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February round-up

February is the month of love, hosting as it does St Valentine’s Day, the traditional festival of romance that bolsters the incomes of florists and chocolatiers the world over. Of course it is not just an opportunity to express our feelings for all those people we love, but also to all the new film music released during the month. Today I will be looking back at four of the month’s releases, featuring new music by Christophe Beck, John Debney, Andrew Morgan Smith and Lorne Balfe.

I’m not a big fan of the Marvel films but I did quite like the first two ant men, primarily because they were lighter fayre and didn’t quite feel like they were just homework to make sure you understood whichever was the next film in the franchise. Nothing I’ve read about the third one, Quantumania, makes it sound like that so I’m in no rush to see it; but in a rare display of composer continuity in this series of films, Christophe Beck gets a third bite at the cherry. I really liked his first two scores – his theme for Ant Man himself is one of the most distinctive and memorable of the whole series, and then he wrote another great one for the Wasp for the second film.

Third time round I don’t quite get the same vibes. The opening track – billed in a way that makes you expect a new theme – is actually a very entertaining, more electronic-dominated version of the first film’s theme. After that though Beck keeps things considerably darker than they were in the previous scores – there’s a lot of doom and gloom here. Things do perk up considerably when he has the rare opportunity to take things lighter again, and there are some decent new themes here – the best explodes with a joy not typical of the score in “Skies of Axia”. We do get a lot of the main theme throughout the score, albeit presented in a more standard Marvel guise than the deft, skittish guise it tended to take in the first score. It’s enjoyable and I’m pleased that Beck has become one of the go-to composers for this type of film because he’s good at them, but it feels like a step down from the earlier entries. Still – very entertaining.

80 for Brady is – I am told – a comedy film about old people going to watch Tom Brady, a sportsman of some sort apparently. Its music comes courtesy of John Debney, who’s done various sports films and comedy films (and all other types of film) before – it’s exactly like you might expect it to be, a warm comfort blanket of a score, with soothing strings and piano leading the way. It’s all very tuneful – none of them particularly sticks in the head, admittedly – and completely inoffensive.

It wouldn’t be a sports movie score without some big heroic moments and these are done with some aplomb – big and brassy and dramatic – with “Final Drive” (suggesting Brady is either a motor racer or perhaps a golfer) the pick of the bunch. I have to say though that the score’s charm comes in its lighter moments, which dominate – Debney makes the whole thing very sincere and at times really quite touching. You sort of forget everything about it as soon as it’s over, but while it’s playing it’s very nice.

I recently wrote about Andrew Morgan Smith’s brilliant score for a horror movie called Bunker; released around the same time was The Old Way, music for a Nicolas Cage western which didn’t receive great notices (to be polite). The music though is deserving of great notices – it is indeed composed in the old way, with more than a hint of Jerry Goldsmith about it. The opening “A Hanging” sets the scene very well – it’s ominous and dark but with a lot of classic western elements including lots of instrumental touches familiar from countless past scores in this genre. The big action sequence in its middle is just great.

This is followed by a classic wide-open-spaces theme in the next cue “Twenty Years Later” which is stirring and satisfying in equal measure – and the highlights keep coming, with the delightful “Jellybeans” showcasing a really lovely light-hearted theme. The bulk of what follows is much darker, centred around action material – it’s flavourful and impressive, even if I wish the film had allowed him to continue with that great melodic stuff that dominates the early part. I hadn’t heard any music by Smith until a few weeks ago and now I’ve heard two scores which have both really made me sit up and take notice. More, please!

Lorne Balfe is so extraordinarily prolific that I’ve had to check and recheck IMDB that Luther: The Fallen Sun really is his first score release of 2023, eight weeks into the year. “The lazy bastard!” I thought, before I remembered that he contributed themes to Andrew Kawczynski’s score for Ping Pong: The Triumph (and is not credited for that at IMDB). Phew: normal service resumed. I’ve watched every episode of Luther (this is the first feature-length outing) and can’t really remember anything about the music, so I’m in no position to say how Balfe’s compares with it, but it’s certainly a soundscape appropriate for the troubled but determined character.

To do my favourite thing and draw a facile comparison with something else, the music plays to me like a gritter version of the composer’s Mission: Impossible score (which I hated at the time but now love, being the fickle creature I am) without the explosive action elements – twisted, sometimes manipulated strings, keyboards, urban/industrial noises. At its best it comes off like a musical portrait of an inner city in the middle of the night – little beams of light punctuating nervous calm, occasional psychological tension ratcheting up. I’m not sure it plays as well on album as it does in the film, but if you like your thriller music dark and tense then it certainly ticks those boxes.

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  1. Marco Ludema (Reply) on Saturday 11 March, 2023 at 17:42

    With the last paragraph in the back of my mind, I’d like to ask: will there be a re-review for M:I – Fallout at some point, like with Avatar?

    I also feel like March and April are gonna be a lot of fun for film score fans, with Shazam 2, John Wick 4, Super Mario and such. Can’t wait to read your take on those.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 11 March, 2023 at 17:43

      Yes I will definitely redo M:I Fallout before the next one comes out. In a long history of bad takes, that may have been my worst of all.

  2. Jon Blough (Reply) on Saturday 11 March, 2023 at 18:51

    Actually the first track of Quantumania does introduce a new theme in its second half: the character theme for Scott’s daughter Cassie, which is a clever inversion of the Ant-Man theme progressions. But honestly it took until Beck’s detailed FSM interview for me to start noticing it.

  3. Sean (Reply) on Monday 13 March, 2023 at 21:05

    Great read. Please review the Wakanda Forever score.

  4. Alexander S. (Reply) on Wednesday 22 March, 2023 at 11:03

    Wow! With “The Old Way” you threw me right back into the times when I listened to “Bad Girls” on repeat. Thanks for discovering it! Andrew Morgan Smith might have just become one of my favorite composers.