Kingsman: The Secret Service

Posted on February 12, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Copyright 2015 20th Century Fox
Copyright 2015 20th Century Fox

“James Bond? Jason Bourne?” Our hero is being asked for the inspiration for naming his dog JB. “No,” he explains, “Jack Bauer.”

This is a cheeky, nasty, meta, po-mo update of the spy genre, self-aware enough to name-check not just Bond, Bourne, and “24,” but also “Nikita,” “Trading Places,” “Pretty Woman,” and “My Fair Lady.” I also caught a reference to the 60’s television show “The Man from UNCLE,” about to get its own big-screen reboot later this year.

Some of the core elements of the sophisticated spy story are here, from the elegant suits to the very specific cocktail order, as well as the super-cool weapons and gadgets we will have the fun of seeing deployed later on. And the villain has an assassin/sidekick who goes one, or maybe two better than iconic characters like Oddjob and Jaws. Spanish dancer Sofia Boutella plays the acrobatic Gazelle, who runs on Oscar Pistorius-style blades as sharp as scalpels.  She can slice a man in half lengthwise with one slash of her leg. And does.

Other aspects of the usual spy story are tweaked or outright upended. That old favorite, the talking villain, who has such a profound need to explain the genius of his nefarious plan that it gives Our Hero time to thwart him, is explicitly disposed of. The look of the film is as sleek and sophisticated as the score from Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson.

Colin Firth is sleekly perfect as Harry, also known as Galahad, part of an elegant, upper-class cadre of international gentleman spies operating in total secrecy and using pseudonyms based on King Arthur and his knights.  Their made to order suits are both exquisitely tailored and bulletproof.

He points to a wall of framed newspaper headlines about triviality — political squabbles and celebrity scandals — explaining that while these things were going on, he and his fellow Kingsmen were repeatedly saving the world. The person he is explaining it to is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a possible new recruit. Eggsy is a smart, tough, brash kid who grew up in what the British call council houses and we call the projects, the son of a widow whose second husband is an abusive thug. Eggsy’s late father sacrificed himself to save Harry and other members of the team, so Harry feels a sense of responsibility — and a suspicion that Eggsy might have inherited his father’s courage and sense of honor.

While they had previously limited themselves to the wealthy upper class, Harry persuades the Kingsman’s leader (Michael Caine as Arthur) to allow Eggsy to compete for a spot on the team. The competition is tough and the tasks are tougher, the most imaginative and entertaining section of the movie. Then of course comes our supervillain, Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine, a lisping technology billionaire whose frustration with the failure of the world to reckon with global warming has led him to devise some drastic plans.  Once he gets involved, the self-aware air quotes get less interesting and so does the storyline.  “Bond films are only as good as the villain,” he says.  True, and he is no Goldfinger.

In the last half hour, things really go off the rails.  The carnage is balletic and portrayed as darkly comic but it is still disturbing, particularly the involvement of a specific real-life world leader.  The humor is not just dark; it is crude for the sake of being crude and seems rather desperate.  A film that began with a confident sense of sophistication, wit, and edge knows what it is not (“This is not that kind of movie”)  but not what it is.

Parents should know that this movie is extremely violent, with hundreds of characters injured and killed and many exploding heads.  Characters use very strong language and drink alcohol. There are explicit and crude sexual references and brief nudity.

Family discussion: Which of the tests would have been the hardest for you?  What did they prove about the candidates?

If you like this, try: the James Bond films

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Comedy Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Drama Scene After the Credits Spies

