The Spy Command’s final thoughts on ‘Year of the Spy’

BridgeOfSpies
Almost a year ago, this blog christened 2015 as the “Year of the Spy.” As the year draws to a close, this post looks back on that year with some final thoughts.

The blog didn’t write about all the movies discussed here. But the blog editor did see them all. The films listed are in order from best to worst. Actually, none of them was a stinker, so “worst” here is relative. Regardless, here we go.

Bridge of Spies: This wasn’t so much a spy movie as a film about the aftermath of espionage.

The Steven Spielberg-directed “biopic” starred Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan (1913-1970), the American lawyer who negotiated the release of U.S. U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers from the Soviets.

With any “based on true events” film, one should never view it as history. Regardless, it was very engrossing. Here, CGI is used to recreate Powers’ capture when his plane was shot down.

Hanks is an accomplished actor and, as usual, delivers a strong performance. This movie also is a milestone of a different sort. Spielberg had to rely upon a composer other than mostly retired John Williams. For this film, that was Thomas Newman.

Bridge of Spies is mostly a low-key drama. The stakes are large, but it doesn’t have the pyrotechnics of the typical action film. This is exactly what Newman excels at. His score is perfect for the movie — and also points out his weakness at another prominent movie on this list.

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The return of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin after a 32-year absence was a financial failure, despite a modest $75 million production budget.

The Guy Ritchie-movie took liberties with the source material. Henry Cavill’s Solo was, more or less, the same character that Robert Vaughn played in the 1964-68 series but his back story was quite different. Ritchie took more liberties with Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin, who had a far darker side than David McCallum’s original.

Still, it mostly worked, even if it relied on an “origin” story line. It had a strong opening, downshifted to a decent middle section, then went into high gear in its second half. Once main villain Victoria (Elizabeth Debecki) calls Cavill by “Mr. Solo,” the proceedings accelerated until the end.

One of the strengths of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. The composer was instructed by Ritchie NOT to emulate John Barry’s 007 movie style and that advice pays off.

The chances of a sequel are remote. That’s show biz. But the movie wasn’t camp (a fear of long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans). Perhaps, in coming years, this movie might attain the status of a “cult classic.”

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE:  The 24th James Bond film started out strong as it sought to mix “traditional” 007 movie elements with Daniel Craig’s 21st century grittier take. For the first two-thirds, it succeeded.

Yet, in its desire to top 2012’s Skyfall, some things went awry. The same writers of Skyfall (John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) worked on this year’s Bond film. Their roles, however, were reversed.

Until now, Purvis and Wade — who are very familiar with Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories — would do the early drafts while another writer (Logan in the case of Skyfall) would come in and polish things up.

In this case, Logan did the early drafts. Purvis and Wade weren’t even supposed to participate. However, Logan’s efforts were found lacking — something that likely wouldn’t have been known had it not been for computer hacking at Sony Pictures, which exposed behind-the-scenes details of many movies, including SPECTRE. Also, playwright Jez Butterworth (who did uncredited polishes on Skyfall) apparently did more on SPECTRE because he got a credit with the other scribes.

Thomas Newman, who did such a splendid job on Bridge of Spies, is only serviceable here, even recycling some of his Skyfall score in some scenes. Clearly, doing a Bond film is NOT in the talented composer’s wheelhouse.

Regardless of the soap opera, SPECTRE ran out of gas. Its final third wasn’t a total loss but it didn’t sustain the momentum of the first two-thirds. As a result, this blog puts SPECTRE behind U.N.C.L.E., which finished much stronger.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation: The fifth Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible film had its own behind-the-scenes soap opera.

The movie was originally scheduled to debut Dec. 25. But Paramount abruptly moved up the release date to July 31, presumably to get it out of harm’s way from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Presumably, that had to add extra stress to screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie. Directors almost always want more time to tinker with a movie in editing, not less.

Regardless, from a box office standpoint, it was an astute move. It definitely hurt the U.N.C.L.E. movie (which came out two weeks later). And the movie was well received, encouraging Paramount to order up another film.

Technically, the movie was very exciting. Star (and producer) Cruise probably scares studio bosses by insisting on doing his own stunts. This blog drops the movie down a step because it’s not as much of a Mission: Impossible movie as its predecessor, the Brad Bird-directed Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.

The original M:I series (1966-73) was very much about team work. Ghost Protocol very much followed that path (even reworking some bits from the show, albeit in a bigger and more spectacular fashion). Rogue Nation was a step backward. It was another example of turning M:I into The Tom Cruise Show.

Kingsman: The Secret Service: If this movie had sustained its first half for the rest of the film, it probably would have been the best spy movie of the year.

