Craig Armstrong takes over with the second installment of the MCU, The Incredible Hulk. The film stars Edward Norton as the laden scientist, Bruce Banner, in his quest to try to understand and eradicate his green affliction.
While Djawadi’s score for Iron Man is bombastic and metallic, Armstrong’s approach is more traditionally orchestral and introspective. Bruce Banner, compared to the rest of the Avengers, is a tragic character. His isn’t a story about embracing celestial powers, using his profound wealth and intelligence for good, or rising to the call to arms. His is a story about keeping himself constantly surprise for fear of becoming an entirely different being over which he has no control. His is a life of anxiety, forced zen, and isolation. Armstrong’s score pairs incredibly well with Banner’s dour circumstances. For the most part, the score is a simmering pot, constantly restrained and contained, until the Hulk surfaces and the music explodes. Armstrong writes beautifully dissonant and bleak music for Bruce Banner to reflect his lonely life.
The film is at its best when Norton explores Banner’s loneliness and his feelings for Betty. What makes the character development so affective is Armstrong’s sensitive musical accompaniment. Banner is not a loquacious man; expressing his feelings could “wake the dragon”, so to speak. Armstrong’s score says what Banner cannot. His music is a vivid manifestation of what Banner feels, a way for the audience to connect intimately with the character. A powerful example is “Reunion“, a track that only features strings. A love theme for Betty and Bruce repeats throughout the track, characterized by the wide upward leap and its suspension resolution. The homogenous sound of the strings allows Armstrong to explore shifts in tone by using the different colors and registers of the string section without losing cohesion. The sweeping melody, the heartbreaking suspensions, and the subtle yet moving tone changes in this track provide depth and understanding to the relationship between Bruce and Betty, saying everything they wish they could say out loud. Armstrong even adds a throwback to the Hulk television series with “The Lonely Man“, a plaintive melody heard in “Bruce Goes Home“.
For the Hulk, Armstrong writes a simple yet aggressive theme. When writing the Hulk’s theme, Armstrong channeled the theme for Jaws by John Williams. The theme itself, a three-note motif comprised simply of a note and the upper octave, is menacing. Orchestrated with low brass and low strings, the theme is wild and threatening, but once the upper strings come in with the more melodic part of the theme, it sounds less menacing and more like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”. Despite that amusing sound association, “Hulk Theme” is powerful and energetic, a major contrast to the melancholic music representing Bruce Banner.
Perhaps the most emotional and stirring track on the score accompanies a scene that was cut from the film. The original opening sequence, found in the Special Features of the 3-disc Special Edition, watches Banner journeying to the Arctic to commit suicide, which would have started the film with an even darker tone. Armstrong’s track, “The Arctic“, is a tumultuous build up of all Banner’s hopelessness and regrets. Incorporating the entire symphony orchestra, the music compounds energy atop energy and magnifies all his emotions, eventually leading to the Hulk’s theme, when the Hulk comes out to defend his life.
Armstrong wins Best Supporting Actor with his score to The Incredible Hulk. His music deftly develops characters, particularly Banner, along with Norton’s already stellar performance. As far as superhero films go, this score is a more personal approach to understanding a character, which is fitting since Banner’s story is more bleak than the average superhero. While The Incredible Hulk is often swept under the rug because of the Hulk’s recast, the score is definitely one that should not be forgotten.