Iron Man (2008) kicked off Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a fresh and energetic start to the massive franchise, strongly shaped by the performance of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and director Jon Favreau’s vision. Another crucial part of Iron Man‘s success came from Ramin Djawadi’s fresh and powerful score.
Composer Harry Gregson-Williams was originally hired to write Iron Man‘s score, but he had to drop out because of conflicts with The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. In lieu of a grand and epic score that Gregson-Williams does so well, Djawadi and Favreau opted for a hipper and more youthful approach — one powered by rock ‘n’ roll. Djawadi’s score is a blend of rock music and epic film music, which creates an exciting energy and atmosphere for the film. Djawadi expressed that he wrote the music to mirror the different moods of Tony Stark. Based on that notion, it’s evident that most of Stark’s moods are intense and driven, because the majority of the score is a rock soundscape, powered by electric guitar and drum set and colored by the orchestra. The choice to use electric guitar as the primary voice for the film is a no-brainer. Electric guitar has a metallic sound, which clearly connects with the idea of Iron Man. Add in the drum set, and the whole sound is evocative of a metal rock concert, again evocative of Iron Man’s suit.
Take the soundtrack’s first track, “Driving with the Top Down“. It has a head-bangin’ groove, always moving forward. At times the guitar is the lead voice, but the rest of the orchestra has its time to shine. Strings take the melody after a while and horns play a stirring counter-line. The drive is ever present, utilizing the different instruments of a drum set: cymbals, bass drum, and hi-hat. At times, the guitar is used merely for effect, adding an edgy reverberation. All of these components contribute to the fresh sound of the film. Over the decades, rock music has been a symbol for youth, and showcasing this style in the score evokes that feeling in the audience. It also links that idea with the main character, Tony Stark. While he’s a mid-thirties CEO of a conglomerate corporation, the first scene where he’s joking around with the soldiers in his convoy show his sharp mind and facility to relate to a younger crowd. This music absolutely connects with the idea of Tony Stark, as well as gives the franchise as a whole a youthful energy. It’s a great sound to start the Marvel Cinematic Universe — providing a lot of momentum forward.
Djawadi also gets to compose some softer and more introspective music in this film. The first third of this film takes place in a cave in Afghanistan. He tastefully incorporates an Arabic style in a few tracks that respectfully denotes the setting. He uses both harmony and instrumentation to create the aural setting, which gives a nice contrast to the American rock sound that pervades the majority of the film. As said before, Djawadi aimed to reflect Stark’s moods in the score, and in a couple tracks he was able to shape Stark’s more vulnerable moods. “Extra Dry, Extra Olives” is a lovely track, using solo clarinet overtop synths to create a more cinematic backdrop to a special moment between Stark and Pepper Potts. Similarly, he creates an even more vulnerable soundscape for “Are Those Bullet Holes?”. This track exclusively features the string section, alternating between high and low waves of sustain, creating surging harmonies that brighten and darken as needed in the scene. Interesting that the more cinematic and intimate tracks feature emotions toward Ms. Pepper Potts.
Djawadi’s approach to the Iron Man score is just as modern and fresh as the other elements in the film. Iron Man was all about starting something new and being a solid start to a huge film franchise. Its energy and vision are inspiring and have absolutely ignited audience fervor and excitement through two phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His music is edgy and gritty, just like the film’s genius billionaire protagonist — and just as multi-dimensional.