After a couple of delays and creative switches, next week will finally mark the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. For many superhero fans, the second solo movie for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange is important, not for who may be looking to have an attention-grabbing cameo, but for the man behind the camera. Sam Raimi’s return to the genre he helped catapult into mega stardom with his Spider-Man trilogy is a big deal, so much that the trailers for Multiverse have named him, something only Eternals previously did with director Chloé Zhao.
Looking back at those films is something that many are doing now in the lead up to Multiverse, and we ourselves did a retrospective on each movie in the early-ish days of the pandemic. Rather than repeat what’s been said by other writers before, I want us to simply be reminded of a simple fact about the original Spider-Man trilogy: they had great soundtrack songs that absolutely stand the test of time, and the first film’s song, “Hero,” is the greatest of them all. From Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger and Saliva’s then-lead singer Josey Scott, the song plays over the first film’s credits and became a cross-genre hit in 2002; it peaked at number one on the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts for Billboard, and became nominated in three categories, including Best Rock Song, at the 2003 Grammys. (Sadly, it lost in all three of its categories.)
Outside of its success on the charts, the song has likely contributed greatly to both Kroeger and Nickelback’s staying power. While the band has been around since 1995, the internet has allowed them to inhabit a strange niche in the internet space. Mainly, they existed as a punching bag despite not having objectively terrible music, and it would remain that way until people decided to admit that yeah, “Photograph” and “If Everyone Cared” are both pretty good, and turned their weird ire over to Imagine Dragons. (This is to say nothing of “Photograph”’s opening lyrics managing to live on as a meme that’s still fairly funny.) For those who grew up with these movies like I did, “Hero” was more than likely your first introduction to Kroeger, and whatever you think of his work since then... come on, you can’t deny that you would probably sing along to “Hero” if someone randomly played it.
If Raimi’s Spider-Man movies are cheesy, as many have deemed them in the years since Spider-Man 3, then “Hero” is the stuffed crust that makes everything all the tastier. Brian Larson’s strings give the song an extra “oomph” of importance as Kroeger and Scott croon about their refusal to hold out for a hero to the end of the night. Cheesy as it is, it’s ultimately a song about finding the resolve to keep going on and not wallowing in complacency, the perfect song for a hero like Spider-Man, a walking pinball of tragedy. Its music video depicting Kroeger, Scott, and the rest of the band performing the song on a rooftop feels dated, but also in sync with Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker being a street level hero in the films themselves. From its short guitar solo and the softness of its bridge to its outro that works much better than it should, there’s a commitment to itself that has made the song continuously endearing. It’s basically a song for an anime OP that came far too soon, but has still managed to have an impact all its own, despite that.
Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 have their own lead singles, respectively: “Vindicated” by Dashboard Confessional and “Signal Fire” by Snow Patrol. While both songs are good in their own rights, neither of them reach the sheer grandiosity of their predecessor. “Vindicated” has a romantic cheesiness all its own that may have you think it was meant for a CW drama—which is more than appropriate, given how most of Spider-Man 2 hinges on Peter and Mary Jane’s romantic arc. (“Ordinary” by Train feels closer to the orbit of “Hero,” but again, it’s more wrapped up in love than it is the journey of a singular person. When it became a song in the promo for Heroes, it felt more fitting.) Meanwhile, “Signal Fire” was extra bittersweet on top of a bittersweet movie, a far cry from the grand heroics that we originally began this whole venture with. By no means is this a deal breaker though; “Signal” is a more emotional song, and one that has taken on its own potency now that we’ve gotten a definitive answer as to whether or not Peter and MJ worked things out.
Since the Raimi movies, most superhero films treat music as an additional, optional feature rather than something that can help inform their characters. Sweeping orchestras are all well and good, but we did lose something in moving away from those “inspired by” albums, even if it was just some decent songs to have on while in the car. Admittedly, the last few years have a seen a small resurgence; the original Suicide Squad’s soundtrack is cheesy in a “this song is better than the movie it’s attached to” sense (see: the 50 Shades films), while Birds of Prey contains some rather choice jams to loudly sing or dance to while you’re alone. Spider-Verse has an excellent array of original songs to go along with its vibes-happy “Sunflower,” and both it and Black Panther’s curated album hit a collective high on par with Daft Punk’s album for Tron: Legacy.
Those films’ soundtracks all have their own influences and sources of inspiration, but “Hero” laid the foundation. Multiverse of Madness probably isn’t hiding a Kroeger cameo or a lead single that plays in the same space as that original song. That song’s type of earnestness is something that can’t entirely exist anymore in the superhero world, even though it’s what helped the genre—and Marvel in particular—become the juggernaut that millions are obsessed with day after day.
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