Warning: Substantial Captain Marvel spoilers are ahead.
Captain Marvel composer Pinar Toprack stands as the first female composer of a Marvel Studios feature film, and although this status is overdue, so is her enduring moment in the spotlight. When she got the gig, her former boss, famed composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Black Hawk Down, Dunkirk), singled her out on Twitter as “far from an overnight success.” He wasn’t kidding. Toprack has successfully held the title of composer for over 15 years in show business, and she arrived at this project with a wealth of expertise.
As a comic book movie, Captain Marvel has shifted the nature of the Skrulls and informed us about Nick Fury’s motives, but it’s also brought us the most powerful MCU superhero — Carol Danvers, who realized that emotions are not the enemy (unlike what her Kree brainwashing instructed). Yes, the film may not fully satisfy all viewers, but it’s undoubtedly Zeitgeistian in nature.
On that note, Toprack was gracious enough to speak with us about her Captain Marvel score, especially how she fused the sounds of two worlds to bring us a variety of hero that we’ve never seen until now.
The box-office has spoken, and the film’s on the way to busting records. What are your thoughts after seeing those first weekend numbers roll in?
It’s a bit surreal, I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe. But it’s very satisfying, very empowering. It’s a wonderful feeling.
You were a Captain Marvel fan long before you came on board.
How did you wrap your mind around bringing her legacy to life?
It was a big responsibility and a huge honor. And on a personal level, to actually work on something that I really enjoy has been just a remarkable, amazing bonus, to be honest. To be part of this universe and this legacy. I’m just really grateful.
Your main theme is soaring and playful, not to mention powerful. How did you approach the intersection of your orchestra and the electronic tones?
That was really important to me from the start. I wanted to make sure that — because she’s a hybrid after all — to really come up with a theme that’s not only powerful, but how to bring the heart of her side. You know, the emotion and what really fuels her. To be able to kind of capture both was really important to me. The first thing I did was actually to come up with the theme itself, and then the instrumentation just kind of evolved after that. But I wanted the fusion of orchestra and the electronic elements to feel as natural as possible. So, when you’re hearing them, it almost sounds like it’s part of that world, too. I wanted to really blend the sound of both of these worlds together.
The film’s more cosmic than people expected, with much of it taking place in space, but was your score more connected to Carol’s realization of her own identity?
Definitely more about her finding out her own story. The rest would be not as impactful, but being able to tell the story through her transformation and how she identified herself and how she starts figuring out her true identity along the way. And letting the audience go on that journey with her. That was really the most important thing to capture for me.
Aside from your original score, the soundtrack is also filled with 1990s tunes. Did you have that in your head at all while composing?
There was always a general awareness of where we were gonna have songs, and also things evolve over time as the cut comes together, but overall, I had an idea of where songs would be and the emotion that we wanted to evolve there. He’s not in my department, but supervisor Dave Jordan, along with Marvel, they choose all the songs. In my world, I was all about the score, so there was an awareness, but I kept it separate.
You’ve worked extensively with Hans Zimmer. What would you say is the most valuable thing you learned from him?
Well, I’ve learned a lot of things, but if I had to pick one, I would say that it’s communication — how to communicate your ideas and how besides being a fantastic composer, he’s a great filmmaker. The way that he communicates his ideas, even if it’s just something random, his communication style provides a really valuable lesson. Because most of my job is communicating with the filmmakers and trying to understand the story that we’re trying to tell. It’s really the key, and he’s the master of that.
Do you have a favorite comic book movie score?
Superman. That’s always gonna be it. The  Donner version. I love Superman very, very much.
John Williams, right?
Well, you also worked on the recent Justice League film. Did you have a shift in thinking when moving between DC and Marvel?
No, and right before Captain Marvel and actually right now, I’m working on the second season, but after Justice League — I’m very lucky — I’ve been working on Krypton, which is a TV show in the DC world about Superman’s old [family home]. So, I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in both the DC and Marvel universe.
That’s always a lovely thought, but that’s never the mission. The mission is creating the best film that we can create, and if it gets recognized on a larger platform, that’s a beautiful, exciting bonus. But as long as the film is resonating with people, that’s the true reward for me.
I was reflecting upon the part of the movie where Goose and Nick Fury experience an astonishing development. Your score leads right up to that in a dramatic way and adds to the surprise element.
Those things depend on timing, and Marvel does that beautifully. Yeah, all the Goose scenes I love very much.
Where you surprised to see what happened to Fury in that moment?
The very first time, yeah! [Laughs.] I shouldn’t be spoiling it, but that was really, really funny.
‘Captain Marvel’ is currently playing in a multiplex near you.