Interview with Christophe Beck

If you thought DC’s movie universe was depressing, Marvel’s cinematic superheroes are in even more dire straits thanks to a finger snap from Thanos. So what better season than summer to reverse the infinity glove and jump back into Christophe Beck’s musical microverse for a giant-sized burst of comic book fun with “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”

Having scored supers before with the teen likes of Buffy and Percy Jackson, Beck make his first Marvel entry with the moody martial arts vibe of 2005’s “Elektra.” But it was 2015’s “Ant-Man” that truly marked Beck’s splash for the company, with infinitely more acclaim. As directed by Peyton Reed (responsible for the sweet 60’s kitschfest “Down With Love”), “Ant-Man” was even then a throwback to the days when superheroes weren’t filled with berserker rage. One of Stan Lee’s goofier, and less-known silver age concepts paid homage to the past while freshly filling his boots with a well-meaning cat burglar who bungles upon the miniaturizing tech. Beck ran with the opportunity of a retro hero passing the insect-controlling torch to this unlikely Avenger with a delightful score that mixed heist funk with surf guitar, while not forgetting the brassy, orchestral muscle of do-gooder scoring. For where Marvel had focused on a fairly traditional approach to conveying might, “Ant-Man” was truly one of the studio’s first scores to broke the mold in a humorous, though without the kind of musical camp that had once relegated the superhero genre to kid’s stuff.

Now with “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” Beck has teamed again with Reed for one of the rare sequel cases where bigger is truly better in more ways than one. Here Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) finally gets her wings, and wrist blasters to show who really wears the suit in her relationship with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Searching the microverse for her seemingly lost Wasp mom Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), this dynamic duo face off against the decidedly glum Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a white-garbed villain out to steal their technology. Given a bigger cosmic scale that sees Scott and his malfunctioning suit shrink him to kid-size, then propel him to Goliath scope, Beck runs with the sweeping thematic opportunities to inject his score with way more symphonic dimension, while reprising his first soundtrack’s memorable, rocking theme. Electronics also come to fore in both the sinister capabilities of Ghost and the eerie quantum universe that holds the keys to the long-vanished Janet’s whereabouts.

A huge bundle of superhero scoring enjoyment in an increasing world of superhero gloom and real-life doom, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” reflects the delight of a composer running with the franchise opportunity in a prolific career, one that also finds Beck holding stylistically very different, and powerfully unexpected cards up his own sleeve.

“Ant-Man” was one of the first scores that stylistically broke the “Marvel” soundtrack mode with its fun retro sound. Did you have the sense that you were going into new territory with that movie?

Yeah, and that’s what made it exciting. The whole heist aspect of the first film was really an easy way to kind of get my hooks into a style of music that was distinct from the other Marvel movies, which made it a natural fit for me. I didn’t have to stretch in any direction that felt artificial because it lent itself quite naturally to that retro 60’s and 70’s sound, but at the same incorporating some of the more traditional Marvel sounds. There’s still a strong heroic theme, but it’s presented in a more fun, high concept style than most of the company’s other scores.

How did you and Peyton want to expand the musical scope of Ant-Man with the sequel, especially as he becomes Giant Man in it?

Well, mostly it’s the idea that this isn’t an “Ant-Man” movie anymore. It’s about the team-up between him and The Wasp. So there was a conscious decision at the beginning of the process that whenever there was an opportunity to play a theme, then you’d have the choice between the two characters We chose to tilt the scales a little to bit to establish The Wasp’s sound, which goes into the score’s balance between the old and new. You don’t want to completely ignore Ant-Man’s musical identity. Otherwise there’s no continuity. But at the same time, you want to make sure there’s enough newness in the score to feel like it’s going new places, and isn’t just some retread.

How did you want to musically capture The Wasp?

Well, “Ant-Man” used an odd meter for that character, which was the signature of that score. I felt like I wanted to continue that idea to connect the themes for both him and The Wasp. Another thing that makes this score different is that this isn’t really a “heist” movie like the last one, Here, The Wasp is finally able to come onto her own as a hero. For Hope, it’s, it’s an exuberant experience. So my goal was to make sure that she and Scott had had a superhero theme that’s even more fun than the first movie’s. The first time we see her kicking as is in a restaurant where she basically takes out a whole bunch of bad guys. It’s also the first time we hear her theme first in all its glory. It’s just very high energy and and exuberant.

