juggernaut in the pop culture scene, since its inception in 2008 — its 16 films to date have grossed a mind-numbing 4.85 BILLION dollars at the box office. That figure will have undoubtedly rose, with the release of its newest film, “Thor: Ragnarok,” on November 3rd. One thing that has helped the third installment in, what many believe to be, the franchise’s least successful series of films? Trailers like this one:

Its perfect blend of eclectic sights and sounds make trailers for movies like “Thor: Ragnarok” stand out, and get people excited — enough to help create an entire genre of YouTube videos: online reactions.

But, again, what cannot be overlooked is the movie trailers’ thematic and psychological use of music. From subliminally reflecting the film’s subject matter, to evoking emotions from its viewers, trailer music serves as a vital tool for studios creating hype for their upcoming films. Here are five examples for the Phase II films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:


Tenth Dimension — Something To Fight For

Iron Man 3 (Official Trailer #1) [Starts at 0:10]

“Iron Man 3” starts the new phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang. Set in the weeks and months following the events depicted in Phase I’s “The Avengers,” the first film of Phase II sees main protagonist Tony Stark feeling the after-effects of his near-death experience from the Battle of New York. Deflecting his apparent Post-Tramautic Stress Disorder by building a seemingly never-ending array of new Iron Man suits, Stark turns his attention to The Mandarin, supposed leader of the terrorist group The Nine Rings. All the while, he is hell-bent on protecting those he cares for, including love interest Pepper Potts.

All of these plot points are depicted in the first official trailer to Iron Man 3, in what many agree to be a darker depiction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Something To Fight For” from Sencit Music’s Tenth Dimension Library poignantly reflects this new, darker turn for the Iron Man franchise, and for the MCU, in general.

In the trailer, we see images that are somewhat foreign to a movie about the multibillionaire playboy genius that doubles as the superhero Iron Man: the destruction of his oceanside mansion at the hands of the Mandarin’s goons; a regretful, highly vulnerable Stark, who looks increasingly broken by his experiences in previous films; and a real sense of a main character in Stark who may not have all the answers to the crises presented in the film. “Something To Fight For’s” use of blaring, dark melodies emphasizes Stark’s seemingly spiraling predicament — one that may see him fail.

Additionally, the trailer’s almost ironic use of the tune reflects on the song’s title: While the events of previous films seemingly affected Stark in a deeply troubling way, it also gave him perspective on his double life, as a superhero and a devoted partner to Pepper Potts — a perspective that has given him something to fight for.


Ninja Tracks — Pretender

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Trailer #1) [Starts at 0:34]

Much like its “Iron Man” predecessor in Phase II, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” follows Capt. Steve Rogers in the months following the Battle of New York, in the most familiar place he knows — as a soldier for the clandestine organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. But when his values begin to clash with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s unsavory methods, he uncovers a decades-old conspiracy that changes the MCU forever.

The sensational plot twist added an unexpected-yet-welcome “political action-thriller” feel to the second film in the “Captain America” trilogy: one that — **SPOILER ALERT** — saw S.H.I.E.L.D. revealed to be a sleeper cell for HYDRA, the evil deep science division for the Axis Powers that Capt. Rogers and the Howling Commandos seemingly stopped in “Captain America: The First Avenger”. All the while, Captain America must stop a mysterious assassin called the Winter Soldier, and figure out his role in the conspiracy before it’s too late.

With all that in mind, the use of Ninja Tracks’ “Pretender” makes perfect sense — after all, the track sounds like the type of music one would hear in a Jack Ryan film: ominous, dark, driving melodies that thematically follow the questions asked by the film’s main idea: Would you be willing to trade freedom for security? And who do you trust when your greatest allies turn out to be your worst enemies?


Blue Swede — Hooked On A Feeling

Guardians of the Galaxy (Trailer #1) [Starts at 1:32]

In what can be considered a quirky, change-of-pace space opera in the MCU, “The Guardians of the Galaxy” follows the adventures of a band of misfits, joined by coincidence, and bonded by the idea of family — one deprived of each character through unfortunate circumstance. Led by Terran Ravager and outlaw Peter Quill (AKA “StarLord”), this group of space outlaws — alien assassin Gamora, revenge-fueled Drax The Destroyer, bio-enhanced super-intelligent raccoon Rocket, and sentient tree creature Groot — must stop a tyrannical alien warlord from attaining one of the six fabled Infinity Stones, and wiping out the galaxy’s billions of denizens.

