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

By Paulo Camacho

The movie trailer — played before films for the sole purpose of creating buzz and anticipation from their audiences. And for the Marvel movie fans back in February of this year, the buzz for the much-anticipated “Avengers: Infinity War” couldn’t get more palpable:

That is, at least, until San Diego’s most recent Comic-Con, when Marvel Studios showed their audiences an exclusive trailer not seen by the general public.

In any case, the fervor for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it reaches its apex with “Infinity War,” is further enhanced by its trailers, and its use of music. I have covered trailer music for the first two phases of the MCU here and here. Here, then, are some examples of music used in trailers for the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

Dean Valentine — Sharks Don’t Sleep

Captain America: Civil War (Official Trailer #1) [Starts at 0:35]

As the final installment in the “Captain America” trilogy, the film picks up where “Avengers: Age of Ultron” left off, with Captain Steve Rogers leading a team of Avengers on the hunt for the remnants of the S.H.I.E.L.D/HYDRA collective. After an incident involving Wanda Maximoff leads to the deaths of a humanitarian group from Wakanda, the resulting “Sokovia Accords” — a U.N. decree limiting the actions of enhanced individuals, splits allegiances between the Avengers.

Further complicating matters is the hunt for Capt. Rogers’ former friend and ally-turned-HYDRA assassin, the Winter Soldier, suspected of the assassination of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka. The resulting “Civil War” between the two sides — reflected with the personal conflicts between Capt. Rogers and Tony Stark’s Iron Man — threatens to rip the team asunder.

Much like the film’s predecessor, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” as well as the famous comic book series it’s named after, “Civil War” takes on a much darker feel than earlier Marvel films, and the trailer above was intent on reflecting that darker tone. Film & Trailer composer Dean Valentine takes full advantage of this theme in “Sharks Don’t Sleep,” with his use of a swelling, minor undertone and a fast, driving melody.

This combination of elements make for the right kind of emotionally aggressive tune that simultaneously reflects the two deeply-opposed sides, and manifests the tragic circumstances of their conflict. The melody, which matches the title’s theme of a shark constantly on the move, also lends itself to the narrative of the film — an action-packed thrill ride that unleashes a surprising amount of twists and turns.

Hi-Finesse — Dystopia

Doctor Strange (Official Trailer #2) [Starts at 0:17]

In this introduction to the mystical arts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Doctor Strange” tells the story of brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange. After an accident takes away his surgical abilities, he goes on a journey to restore his hands to their full function, only to stumble upon the mysterious Kamar-Taj, and the Ancient One, who trains him in the mystical arts.

While Doctor Strange is a major character in the Marvel Universe, the film is the first to feature the nature of his powers — specifically, the ideas of sorcery and alternate dimensions. With The Ancient One’s opening narration to the video above, the film’s second trailer aimed to establish this brand-new aspect to the MCU in a variety of ways.

One of the more understated ways was their use of Hi-Finesse’s track, “Dystopia.” The combination of traditional ethereal tones and modern electronica give the trailer a unique, almost cosmic feel not experienced in other MCU trailers. The use of dissonant chords throughout the track help establish the mystical ambiance that embodies both the trailer and the film, itself. By establishing this theme, “Dystopia” is, in and of itself, its own narrative device for the film.

Fleetwood Mac — The Chain

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (Official Trailer #3) [Starts at 0:22]

The sequel to the unexpected 2014 hit “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Vol. 2” continues to explore the themes established in the first film — specifically, what it means to be a family, no matter how dysfunctional it may look like on the surface. Set in the days and weeks after the events of the first film, “Vol. 2” examines the Guardians’ evolving group dynamic, as they continue to search for their place in the universe.

This is demonstrated in a number of ways — from the dysfunctional relationship between adopted sisters Gamora and Nebula, to the self-destructive behaviors of one Rocket Raccoon, rooted in his own dysfunctional definitions of interpersonal relationships, to Peter Quill and his relationships with the father figures in his life: Yondu Udonta, the surrogate father figure who kidnapped him when he was only a child; and Ego, the birth father/living planet he never knew, that has suddenly re-entered his life.

It’s only fitting, then, that this theme of interpersonal relationships is directly referenced in the above trailer’s song, “The Chain” — a song released in 1977 by the popular British-American rock band Fleetwood Mac. Not only is it an important song for the trailer’s narrative, it also serves as a prominent track in the film, itself, chosen specifically by director James Gunn. The song, ironically enough, was pieced together from excerpts of previously rejected materials by the band in a time when the group was falling apart. The lyrics, speaking of a chain that can never break, and representing the bond that preserves a relationship, weaves quite nicely into the narratives of each of the main characters, and the ever-evolving nature of their relationships as a familial unit.

MGMT — Time To Pretend

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Official Trailer #1) [Starts at 0:32]

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” marks the second solo reboot of the popular teenaged, web-slinging superhero. After having appeared in “Captain America: Civil War,” Peter Parker, newly-upgraded with Tony Stark’s hi-tech Spidey-suit, is forced to juggle life as an aspiring Avenger and a high school student at the prestigious Midtown School of Science and Technology in Queens, New York. As Spider-Man, Parker must battle with the likes of Vulture — a masked supervillain with a set of mechanical wings. As a mild-mannered science wiz, Parker must deal with the day-to-day life as a requisite social outcast.

As portrayed in “Civil War,” what makes this version of Peter Parker so unique is his characterization as the brain of a technological genius stuck in an awkward teenager’s body. And, aside from the caveat of “fighting crime and supervillains as a spider-enhanced web-slinger,” the story of “Homecoming” focuses a lot of its time on Parker’s social and academic life, as a 15-year-old figuring out how to navigate through high school.

It’s strange, then, on the surface, that the song chosen to portray this kind of high school life would be MGMT’s “Time To Pretend” — after all, according to its (Not Safe For Work) lyrics, the song depicts the Siren’s Call of a rock star’s glamour-filled life, and the ruinous pitfalls that come with it.

However, the lyrics end up relating to the protagonist’s main journey, as depicted in the trailer — an over-eager Peter Parker, after having had a taste of what it’s like to be an Avenger, wanting to leave behind the grounded life of high-school student/friendly-neighborhood superhero to fight for the Marvel super-team. Additionally, the upbeat, angsty melody of “Time To Pretend” fits a trailer for a film that is heavily influenced by the famed John Hughes films of the 1980s.

Black Panther (Teaser Trailer) [Starts at 0:35]

Run The Jewels — Legend Has It

After his dynamic debut in “Captain America: Civil War,” the enigmatic King T’Challa will return February 16, 2018, in his own solo movie, “Black Panther.” While much of the plot is still not known, this is the official synopsis from IMDb:

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakanadan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war.

With that in mind, why would they use a song like “Legend Has It” by Run The Jewels? One reason could entail the song’s aggressive tone, and how it is meant to match the action-packed nature of the film. Additionally, a prominent line said in the track — “Step into the spotlight” — can be seen as a cheeky double cultural reference:

  • As mentioned in the synopsis of the film, the character of Black Panther comes from the secluded nation of Wakanda — however, as a result of the events of “Civil War,” Wakanda must “step into the spotlight” as a cultural, technological pillar to the rest of the world.
  • Black Panther, himself a lesser-known Marvel superhero, “steps into the spotlight” as the first African-American superhero in the MCU with his own film — a distinction in modern cinema that can only be technically shared with Wesley Snipes’ “Blade” trilogy (although, while considered a Marvel character, he is not directly associated with Marvel Studios).