What the first MCU Spider-Man soundtrack taught me about the nature of evil

[Note, 2/17/22: A link in this post was messed up. It’s been fixed!] A month or so ago, Spider-Man: No Way Home conquered the box office, and it seems the right time to unleash this observation I’ve been holding on to since Tom Holland’s first time headlining as the webslinger. (Not counting Captain America: Civil War. That’s why I said “headlining.” Details are important!) I wish I could take full credit for it, and I’d give full credit for the notice if I could, but it apparently began with some Reddit post back in 2017 or so and I’ve since lost any link to the original post.

Some of those who know me know that I am a soundtrack nerd. I love movie soundtracks, and have since I was a child. And in the world of movie soundtrack guys, I have some favorites. John Williams, for instance (obviously!) and, for the last several years, Michael Giacchino.

Giacchino has done the last three MCU Spider-Man movie soundtracks, and something he did for the first movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, can teach us a lesson about the nature of evil—believe it or not. Let me briefly walk you through it.

First, you need a tiny bit of setup, then let’s listen to it.

The setup is the basis for the plot of the movie. Spider-Man: Homecoming takes place in the immediate aftermath of the alien attack on New York, stopped by the Avengers in their debut 2012 movie. It even begins with a camera shot of what will become Avengers Tower, and with a musical statement of the Avengers theme (which we’ll come to in a second). It begins with our seeing the “clean up crew” in New York, picking up the rubble of broken buildings, various pieces of wreckage, etc.—including some alien technology. The blue-collar workers—looking forward to the massive amount of pay such a giant job will take—get their jobs taken away from them by a high-up government corporation, due to the security issues involved, which angers them.

As they are forced off of the worksite, the leader of the workers, Adrian Toomes, tells the guys that they will get their money anyway—by selling the alien tech they’ve gathered already on the black market to criminals and thugs and whoever else will buy it.

Thus, the stage is set. As Toomes sells the bits of alien tech generated by the Avengers’ effort to defend earth, he also becomes the bad guy known as the Vulture by using a flying suit developed from that alien tech.

Now, if you’re Michael Giacchino, writing a soundtrack for this movie, you see a tie between the evil Vulture and the past actions of the good-guy Avengers, and you do something with it.

So, he did. And you see it—or hear it—if you listen closely.

First, listen to this bit of music from the original soundtrack for The Avengers, written by another soundtrack great, Alan Silvestri—but only listen to about 9 seconds of it. That’s the main statement of the Avengers’ theme, and that’s all you need. (Go back and listen to the whole thing if you want later. Silvestri is amazing.) I’ve got the video cued up to time marker 1:24 (just a smidge before the cue; 1:25 seemed a tad too late), and, again, you just need to listen to about 9 seconds.

Got that? OK, good. Now, head over to Giacchino’s score for Spider-Man: Homecoming and listen to the theme for the Vulture. I’ve got this one cued up too, to time marker 2:55, to one of the strongest statements of the Vulture’s theme. Again, you only need to listen to about 11 seconds.

If you don’t hear the connection between the two themes, click back and forth between them for a bit. After a while, you might see it. That is, hear it. [And my apologies the videos are not embedded here on the page. One embeds just fine, but the other requires you to go to YouTube for some reason.]

They aren’t the same musical statements, to be sure. But, if you listen closely, the Vulture’s theme is a twist on the Avenger’s theme. The bad guy in the Spider-Man movie has his origins in the actions of the good guys in the Avengers movie, and Giacchino has artfully composed and arranged the music to reflect that by making the bad guy’s theme a twist on the good guy’s theme—taking the good guys’ theme and creating something similar, but clearly different.

(By the way: For what it’s worth, I vetted this observation with Mr. Chris Pringle a long time ago to make sure it wasn’t imaginary. So, if you disagree, go pick on Mr. Pringle. That’s always fun, anyway.)

And here’s the point…

That’s how evil is. It is very often a perversion of the good. Just like this villain’s theme is a twist and a perversion of the good guys’ theme. It has its similarities, even has its roots in the other, but it is something different—something very much not the same.

Consider love, for instance.