Interestingly enough, none of these major plot points are revealed in the first trailer: only a narrative introduction to the film’s obscure main characters, and a montage of images in the film set to a remix of the classic Blue Swede cover to the 1968 song, “Hooked On A Feeling.” Unbeknownst to many audiences of the first trailer, the film’s director, James Gunn, intentionally used classic songs such as “Hooked On A Feeling” as narrative cues for themes in the film: the soundtrack, itself, not only establishes an overall feel to the film’s narrative, but tells an interesting backstory for Quill — in particular, his connection to the favorite music of his late mother.

In fact, according to Gunn, he uses the Blue Swede track as an ironic juxtaposition to the events portrayed in the film. The highly upbeat, carefree song is played as the following is depicted onscreen: Quill is tazed into submission after he sees his treasured Walkman being used by a prison guard; Quill and Rocket are physically humiliated as they are deloused by the guards; and the main characters are herded into the prison’s common area, illustrating the hopelessness of possible escape.


Confidential Music — I’ve Got No Strings

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Trailer #2) [Starts at 0:00]

The films of Phase II culminate with the team-up film, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” — a film that follows the team of superheroes, made up of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, in their hunt for the remnants of the S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA conglomerate, and the scepter used by “Avengers” villain Loki during the Battle of New York. When Tony Stark discovers an artificial intelligence housed within the scepter’s gem, he decides to secretly use it to complete his “Ultron” Defense Program, meant to protect the planet from future overwhelming threats. Unfortunately, Ultron becomes sentient, and deems that the only way to truly protect humanity is to wipe it out.

This frightening exercise in the mortal dangers of sentient artificial intelligence — similarly displayed in film franchises like “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” — is eerily reflected in the music choice for “Age of Ultron’s” first trailer. Confidential Music’s cover of the famed “Annie” song, “I’ve Got No Strings,” is described by Forbes as “brutally effective” — the haunting minor melodies, combined with the single piano, and the echo of a girl’s chorus behind it, reverberate throughout the trailer. Viewers can feel the existential dread of a single hive-minded entity who is no longer a “puppet” of its creators, choosing to end all life on Earth as a “logical solution” with every note of the song played to the trailer.


Hi-Finesse — Visionary

Ant-Man (Trailer #1) [Starts at 0:08]

“Ant-Man” is the final film of the MCU’s Phase II, taking place after the establishment of the new Avengers base. Former thief Scott Lang takes on one last heist to make a living for him and his family. However, in doing so, he is recruited by former Pym Technologies President Hank Pym to steal a new super suit designed by current Pym Technologies President Darren Cross — one that shrinks inhabitants to the size of an insect. To do this, Pym introduces Lang to the former’s old shrinking suit, and essentially trains him to be his successor.

It’s ironic, then, that the first trailer for the film would use such bombastic, epic trailer music as Hi-Finesse, and their track “Visionary.” The track’s title is certainly fitting — seeing as Pym, while considered no friend of Tony Stark or the Avengers, is certainly a visionary for developing the “Pym Particle.” But, considering the majority of the action depicted in the trailer takes place when Lang is the size of an insect — especially when he is fighting Darren Cross’ YellowJacket in a child’s bedroom — the juxtaposition is hard to miss.

However, that’s what makes “Visionary” the perfect track for a film that is self-aware to the ridiculousness of the main character’s powers — it essentially laughs at itself by depicting the power of shrinking as awesome as it possibly can. And, to a degree, that’s exactly what it does: the narrative of the trailer essentially describes Ant-Man as “the ultimate secret weapon” — a soldier that can sneak into the most heavily-fortified structures, with superhuman strength and the ability to control insects. It’s a Marvel film that most people might overlook at first glance, but actually turns out to be an important chapter in the MCU.

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