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As of the writing of this post Captain America: Civil War has grossed $957 million globally. It’s an unqualified smash hit. People are singing its praises from the mountain tops. They’re yelling about how amazing the writing, the directing, the acting, and the special effects are. However, no one is discussing the utterly brilliant the sound design in Captain America: Civil War . Well no one but us.
Case in point: Black Panther.
Black Panther aka T’Challa comes from a long line of Wakandan royalty. He’s the heir apparent to the throne and the current holder of the mantle of Black Panther, the secret protector of the country of Wakana. Played by Chadwick Boseman, in the film, the character is given a quick origin, some meaty scenes to chew through, and some amazing action set pieces. However, the most subtly brilliant aspect to his character is the sound design.
Every time Black Panther runs, he makes a soft “thap” sound with his feet, as opposed to characters like Cap or Bucky who make thundering, heavy echoes as they pound through their scenes. Additionally, there’s one sequence where Black Panther has to jump down three stories and land on hard concrete. He does so and makes a flat “thisk” noise. It’s amazing. All of his movements are modeled on cats, obviously, and that’s reflected in the apt sound design of the film.
Similarly, Captain America’s shield is always the loudest noise that can be heard when it’s deflecting bullets. It’s mixed high, and prominent so that you never forget that it’s Cap’s movie and that he’s being proactive and making choices. The fact that the frequency is so high is a brilliant choice. A more careless sound designer would have given the same noise to when Bucky blocks bullets with his metal arm. However, that noise is slightly lower and more of a middle tone. Again, this is to reflect that Bucky is a lowered tier character and that his bullet stops are more reactionary as opposed to conscious choices.
I strongly recommend that anyone considering working in sound design, whether in film, video games, or music see this film. Even you’re not into the whole super hero thing, just see it, or rather hear it. The sound design is highly sophisticated in what I deem one masterfully put together movie. The Russo Brothers who directed and their team really thought everything through. They never forgot that every character needs an arc and they devoted time and energy into making that journey all the more interesting and vivid with spot-on sound design that makes us feel the characters in a visceral sense and moves the plot forward just that much more effectively.
Well done indeed.