Superman Returns is the archetypal superhero soundtrack, expertly incorporating the full spectrum of full-color emotions — heroics, passion, dread, wonder, inspiration — while paying homage to John Williams’ original tracks.
The soundtrack opens with the familiar Supes crescendo in “Main Titles”, calling to mind the engrained vision of Christopher Reeve’s Superman running down a Metropolis street, peeling back his mild manner business suit to reveal his signature “S”. The track is a straightforward port of Williams’ original theme, and most geeks can’t help but smile when listening to it. From there, the soundtrack builds and expands on the first movie’s themes, actually improving on Williams’ score.
Up, Up and Away
“Rough Flight” corresponds to the movies first big action sequence, in which Superman must save a doomed airplane and the next generation space shuttle it’s attempting to launch. The track surges up and down, its tempo racing, peaking and then stalling at Superman struggles with to deal with the disintegrating plane. It’s a great track, and perhaps the best action track we’ve seen in a Superman movie. It’s perfect background music for when a HeroClix battle turns particularly brutal.
The “Bank Job” is my least favorite track, with a sound that makes it sound like some sort of cheesy 1940s action serial. The rest of the soundtrack is much classier, and the “Bank Job” seems out of place as a result.
“How Could You Leave Us?” is a sentimental, choral track that works the “Can You Read My Mind/Love Theme” from Superman I into its musical question.
“Not Like the Train Set” which complements Lex Luthor’s ominous plan to raise his own continent, is an excellent, tension-filled piece filled with spiky highs that reflect the spastic growth of the new landmass.
“Saving the World” is nicely dramatic, even if the scene it represents is out of character for Superman (not the saving the world, rather how he saves the world).
The best thing about these tracks is how artfully they weave in the main Superman theme, returning to it time and again, sometimes with just a few notes, sometimes with a full refrain, but in each case it doesn’t fail to get your adrenaline surging just a bit faster. The soundtrack exceeds the movie, offering continuous inspiration where the movie often seems more restrained and subdued. Indeed, hearing the soundtrack first may have weakened the movie for me, as I went in expecting more overt heroics.
The Superman Returns soundtrack logically makes for great background music for a supers campaign, particularly one with plenty of high-powered Justice League-style heroes. It also makes for great background music for any geek get together, from board games to HeroClix because the theme is so engrained in geek culture.
Case in point: when I got the soundtrack, my friends and I spent a Saturday listening to it as we played HeroClix. At the end of the day, while at Sears waiting to pick up a grill, John stood there obsessively humming the Superman theme. And when we got back to the house for a final round of Clix, we happily listened to the soundtrack for a third time. Moreover, the soundtrack scored well with protogeeks, as my then-three-week-old son Lucas stopped fussing and happily listened to the music whenever the soundtrack was on.
Having said all this, the soundtrack isn’t for everyone. If you were never particularly into Superman, then you may not be nearly as enthusiastic about the soundtrack and its myriad repetitions of the central musical theme.
Superman Returns is one of the best superhero soundtracks out there, and it belongs on ever superhero-worshiping geek’s collection, right alongside the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Battlestar Galactica soundtracks.
- Superman Returns
- Release Date: June 27, 2006
- John Ottman (Composer), Damon Intrabartolo (Conductor)
- Label: Rhino / Wea
- Buy it from Amazon