Patrick Doyle is the next composer for the MCU, scoring the fourth installment of Phase I with Thor (2011). With a beautifully organic and majestic tone, his score perfectly encapsulates the spirit and goodness of Asgard and its Norse-inspired gods.
Doyle’s score has three main themes/motifs. The first is for Odin, which is first heard in “Prologue“. Odin’s is a motif, as it’s not fully developed. It is characterized by a suspension, usually in the horn or the strings. It’s a turbulent suspension, accompanied by articulated strings and resolving to a minor harmony, which I feel evokes the great weight of Odin’s past as a peacemaker and a king. He has experienced much and lost much (including an eye) to maintain peace. Even in the plot of Thor, his story arc is conflicted as his unconscious state causes many problems after he ousts Thor from Asgard. The return of his motif throughout the film is a reminder of his weighted contributions to the MCU.
The second theme I find a little difficult to classify. It could be a theme for Jane. It could more generally be a love theme for Thor and Jane. I’m not entirely satisfied with those two options, so I like to think of it as a theme representing a humanized form of Thor — and I mean that literally, a theme showing the transformation from his interactions with humans and away from the gods of Asgard. It’s his humanization that causes Thor to become “worthy”, resulting in Mjölnir’s return to Thor and Thor’s recovery to glory. For this reason, I believe this theme is a played in “Thor Kills the Destroyer” — in the theme’s most glorious manifestation in the film — as Thor becomes the God of Thunder again. It’s the humanizing transformation that most crucially contributes to Thor’s worthiness — an idea explored by him and Loki later in The Avengers. The theme is mostly presented in a more lyrical form, like in “Science and Magic“, some of the only instances Doyle uses woodwinds in the score. It’s characterized by a sweeping upward leap and a suspension.
The third theme I love, love very much, and I believe it is this theme that garners most criticism for the general tone of the film. This theme, heard both thoughtfully and majestically in “Sons of Odin” is not Thor’s theme since it does not return during Thor’s more meaningful moments. This theme, used both in introspective and grandiose forms, represents Asgard and Mjölnir — both of which are agents for good. I believe this is whey the general tone of the film sounds optimistic; these supreme powers are symbols of unwavering goodness. Many criticisms reprove the score for being too bright for the darker moments, of which the film has a fair amount, but I see the score the way Asgard is seen in the universe: a perennial bright light amid the threatening darkness. And, for goodness sake, we’re talking about a world with a rainbow light bridge!
My criticism of the score lies in its instrumentation. Doyle’s score is mostly brass, strings, and percussion. There are very few woodwinds. The most used woodwind is the English horn, which you’d assume would make me happy, but I think it’s severe lack of woodwinds is a missed opportunity. I am well aware that the first section to be omitted from a score are the woodwinds — for a myriad of reasons including a desire for a generally metallic sound, budgetary constrictions, etc, but I think it’s a little lazy to use woodwinds only for soft and lyrical moments. Flute and clarinet are only used for the humanization theme, but woodwinds are versatile and very colorful. Loki could have had a very sneaky and mysterious theme by the bassoon or the English horn. The action sequences, though, suffered the most. It’s as if all the action tracks are using the same color paint; after a while, they don’t shine as brightly and become dull. John Williams and Michael Giacchino show just how exciting, versatile and colorful woodwinds can be in action sequences. Even if it was a conscious decision to harbor a horn/strings sound — which, I admit, is very appropriate for Asgard — as a whole, it is missing something.
Overall, I think Doyle did a thoughtful job with his score for Thor. He wrote a glorious theme that I could listen to over and over, and he created a very appropriate tone for the film. Its heavy use of the horn — which is always a lovely idea — perfectly encapsulates the heroic and majestic essence of Asgard and its peacekeepers. Now excuse me while I go listen to “Ride to Observatory” a dozen times in a row…