Interview: Composer Matthew Margeson of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Posted on February 11, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Matthew Margeson and Henry Jackman composed the score for Matthew Vaughn’s new spy movie, “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”  Margeson told me that “Henry and I had composed the film score to ‘Kick Ass 2’ together. And that kind of went well for all three of us, for Henry, myself and the director Jeff Wadlow and also Matthew Vaughn. He came to us both direct and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this new film that’s again based on a martial arts comic book and it’s a love letter to the British espionage genre.’ The way he sold it to us is that it was definitely going to be this very fun film, and definitely have his fingerprints all over it, his style of filmmaking.”  The movie is a throwback to the sleek, sophisticated spy films of the 1960’s, but a commentary and heightened, comic version, which is a challenge for the composers, but they got a lot of guidance from Vaughn.  “When you look at it, the pace of it, the style of it, it wasn’t that hard. I mean Matthew Vaughn definitely is quite a stylistic director. When he does things with his own film production company, it’s all him and the films have a look about them, they’ve got a pace about them. He has a real good sense of music placement and first and foremost, he absolutely loves music and working with music. So he is a director and producer that really gets involved and knows exactly what he wants and knows, in his opinion, knows when something is not right and when it is right. So he is a good person to steer us in the direction of where he wants to go.”

Margeson and Jackman have worked together in different ways, but this time they were literally in the same room.  “It depends on the film. I have done quite a bit of kind additional arranging for Henry on his films when either time is of the essence or they just need more hands on deck. And the dynamic for that is quite different than something like this where we are co-composing the score for ‘Kingsman’ where we were both on board from the very beginning. And so even before we started watching footage, the two of us were in a room probably for two or three weeks just jamming on the piano literally both sitting there together at the keyboard. I’m going, ‘Listen to this,’ and a lot of times Matthew Vaughn was on speakerphone from London kind of stopping us saying, ‘No, no, no, what was that note there?! Could that one go up instead of down?’  So it was a really great collaboration. I mean one way I know a lot of people will do things is maybe you take this script and I will take this character, you take this theme and I do this and we meet back in a week until we’ve stopped but we have the luxury that both of our writing suites are in the same building; we are about 50 yards away from each other, so it’s very easy for him to just give me a ring or for me to give him a ring and just say, ‘Hey, come down here, come over here and check this out.’ So it was a really healthy collaboration. We were definitely doing it together simultaneously and a lot of times like I said, on one set of 88 keys.”

Margeson told me that the score had to reflect a transition in the storyline.  “When the film starts in the first probably hour, hour and 15 minutes or so it is a very elegant film and we are sitting here and Eggsy, our main characters is kind of learning the ropes of how to be a gentleman spy. He’s learning how we dress and he’s learning how to use weapons and he’s learning proper English and he’s learning how to eat and how to order a drink.  And so there was a little bit of self-discipline in retaining that British elegance. I definitely had to learn quote unquote how to make a cup of tea on this one. However as the film kind of gets more in depth with Samuel L. Jackson’s character and what he is going to do and as the story unfolds, I think Matthew Vaughn’s filmmaking style kind of starts peeking out about an hour into the film a little bit more and by the last half hour of the film you are like, not necessarily ‘Are we still watching the same film?’ but like, ‘Oh my God, how did we get here?’  The amounts of just really visceral action and excitement are a lot different than say the first 15 minutes of the film.  Compositionally, towards the beginning of the film when we are still kind of in more of an old-school approach, we are looking at those compositional building blocks that make up the genre and that make us more constantly reminded of that we have to be proper both musically and narratively.  And I think that once you get into the meat and potatoes of the movie later on then you have license to be a little bit more contemporary and break some of the rules. And we also had to always be reminded that Harry who is Colin Firth’s character, is a Kingsman of a different time period than Eggsy, our younger kid. And so we have license to kind of get a little bit dissonant and inject some guitars and some drum kit and some bass and a little bit more knarliness into the score as it develops. We had to very often look at the big picture and say, ‘Well, we don’t want to spoil this line too early and we don’t want to hold on to the British elegance too much throughout the film.’ And a lot of times we were wrong and it’s a constant state of chasing our tails and rethink these big story bullet points to let the music unfold with the story.”

When he was working on “Kick-Ass 2,” someone asked what his dream project would be and he said it would be a James Bond film.  Now that he has come close with “Kingsman,” he is happy to be working on  “a really cool and different film for Paramount called ‘Scouts versus Zombies.’  It’s a really, really fun film and I speak the truth when I say, it’s 110%  comedy and 110% horror so there are some really, really funny moments in it but there are some really great scares and of course you have zombies so how can you lose?’

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Composers Interview
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