The third film in the enormously successful Marvel franchise, Iron Man 3 has proven to be another smash-hit adventure for genius, billionaire playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark. As unforgettably played by the quick-fire Robert Downey Jr., Tony is undoubtedly a hero for our times – cynical, tough and quick-witted yet with a beating heart underneath. Downey Jr.'s effortless charisma, plus the fresh energy pumped into the film by new director Shane Black, has seen Iron Man 3 soar past the $1 billion mark at the box-office, making it one of the most successful movies of all time. Tony this time comes face to face with the deadly terrorist The Mandarin – played by British thesp Ben Kingsley. When his lavish mansion is destroyed and his girlfriend Pepper Potts' (Gwyneth Paltrow) life is threatened, Tony must go into hiding and use his wits, rather than his iron suits, to come up with a plan and defeat his enemies. He must also contend with oily scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), whose intentions he rebuffed back on New Year's Eve 1999 - a mistake he comes to regret. Don Cheadle also returns as Stark's best pal – and operator of the War Machine suit – James Rhodes.
Another figure fresh to the Iron Man franchise is composer Brian Tyler – the latest in a line of "revolving" composers that started with Ramin Djawadi and continued with John Debney. It seems that the Marvel mentality is to shuffle the composers with each successive film, which negates any sense of continuity but nevertheless gives a variety of talented composers the chance to exercise their musical muscles. But whereas the first two scores in the series emphasised the rock and roll persona of Tony's character – more so Djawadi's; Debney's had a terrific theme that was sadly ill-used – Tyler has been vocal in his intentions to draw the score back in a more old-fashioned direction.
What's interesting about Tyler's highly entertaining and muscular score is the way that he successfully bridges those two apparently disparate schools of thought – rock-infused and "old-fashioned" orchestral. Tyler has bridged these separate schools of thought throughout his career – his works have varied from the richly melodic (Children of Dune; Partition; Frailty) to the heavily synthetic Remote Control route (Battle Los Angeles; Fast Five). The end result is a score that resounds with orchestral power whilst also hearkening back to the heavily processed styles of Djawadi and Debney. The composer's influences are manifold but with Iron Man 3, he draws particular strength from the robust Jerry Goldsmith school of thought. In this sense, it shares a connection with Alan Silvestri's score for Captain America: The First Avenger – arguably the most conventionally entertaining and old-fashioned Marvel score to date.
It all stems from a terrifically powerful Main Theme – a series of resoundingly powerful horn phrases (evoking Goldsmith) over a thunderous timpani crashes and a spine-tingling male choir. The theme is explicit in its heroic intentions; it takes Stark's character, one previously treated with a rock 'n' roll sensibility, and lends him an overtly grandiose, even mythical sensibility. It's a good thing the theme is so good because Tyler relies on heavily across the course of the score. The theme first pops up in the attention-grabbing opener "Iron Man 3" and is deployed regularly thereafter, most notably in the film's lavish and spectacular action sequences.
Its most memorable renditions come in "Attack on 10880 Malibu Point" (the dramatic scene in which Stark's lavish mansion is destroyed); the enormously exciting "Stark", where the theme battles with abrasive material for the villains; the magnificent anthemic "New Beginnings", the greatest moment of musical heroism in the Iron Man series so far; and the unerringly dramatic one-two punch of "'Return" and "Battle Finale". The main theme is the dominant factor throughout but there are just enough quiet moments dotted throughout to break up the onslaught. The Mandarin isn't treated with an especially noteworthy theme but instead rolls around in the lower registers with occasional input from wind instruments to indicate his apparent ethnic origin – tracks such as "Another Lesson from the Mandarin" are really quite dark. The "Extremis" aspect of the plot (a famous arc in the comics - involving the development of invincible super-soldiers) is treated in similar skittish fashion.
To counteract this, Tyler introduces an appealing and tender love theme for Stark and Pepper on soft winds and strings – hardly groundbreaking but lovely nonetheless. "Isolation" is where it gets the most noteworthy airing and it even gets an grandiose rendition in the thrilling, driving "Hot Pepper" where the brass onslaught is of truly fearsome proportions. There's also a moving rendition of the main theme at the end of this particular track. Another noteworthy cue is "Dive Bombers", accompanying the film's spectacular mid-air rescue sequence. Tyler deploys a pulsating synthetic rhythm (again hearkening back to Djawadi and Debney's work) that sounds like rotor blades slowed down, really capturing the "free-falling" feeling quite brilliantly. As the track continues, the percussion and strings build in intensity as Stark's heroism comes into play on-screen, finally culminating in a rock-infused rendition of the main Iron Man theme. It's one of the most effectively scored moments in the film.
Nevertheless, for all its strengths, the score is a difficult one to review on album because of the way that it's structured. In the film, Tyler and director Shane Black tease the audience with frequent heroic statements of the Iron Man theme but it's only really heard fully in the climatic action sequences. On the album, Tyler has structured the music differently, placing the theme's most powerful statements at the beginning and end of the score. This of course means that it grabs the attention at the start and ends with a rousing finish but occasionally drags throughout the middle. A degree of resequencing is necessary to get the most out of it.
That said, it's still an enormously enjoyable modern-day action score, one that pleasingly embraces old-fashioned film score conventions. And when one reaches the infectiously tongue-in-cheek finale "Can You Dig It", in which the Iron Man 3 theme gets a groovy, 70s cop-show spin (all swaggering brass and jazzy rhythms) it's impossible not to grin. For one thing, the track is immensely enjoyable but it also clearly affirms how much fun Tyler has had with the material. Much like Black's approach behind the camera, Tyler isn't afraid at poking fun at this gargantuan franchise and it's edifying to see that composer and director are clearly on the same page.
It remains to be seen whether Brian Tyler will get to score another Marvel film. Indeed, so many composers have been shuffled around, from Ramin Djwadi to John Debney, Patrick Doyle to Alan Silvestri, that it's impossible to say who will next take the reins. Nevertheless, out of the decidedly mixed bag of Marvel scores, Tyler's is certainly one of the most enjoyable and it's thrilling to see that he's finally been attached to a project of weight and prestige. If Iron Man 3 does indeed turn out to be Stark's final stand-alone adventure (or at least the final one with Robert Downey Jr. as the character), then Tyler has rounded it off brilliantly. He captures both the character's humour and heroism whilst lending the franchise an epic quality it has sorely been lacking up until now. The composer should also be applauded for balancing the expectations of an era saturated with Hans Zimmer mannerisms with old-fashioned Goldsmithian bombast. It goes to show it's not impossible to blend the two sensibilities and fingers crossed it will pave the way for more composers to do the same.
It has been announced that following his work on "Iron Man 3", Brian Tyler is to score another Marvel movie - "Thor: The Dark World".