Would you say kind of the musical difference between the characters is that where Scott isn’t completely sure of his abilities, Hope certainly knows what she’s doing?

Absolutely. You get the feeling like Hope’s been waiting her whole life to do this. And when she finally gets a chance to, she just makes most of it. Whereas Scott has fallen into it unintentionally, which is reflected in his music.

The musical scope of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” has definitely increased in size.

Oh, absolutely! You know, the fact that they’re small doesn’t change the fact that they’re big heroes. I mean they are as powerful, even in their small size as your average normal-sized superhero, which was true for the first movie as well. I don’t think at any time I made either of these scores sound “small.” But now hearing myself say that, I think there is one exception involving his daughter. The score also does get “big,” and funny because Scott becomes intoxicated due to the stress of becoming Giant Man. Taking all of his mental resources to maintain that size make him act like he’s drunk, which was another opportunity to go for laughs. But except for those two moments, the score is really about a man and a woman teaming up to save the world.

Tell us about their arch nemesis the Ghost.

Her music went through an evolution during the process of writing the score. I wanted the maximum contrast between her and the fun music of the Wasp, to make sure that the Ghost felt dangerous and unstoppable. That’s the way her music was for a while. But over the course of not just the writing of the score, but the editing of the film, we came to the realization that the Ghost’s music was maybe working a little too hard, and belonged in a different movie. So I toned the relentless, unstoppable “Terminator” aspects of her character a little bit down. That’s because the core of her character is a tragic one. She lives in chronic, constant chronic pain and goes through a bittersweet character arch.

The electronics in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” have an eccentricity to them that matches the superheroes’ technology.

I’m a big fan of electronic music, and I relish the opportunities to flex those muscles when I can. I also try to make sure that when I incorporate electronic elements that they very much represent that very personal side of myself. So these aren’t store bought samples out of the box. They’re things that I create.

What was it like to introduce the O.G. Wasp into the score?

You only get to see Hope’s mom in a flashback in the first movie, with my theme for her only heard over a photo of Janet Van Dyne. It’s not even Michelle Pfeiffer’s picture. So having her in the present made for a really delicious musical opportunity to restate that theme in a very kind of epic way.

There are also some really cool moments in the score where you get to ethereally explore the quantum world that the original Wasp disappeared into.

I wanted to make that really electronic based, and to be ambient and amorphous about exploring those sounds. We realized that there were some moments before they get to the quantum realm where we wanted to plant some seeds that could become something a little more distinctive. So I used the technique of overlapping chords in the orchestra, particularly with muted brass. The best way to describe it would be if you took a regular chord progression and just mashed it all together. You’d hear two chords at the same time, but still get the feeling of a chord progression. It all culminates when we hear a big version of that quantum realm music.

The chorus also makes a big appearance towards the end.

That’s right. It’s used pretty sparingly until then, which I think gives the score just the right amount of seriousness. There are some moments in the quantum realm that are really beautiful with the chorus, so that place isn’t musically all doom and gloom. The chorus was really a nice way to just evoke a little bit about the spiritual nature of what goes on down there at the subatomic level.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” comes after the gigantic downer of the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” in which those hero doesn’t appear. Were you aware of what would happen in that film in relation to this picture’s continuity?

Absolutely. Marvel’s movie head Kevin Feige planned these far more breezy and light-hearted films that come out right after a really heavy Avengers movies, first with “Age of Ultron,” and now with “Infinity War.” Without giving too much away, there’s a tie into the events of “Infinity War” and this movie that’s extremely clever and well done. When I started working on “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Infinity War” hadn’t come out yet. When it did, I just didn’t have time to go and see it. I just relied on Peyton filling me in about it.

You really got to indulge in your love for electronic music with the Netflix sci-fi movie “Anon,” whose characters’ privacy is almost completely wiped away by technology.

“Anon” was a terrific experience, especially because I don’t often get to do pure electronic scores. It’s writer and director Andrew Niccol, whom I scored “Good Kill” for, is really great to work with. I’m especially proud of “Anon’s” score because I got to incorporate a lot of elements from my work with modular synths. It’s normally is difficult, because when you make music with a modular synth, it’s only there once – then is gone as soon as you take the electronic patch down to create another one. So the only way to really work with that material is to capture as much of it as possible and make a library out of it. There were some moments in “Anon” that called for some very experimental, otherworldly textures, which was also perfectly suited for my modular synth work. It’s one of my most personal scores in terms of what I love musically.