It didn’t. In the first half of the movie, one of the best scenes in the first half is where Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) says, “Manners maketh man,” before he clobbers some British thugs. But director Matthew Vaughn conveniently forgets that advice. Once Harry is killed midway throught he film, the movie dies a bit with him.

There’s still a decent amount worth watching (and the movie was a hit, especially with international audiences). Still, whatever class was present disappears into the mist.

Taken 3: The final (we hope) of Liam Neeson’s adventures as a former spy does everything it’s supposed to do — but no more. In this installment, the wife of Neeson’s Bryan Mills has been killed and he’s been framed. Of course, he’ll get out it. The question is how.

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3 Responses

  1. What with the best-to-worst classification, Bill?

    “Bridge of Spies” is a historical drama not to be compared to an action-adventure mystery like “SPECTRE”. Apples vs oranges.

    If one rates movies by GENERAL criteria like enjoyment and relevance etc. than “SPECTRE” and “Kingsman” are tops with 5 stars out of 5, “U.N.C.L.E.” 3 out of 5, “Rogue Nation” 3 out of 5 in their own category and “Bridge of Spies” is 4 out of 5, in its own category.

    Now here is WHY.

    “SPECTRE” is an important 007 masterpiece as it clearly shows the Illuminati that runs our real world wanting to surveil us 24/7/365 to subjugate us; Bond discovers this plot and brings it down as Fleming wants us to do the same in real life. The Newman music recycled from “SkyFall” sucks–but is adequate since the visual action is tremendous with some never-before-seen events. Adele’s “SkyFall” could be used as the “SPECTRE” theme song again and the movie renamed “SPECTRE: the Legend of SkyFall Continues” since unlike the horrificly bad “SkyFall”, MI6-SIS REALLY DOES COME TOGETHER AT THE END as the theme song calls for. Either that or get David Arnold to rescore “SPECTRE” with a new theme song with a melody that can be re-stated like he did brilliantly in “Casino Royale” in 2006.

    “Kingsman” nails it by getting you to care for the young son of a fallen (sub-agency of MI6-SIS?) agent. Even when his mentor is killed off, your eyes water when he goes in to save the day–and the world. The only flaw in “Kingsman” is at the very end with the beautiful damsel rescue type-of-sex scene. Heroes that save the lady have normal, loving sex as their reward. That scene should be cut from the “official” film. Don’t even watch it. Mentor Firth can be brought back for the sequel.

    “U.N.C.L.E.” has a sweet romance between Hammer and the girl Vikander. She is wonderful. The rest of the movie sucks in typical Guy Ritchie BS, detached, male narcisism and style fetish. They even have the friggin’ British Commando raid at the end in a split screen with elevator music like a music video. Ho-hum. No suspense, no action, no excitement, no drama. Not what you experience watching the TV series. Therefore, there IS a director capable of fuking up a 007 movie worse than Mendes in “SkyFall”: he is Guy Ritchie. Let’s hope he never gets the chance. Had Malcolm Campbell directed the movie instead of egomaniac Ritchie, I bet U.N.C.L.E. would have had nail-biting action and sexy style to be 5 stars out of 5.

    “Rogue Nation” has indeed become the Tom Cruise self-lovefest as Bill notes. It was disappointing on many levels to include the story being yet another undeserved CIA lovefest and constant computerization-connected-to-everything to get Cruise out of trouble. Last I checked, paratroop side doors on transport planes are not connected to ANY convenient computer. Cruise would have been left banging on the outside for the duration of the A-400M Atlas flight. Might have done him some good.

    “Bridge of Spies” drops a star by its BS portrayal of Illuminati-controlled, CIA Director Allen Dulles acting as some sort of good faith player when the truth is he DELIBERATELY SENT POWERS ALL ACROSS RUSSIA IN A DEFECTIVE U-2 WITH ALTITUDE CAPABILITY AND ALTIMETER SABOTAGED to hopefully murder him and KILL THE PEACE CONFERENCE BETWEEN PRESIDENT EISENHOWER AND KHRUSHCHEV. Fleming himself says Powers U-2 flight was sabotaged. Powers didn’t die on cue, so years later the CIA murdered him later by sabotaging his news helicopter when he began talking to the press.

  2. What with the best-to-worst classification, Bill?

    “Bridge of Spies” is a historical drama not to be compared to an action-adventure mystery like “SPECTRE”. Apples vs oranges.

    If one rates movies by GENERAL criteria like enjoyment and relevance etc. than “SPECTRE” and “Kingsman” are tops with 5 stars out of 5, “U.N.C.L.E.” 3 out of 5, “Rogue Nation” 3 out of 5 in their own category and “Bridge of Spies” is 4 out of 5, in its own category.

