It’s been a busy summer in the DC Universe, with two prominent films debuting: the theatrical Suicide Squad and the straight-to-DVD animated feature Batman: The Killing Joke. As it turns out, both have received soundtrack releases, and the tie-in albums are impressively solid. (Suicide Squad actually has two: the various artists album I’m reviewing here and the score by Steven Price.)
Suicide Squad is a lively, arresting affair, though there are two potential drawbacks. It’s disappointingly light on the “needle drop” songs employed so memorably in the movie, leaning far more heavily towards modern cuts. It also has a lot of rap featuring potentially offensive, sexist lyrics (Eminem even tosses out a gay slur on “Without Me,” because he’s Eminem). However, this listener grew to appreciate the contemporary songs and found most of the hip hop tracks extremely hooky and catchy.
The album gets off to a spotty start with the frankly terrible “Purple Lamborghini” by Skrillex and Rick Ross, which is too bad because there are multiple lyrics referencing the characters and Jared Leto even reprises the Joker in the music video. Unfortunately the song plays like a boisterous gangsta rap thumper with no melody whatsoever. “Sucker for Pain” by Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa & Imagine Dragons—plus a host of guest stars—is a much better hip hop infused number. It kicks off a moody trend that continues with Twenty One Pilots’ terrific “Heathens” (fellow blogger David Rondinelli’s favorite song on the soundtrack), “Standing in the Rain” by Action Bronson, Mark Ronson & Dan Auerbach, and Kehlani’s “Gangsta,” which accompanies Harley Quinn’s vat of chemicals flashback and is one of the strongest uses of music in a music heavy film. Other highlights include Skylar Grey’s “Wreak Havoc”: usually “inspired by” soundtrack cuts are just throwaway filler, but this is one of my favorites on the album (I especially dig the Wilhelm Scream sample). The only vintage tunes are “Slippin’ Into Darkness” by War and “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which are good but fit a little uneasily with the rest of the compilation. Harley’s theme “You Don’t Own Me” gets a cover by Grace Featuring G-Eazy, and while I would’ve appreciated the inclusion of Lesley Gore’s original, it’s a fun update. Panic! At the Disco similarly cover Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but it’s such a sound-alike remake that it comes off as pointless. The album closes out with ConfidentialMX’s eerie cover of “I Started a Joke” from the trailer. In context it worked beautifully, but I found it a little flat on its own. Still, this is an entertaining and offbeat collection.
Batman: The Killing Joke, meanwhile, is a score created by Lolita Ritmanis, Kristopher Carter & Michael McCuistion. The three are veterans of animated Batman and DC series and movies, and their ease with the material shows. The most impressive thing about the score, perhaps, is that it sounds just as dramatic and polished as that of a live action film. The dark, sweeping arrangements wouldn’t sound out of place during one of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight entries. Stylistically the cues are pretty similar, with alternating moments of action, drama, and eerie horror—as befitting Alan Moore’s disturbing and controversial narrative. The notable exceptions are the moments of bouncy jazz such as “Jeannie Flashback,” which make for enjoyable breaks from the intensity of the other music. There’s also Mark Hammill singing “I Go Loony,” which is very emblematic of the Joker but maybe a little weak out of context. It plays like a bonus track, which, coming at the end of the album, it essentially is. Overall, this is a stirring and accomplished score for fans of Batman or film music in general.
Suicide Squad: The Album and Batman: The Killing Joke: Music from the DC Universe Original Movie are available digitally and on CD.
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