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KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE – Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson

February 24, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

kingsmanthesecretserviceOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Kingsman: The Secret Service is an espionage action-adventure film based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and David Gibbons; it pays healthy homage to the James Bond films and several other spy franchises, but peppers its plot with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek British humor and intentionally over-the-top violence. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, the film stars Colin Firth as Harry Hart, codenamed Galahad, a dapper English gentleman who is actually an undercover spy for an elite independent espionage agency called the Kingsmen, who hide behind the façade of a bespoke Savile Row tailor’s shop. When one of their operatives is killed, Hart recruits Gary Unwin, nicknamed Eggsy, a young petty criminal whom Harry knew as a child. Seeing the potential for greatness in Eggsy, Harry enrolls him into an elite school for potential Kingsman recruits, but before long the Kingsmen are embroiled in trying to foil a sinister world domination plot masterminded by billionaire consumer electronics mogul Richmond Valentine – and Eggsy is along for the ride. The film co-stars newcomer Taron Egerton as Eggsy, Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine, and has a stellar supporting cast that includes Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Mark Hamill; it’s also one of the most fun films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing at the cinema in quite some time, coming across as an enjoyable romp which both lovingly embraces and pokes fun at genre clichés.

The score for Kingsman: The Secret Service is by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson. Jackman has worked with director Vaughn before, on Kick-Ass in 2010 and X-Men First Class in 2011, while Margeson is no stranger to the action genre himself, having written music on his own for films such as Skyline, and written additional music for Jackman on This Is the End, Captain Phillips, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Much like the film itself, the music for Kingsman: The Secret Service is a loving homage to the stereotypes of the genre, taking inspiration from John Barry’s Bond scores, and David Arnold’s Bond scores, as well as several contemporary action superhero works.

The main Kingsman theme is a close cousin of the theme Jackman wrote for X-Men First Class in terms of orchestration and style, although the melody heads off in a significantly different direction. The best way to describe it is ‘a ton of fun’; it’s big and brassy and heroic and, most importantly for films of this type, memorable. It appears in several cues throughout the score, always when Hart and, later, Eggsy are doing something action-packed and dashing, and its performances in cues such as the opening “Manners Maketh Man,” during the second half of “The Medallion,” in “Pick a Puppy,” and in “Eat, Drink, and Paaaaarty,” are very satisfying indeed.

Conversely, solo pianos, harps, and string sustains are prevalent in more serious pieces such as “The Medallion” and “To Become a Kingsman,” often performing more subtle and subdued variations on the main Kingsman theme. There’s even a ghostly choir and tolling bells in “An 1815 Napoleonic Brandy” to amp up the sense of tension and subterfuge. However, when the action music really kicks in, in cues such as the aforementioned “Manners Maketh Man,” the exhilarating “Skydiving,” the wonderful pair “Eat, Drink, and Paaaaarty” and “Calculated Infiltration,” and in the “Finale,” Jackman and Margeson don’t hold back, giving their orchestra a thorough workout via a bank of thrusting, propulsive strings, augmented by fat brass chords, and the judicious use of electric guitars and textural synths.

In addition to this, throughout the score, Jackman and Margeson use a series of one-note brass stinger phrases, which are clearly intended to sound like the first note of the Bond theme; the additional use of muted brass clusters, xylophone accents, and certain chord progressions are classic John Barry staples from the 1960s and 70s, and heighten the pervading sense of nostalgia. The bass flute performances of the Kingsman theme in “Drinks With Valentine” and “Shame We Had To Grow Up” are also clearly John Barry allusions, going all the way back to Oddjob and Goldfinger.

To counterbalance that – and possibly remind listeners that we are indeed in the 21st century – the composers have provided a strange, mutated electronic motif for the villain, Richmond Valentine. The motif is heard in cues such as “Valentine,” “Drinks With Valentine,” “Shame We Had To Grow Up,” “Curious Scars and Implants,” and “Hand on the Machine,” and gives him a twisted, manipulated musical identity that matches his ideas to twist and manipulate the world.

It is also perhaps prudent to observe that, once in a while, the score does have something of a ‘sampled’ sound, as though the composers laid on their electronic overdubs a little heavily. The end result is a score that, occasionally, sounds like a slightly washed out version of itself, like a MIDI demo rather than the finished article, and this is despite the score being recorded with a full symphony orchestra in London, but if you’re willing to overlook and/or accept that, it’s no big deal. It’s also worth noting that there are three cues – “Kentucky Christians,” “Out of Options” and the “Valentine Ideas” demo suite – exclusive to La-La Land Records’s physical soundtrack CD, which flesh out some of the ideas heard in the download-only edition.

Having written a couple of scores which I personally found somewhat disappointing, notably Captain Phillips and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Henry Jackman seems to have been turning things around of late, with generally his impressive scores for Big Hero 6, The Interview, and Kingsman reminding me of why I found his music so impressive when he first burst onto the scene in 2009. Kingsman: The Secret Service is not high art – it’s not meant to be – but it is a greatly enjoyable, undemanding listen, which works wonderfully well in the film, and which will appeal especially to aficionados of the contemporary espionage genre.

Buy the Kingsman: The Secret Service soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Manners Maketh Man (1:38)
  • The Medallion (2:14)
  • Valentine (2:25)
  • To Become a Kingsman (4:19)
  • Pick a Puppy (2:13)
  • Drinks With Valentine (2:40)
  • Skydiving (3:37)
  • Shame We Had To Grow Up (1:56)
  • Kentucky Christians (2:37)
  • Curious Scars and Implants (3:09)
  • Toast to a Kingsman (1:56)
  • An 1815 Napoleonic Brandy (4:23)
  • Eat, Drink, and Paaaaarty (1:54)
  • Calculated Infiltration (7:54)
  • Out of Options (1:48)
  • Hand on the Machine (2:22)
  • Finale (3:56)
  • Original Valentine Ideas – Demo Suite (6:25)

Running Time: 57 minutes 27 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1341 (2015)

Music composed by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson. Conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Orchestrations by Stephen Coleman and Andrew Kinney. Additional music by Dominic Lewis, Jason Soudah and Alex Belcher. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage and Al Clay. Edited by Jack Dolman and Catherine Wilson. Album produced by Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson, Dan Goldwasser and MV Gerhard.

  1. February 27, 2015 at 4:14 am

    I really enjoyed the article. Much thanks again. Fantastic.

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