    Now here is WHY.

    “SPECTRE” is an important 007 masterpiece as it clearly shows the Illuminati that runs our real world wanting to surveil us 24/7/365 to subjugate us; Bond discovers this plot and brings it down as Fleming wants us to do the same in real life. The Newman music recycled from “SkyFall” sucks–but is adequate since the visual action is tremendous with some never-before-seen events. Adele’s “SkyFall” could be used as the “SPECTRE” theme song again and the movie renamed “SPECTRE: the Legend of SkyFall Continues” since unlike the horrificly bad “SkyFall”, MI6-SIS REALLY DOES COME TOGETHER AT THE END as the theme song calls for. Either that or get David Arnold to rescore “SPECTRE” with a new theme song with a melody that can be re-stated like he did brilliantly in “Casino Royale” in 2006.

    “Kingsman” nails it by getting you to care for the young son of a fallen (sub-agency of MI6-SIS?) agent. Even when his mentor is killed off, your eyes water when he goes in to save the day–and the world. The only flaw in “Kingsman” is at the very end with the beautiful damsel rescue type-of-sex scene. Heroes that save the lady have normal, loving sex as their reward. That scene should be cut from the “official” film. Don’t even watch it. Mentor Firth can be brought back for the sequel.

    “U.N.C.L.E.” has a sweet romance between Hammer and the girl Vikander. She is wonderful. The rest of the movie sucks in typical Guy Ritchie BS, detached, male narcisism and style fetish. They even have the friggin’ British Commando raid at the end in a split screen with elevator music like a music video. Ho-hum. No suspense, no action, no excitement, no drama. Not what you experience watching the TV series. Therefore, there IS a director capable of fuking up a 007 movie worse than Mendes in “SkyFall”: he is Guy Ritchie. Let’s hope he never gets the chance. Had Malcolm Campbell directed the movie instead of egomaniac Ritchie, I bet U.N.C.L.E. would have had nail-biting action and sexy style to be 5 stars out of 5.

    “Rogue Nation” has indeed become the Tom Cruise self-lovefest as Bill notes. It was disappointing on many levels to include the story being yet another undeserved CIA lovefest and constant computerization-connected-to-everything to get Cruise out of trouble. Last I checked, paratroop side doors on transport planes are not connected to ANY convenient computer. Cruise would have been left banging on the outside for the duration of the A-400M Atlas flight. Might have done him some good.

    “Taken 3” spends the majority of its time battling the LAPD who unrealistically refuse to admit surveillance camera footage clearly shows Neeson’s wife was snatched into a van before a staged murder scene and not the ho-hum, Russian mobsters. No one wants to see good guys fighting good guys and the upcoming absurd Superman vs. Batman abomination will testify to it. Wife played by Bond Girl villain Famke J. constantly quits every movie series she is given, so they wasted an entire movie to get her out of the story arc.

    “Bridge of Spies” drops a star by its BS portrayal of Illuminati-controlled, CIA Director Allen Dulles acting as some sort of good faith player when the truth is he DELIBERATELY SENT POWERS ALL ACROSS RUSSIA IN A DEFECTIVE U-2 WITH ALTITUDE CAPABILITY AND ALTIMETER SABOTAGED to hopefully murder him and KILL THE PEACE CONFERENCE BETWEEN PRESIDENT EISENHOWER AND KHRUSHCHEV. Fleming himself says Powers U-2 flight was sabotaged. Powers didn’t die on cue, so years later the CIA murdered him later by sabotaging his news helicopter when he began talking to the press.

  3. Firstly, i would’t ramble on about how Guy Richie director messed up ”the man from .u.n.c.l.e.” reason’s Being, it was his version based on the original film. however according to media reports. the bond producers loved the movie. The only fault i found was why call the movie ”the man from .u.n.cl.e” and the origin story was before the two agents joined the Agency ? The mission impossible rogue Nation wasn’t my kind of movie, it was like what the previous writer said before me. The tom cruise show. the king’s men secret service’ for me, was just a Parody of the genre. No comment on ”the Bridge of spies” i haven’t seen it yet. The ”SPECTRE’ bond movie succeeded in capturing the imagination of the British fans But failed with the American critic’s and public. I personally enjoyed ”SPECTRE” but also found some Faults in the movie. this blog believe’s that the Liam Neeson’s ”taken” series has came to it’s end. meaning there’s nobody left to be taken. So rating these movies still hasn’t given us the vote, which one is ”the spy of year” film by this Blog ? my vote goes to ”SPECTRE’

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