I tell you what, guys, I am on FIRE with these film pairings lately. Last time, I paired off the latest superhero flicks (Fantastic Four and Ant-Man, which you can read all about here), and now I’ve got the latest spy flicks for you! Truly, it is the summer of Marvel and espionage. The former theme has had its highs and lows this summer, but how has the latter held up? Well, I’m about to break that down for you in this little Duet.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Synopsis: “In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.” –www.imdb.com
The High Notes:
- The cast. Personally, I don’t know a lot about the old TV show that this film is based on, but Henry Cavill is, from what I’ve heard, pretty perfect as suave, smooth-as-silk CIA spy Napoleon Solo, and Armie Hammer’s solemn, short-fused KGB spy Illya Kuryakin provides a nice foil (though I’ve heard Illya is actually very different in the TV show). Add to the duo Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the feisty daughter of a missing German scientist, and it makes for a pretty fun team. Oh, and ice-cold villain Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) is pretty solid, too.
- The reluctant bromance. What can I say? I love a good bromance—particularly one that starts out with a few speed bumps. Maybe it’s a pretty standard set-up as far as budding bromances go, but it’s still presented in a fun way, and the Cavill/Hammer chemistry is undeniable.
- The ‘60s style. The film clearly takes advantage of its colorful time period with dazzling costumes, cars, and settings. It gives the look of the film a lot of personality.
The Low Notes:
- It’s not the strongest or most unique story. As much style and charisma as the film may have, it’s clearly lacking as far as the story goes. It’s one of those films where after you see it, you sit down and really think about the plot, and you’re like, “Huh. Not as much happened there as I expected.” Plus, pretty much every twist and turn is anticipated. It definitely knocks the film down a peg.
- A few moments made me pause and go, “Well that’s just ridiculous.” I realize it’s a spy movie, and a fair amount of silliness should be expected, but this had an even greater degree of absurdity sometimes. One scene in particular comes to mind: Illya is being chased and then pretty much drowning; meanwhile, Napoleon is watching and eating a sandwich. Like…really? I realize Napoleon is supposed to be a super cool professional, but I found that flat out dumb.
- This is basically a set-up film without a lot of actual, functional team time. In other words, U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t officially become a thing until the very end of the film, and I found that disappointing—particularly because it meant that we didn’t get a lot of time with Hugh Grant. Why make him the head of a secret spy organization and then barely even show the guy? The film seems to be banking on a sequel that it’s probably not going to get.
The Staccato Version: As far as spy films go, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. really isn’t a bad one. In fact, it’s a fair bit of fun. The trouble is, it’s competing with some films this year that have been, frankly, much more entertaining and well-crafted additions to the spy genre—and I’m not just referring to the film I’m about to discuss (Kingsman or Spy, anyone?). The trio of lead characters makes a solid team, and the film has loads of style, but the weak story in particular makes it fairly forgettable. Still, you could make far worse choices for a matinee movie (I’m looking at you, Fantastic Four).
My Grade: B
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Synopsis: “Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.” –www.imdb.com
The High Notes:
- The action, of course. No Mission Impossible film to date has been lacking when it comes to that, and there are definitely some fun sequences in here. Knife fights, shootouts, choke holds, crazy stunts, car/motorcycle chases—the whole shebang.
- The cast. Truly, Tom Cruise is an action star without equal. The man is 5’7” and 53 years old, yet he still manages to outshine most of the other action stars out there as dedicated Impossible Mission Force superspy Ethan Hunt. Simon Pegg steps up in this one and makes a pretty excellent sidekick as he returns to his role as Benji, the sweet, hilarious techie who proves in this film that he is just as dedicated to the IMF as Ethan. Ving Rhames returns as veteran IMF agent and Ethan’s longtime friend, Luther, and he’s as delightfully tough as ever. The surprise for me in this one was the team’s mysterious ally, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). This girl is tough, smart, and—best of all—not automatically thrust into a romantic relationship with Ethan. In fact, though there’s certainly some chemistry there, there’s barely anything done with it at all. Given that Cruise is 21 years her senior, I approve.
- The touches of humor. One of the greatest things about the Mission Impossible films (especially these last two installments) is that they have their serious, intense moments, but they never take themselves too There are always plenty of funny lines/moments sprinkled throughout, and it makes for a genuinely entertaining film.
The Low Notes:
- That plane stunt. Even if you’ve only seen the trailer, you know what I’m talking about. It’s like the film is trying to outdo that iconic train scene from the first film, but it comes off as completely ridiculous. Honestly, it didn’t necessarily bother me, I’d say, but it was just one of those moments where I was watching and shaking my head, thinking, “Really, guys?”
- Jeremy Renner gets a bit of a downgrade this time around. I thought Renner’s William Brandt was an interesting addition to the team in Ghost Protocol, so I was a little disappointed to discover that he plays a much less active role this time around. He still gets a fair share of screen time, but it just isn’t quite the same.
- The same look from Tom Cruise. Every. Time. I’m going to try to describe this to you because this look happens in almost every one of his action films. Something crazy happens, and everybody looks at Tom Cruise’s character. He gives this slight head jerk and has a look that says, “Well, guys, stuff happens.” This happens countless times in this movie. Like, to the point that I wondered if it would be a good drinking game. Has anybody else noticed this look? Please tell me I’m not the only one.
The Staccato Version: Honestly, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation might be my favorite installment in the franchise yet. The action is as full throttle as ever, the team has (in my humble opinion) never been stronger, and it’s just a blast from start to finish. Between this and Ghost Protocol, I think these films have really hit their stride. Tom Cruise may be getting a little old to keep this up for much longer, but for now it totally works. If you’re in need of a good summer action flick, I can’t recommend this one enough.
My Grade: A-