God is love, the Bible tells us (1 John 4:8, 16), and He truly is! He is love—it is inherent to His character. That’s why keeping His commandments is connected so intimately with it (1 John 5:3), because we only fully love if we are reflecting God’s own mind as we love, and that will always be consistent with His commands, which reflect His mind. When Jesus walked on earth, He lived according to that love absolutely perfectly and pictured that love in action over the totality of His life.

Now, the influencers of the world claim to care about love, as well, and they “preach” about it all the time. They want us all to love each other, supposedly, and make this world a wonderful place.

But when you look at their “love,” it is different. It comes across as having similarities to God’s love, which is real love, but it is not the same. It seems rooted in similar ideas: kindness toward others, thinking of others instead of yourself, seeking to serve and give. All good, right? But, when you are aware of the reality of God’s love and familiar with its real nature, you begin to see the world’s “love” as the perversion of the real love that it is.

For instance, the world’s version of “love” requires embracing and celebrating sins and lifestyles that go against the very nature of God’s own desires—sins and lifestyles that corrupt one’s potential relationship with God, corrupt one’s character, and ultimately do much harm. Real love in such cases would not mean accepting sin, self-harm, and turning against God’s desires and design. Real love would fit the biblical admonition, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6). If we care about someone, then we can’t embrace any choice they make to actively sin in an ongoing fashion—and we certainly can’t celebrate it as a lifestyle.

Because doing that wouldn’t be love. It would be ”love”—in quote marks.

Like the Vulture’s theme has beats and arrangement elements similar to the Avengers’ theme, from which it was derived, but it is a twisted version of the original that is, ultimately, very different. Similarly, the “love” being pressed on you by so many is fundamentally different from the real thing. It’s a perversion of the love God compels us to grow in—a substitute for it. It’s a “love” that makes us feel good—even feel righteous—yet, over time, it’s a “love” that makes the world a worse place instead of a better one.

That’s just one example, but the lesson of the twisted theme song really does apply in other examples of evil—where something that is evil seems good, but, in reality, it is a twisting of what is truly godly and good. Another popular example is “freedom.” Freedom is wonderful, and is only truly found in turning from sin to Christ, but ungodly “freedom”—praised and sought by so many—is a perversion of what God calls freedom, because sin always enslaves (John 8:32–36). When the world is most passionately praising “freedom,” what you often find (not always, but often) is that the ”freedom“ being praised is the “do whatever I want with no restriction” kind of “freedom,” which is, in reality, no freedom at all. It’s what the train car would praise when it is finally ”freed” from the “restrictive” railroad tracks—only to find that now it can go nowhere and do nothing but sit and rust, because train cars are only truly free on the tracks.

In cases like these, it is almost as if the evil is based on the good, yet it does something horrible with it so that, in the end, it is very different from the good. And we need to know the difference

That’s why God wants us to educate ourselves in His word and His point of view as we grow—attending to His word and to teachings of His Son (and not just the statements here and there that make for good bumper stickers), so that, over time, we learn to discern the difference (Hebrews 5:14). Because, when evil presents itself, often it is a twisted version of what is good, and the connections it has with the good, though they are corrupted, are often what is used to sell the evil.

I hope this made sense. I’ve got one more very similar soundtrack-related observation I’ve been holding on to for a long time—how John Williams, in his Star Wars: Episode 1 soundtrack, taught me something about the Devil—but that will wait for another day. I find nerdy soundtrack bites are most effective in small doses. And just remember to be on the lookout. What is sold to you—in terms of how to feel and how to act—by so many out there as something good, something noble, something caring, something loving may be, in its own way, derived from what is truly good, truly noble, truly caring, and truly loving. But that doesn’t mean that the product actually is good, noble, caring, and loving. It may borrow elements of the real things, but it may be a deceptive twist on those things—rooted in them, but perverted just enough to be something else. Only God can serve as the source for truly understanding what is right and virtuous and what loving others actually means. Let Him establish those understandings—by reading your Bible, listening at Sabbath services, talking with your parents, and acting on what you learn to strengthen it—and seeking to grow over time to distinguish the truly good and right and those things that are, essentially, deceptive twists on the good and right.