“Anon” has an insane detail in its visuals. How did that affect your score?

Christophe Beck’s modular synthesizer – Photo by Francesca

Any time you’re seeing a character’s point of view, you’re also seeing someone seeing the electronic display overlaid on top of it that could have given me all kinds of information as a composer. But the truth is that it mostly wasn’t there when I was working the film. It was there for a few shots, so I had an idea. For me, I was treating the score to have the classic feel of a film noir detective as opposed to being too slavish about reflecting the technology that’s on display. I think that was really the right way to go, because film scoring is at it’s most powerful when it’s really dealing with the human condition.

Yet “Anon” is a very cold movie about dehumanization.

Yes, it’s a very grey movie for sure. But there is a love story that gets played by a solo violin. It’s heavily processed, and may not even sound that acoustic. However, the heart of that instrument is still there, which emotionally grounds the score amidst all of the pure electronics.

Another personal, and truly “out of the box” score, and film for you is Harald Zwart’s “The 12th Man.” After you scored “The Pink Panther 2” for him, he went back overseas to make a film about a Norwegian patriot’s incredible struggle for survival in the face of overwhelming odds from both nature, and Nazis. It’s about as far from your score to “Frozen” as you can get.

It’s all about icy and snowy textures, so in a way “The 12th Man” is pretty close to “Frozen.” No, thank you for that. I love working on Harald’s movie. Doing it is one of those great Hollywood stories with a happy ending. I’m an avid reader of history books, particularly military history and particularly ones about World War Two. One of my favorite books is called “We Die Alone,” and it’s the story of Jan Baalrud, who was forced out of Norway during World War Two when the Germans invaded. He returned to sabotage and harass the German troops. And before he ever even got a chance to do any of that, they caught him and his resistance fighters. He was the only who wasn’t captured and killed and had to make his way on foot over the course of three months to Sweden, which was a neutral country. While the Germans couldn’t follow him there, they followed him all the way to the border during that whole time. Jan underwent some really excruciating ordeals on his journey.

Jan’s story is as much a part of a national culture in Norway as some of our greatest warrior stories here in the US. I mentioned this story to Harald at the wrap party for “Pink Panther 2” because I knew he was from Norway. His eyes lit up, and he said, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been wanting to make that movie my whole life. I’m still working on it. It’s my, it’s my passion project. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do it, but I really hope to one day to call you about it.” Of course, Hollywood is the place where people make all kinds of promises that are not kept. But then, almost ten years later, that’s exactly what happened. It was mind-blowing that Harald got to make the film, and that fact that he kept his promise. “The 12th Man” was a wonderful collaboration.

It’s actually a beautiful, subtle score in spite of the often-horrific events that happen to Jan.

Harald came to my studio to talk about the film, and got really excited when he saw the modular synth. He encouraged me to use that any way I could. Of course, we also knew that we wanted this to be primarily an orchestral score. I deliberately tried to develop my orchestral voice for this film so I could adopt a more visceral and minimalist approach, especially for the action sequences. But at the same time, “The 12th Man” is a very emotional story. So I spent a lot of time working on, on themes and I think it’s one of my most thematic scores for all of the minimalism and electronics in it. The experience was extremely rewarding. And it also gave me an opportunity to revisit the indigenous music that I’d used for “Frozen” as well. So there’s a little bit of what you could call “Norwegian yodeling” in it.

What’s coming up for you?

Well, I’m, I’m just starting a Christmas movie for Netflix that stars Kurt Russell as Santa Claus. It’s being that’s being produced by Chris Columbus, whom I’ve worked with as a director a couple of times. It should be a really fun project. Then after that will be the sequel to “Frozen,” which I’m excited about.

In the end, do you think it’s important to have truly lighthearted superhero movies like “Ant-Man and the Wasp” among far darker movies in the genre?

Absolutely. When you’re making a mega-franchises the way Marvel is, you want to have as many different kinds of movies in there as possible in it so that you don’t repeat yourself and end up getting superhero fatigue. That’s why I think it’s brilliant to follow their heaviest superhero film with this particular franchise.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” opens July 6th with Christophe Beck’s score available digitally on Walt Disney Records HERE

Listen to a solo “Ant-Man” here, join the human web of “Anon” HERE and watch “The 12th Man” HERE

Visit Christophe Beck’s Official Website HERE