If I were to set about recruiting a famous act to compose the score for a movie about a child capable of twisting my head around and tying my arms in a knot before I even knew I wasn’t alone in the wilderness, I guess I’d probably recruit the Chemical Brothers too. Not so much because they seem like natural misanthropes (if anything, they’re probably the sunniest, most optimistic electronic duo this side of gospel house), but because their sound, at its best, has the sort of expansive, Cinemascopic surge that makes them naturals—just like snakes, deserts, and funeral processions.
At least that would’ve been my assumption after a fresh listen to “Star Guitar,” “The Private Psychedelic Reel,” “Galvanize,” or “It Doesn’t Matter.” But we’re in a new era, one in which somehow, the robots behind Daft Punk could be commissioned to reboot a movie that, more than just about any other movie ever, approximates their funky-janky brand of processed cheese jizz, only to have the resulting score sound all but indistinguishable from Hans Zimmer or James Horner on a particularly ecstasy-indulgent day. If Daft Punk’s work on the TRON: Legacy soundtrack bears the strain of renegades-for-hire forced to rein in their best impulses (i.e. the reason they were even hired in the first place) by suits concerned for their gastronomic investments, the Chemical Brothers should have been far less zealously supervised creating a backdrop for director Joe Wright’s mid-budget episode of Jim Henson’s Espionage Babies. And, for the most part, it sounds like it too.
Their tracks on Hanna may not be loops of fury, but they’re unmistakably within the oeuvre of latter-day Chems: pristine, fast, druggy-dubby, and just a shade disappointingly lounge. That said, it’s the sort of soundtrack that would work better in context. Any context. I’m picturing Wright setting some of these tracks to another Jane Austen adaptation, maybe underpinning the stands of slavery at the heart of Mansfield Park (the unfettered block rocking shuffle of “Bahnhof Rumble” would be a nice accompaniment) or accompanying the oblivious vacuity of Emma Woodhouse (the lilting xylophones and sunrise vocals of “Hanna’s Theme” lilt with all the pie-eyed innocence of Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in Clueless).
But the majority of songs serve their proper function, which is providing a pulse for a pint-sized Salt to do her thing. “Special Ops” and “Escape Wavefield” are sleek, minimalist grooves, and “Car Chase (Arp Worship)” expands nicely from a squiggling synth throb into a large-scale drum-set workout. On the other side of the coin, the mostly irritating “The Devil Is in the Details” and its counterpoint “The Devil Is in the Beats” literalize the youth of the central junior assassin a little too explicitly, with an insipid synth line whistled in unison. None of the tracks on Hanna do more than they have to, but at least they do that much.