Year 8, Day 260 - 9/16/16 - Movie #2,452
BEFORE: Henry Cavill carries over from "The Count of Monte Cristo", which was one of the last little pieces to fall into place to make the rest of this chain possible. Once I realized I could get here, it was just a short jump to the new James Bond film, which I'll get to in a couple days.
Huh, I didn't even realize this, but Napoleon (the Emperor) appeared as a character in "The Count of Monte Cristo", and tonight's film is about another Napoleon, Napoleon Solo.
THE PLOT: 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.
AFTER: Yeah, it's another reboot tonight, but I don't think I ever watched the original TV show "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", which aired from 1964 to 1968. I mean, I'm old but I'm not THAT old. I was busy being born when this show was wrapping up its run. So that's a long time to wait to re-launch a franchise, but hey, everything in its own time. I guess it took a while for the Cold War era to be cool again.
Ian Fleming helped develop the original TV series, back in 1963, but didn't like that NBC wanted to call the pilot "Ian Fleming's Solo". The producers of the James Bond films then filed a lawsuit, and the movie "Goldfinger" also had a character named Solo, so they had to change the name of the TV show, which is when they came up with the acronym U.N.C.L.E., for "United Network Command for Law and Enforcement". The pairing up of an American agent with a Soviet one made sense on the TV show, because together they took on a common enemy, the organization known as T.H.R.U.S.H. (the Technologial Hierarchy for...ah, the hell with it.)
My main problem with the movie here is that there's no larger, shadowy organization for the two agents to fight, which makes it much more unlikely that they would team up, especially at the height of the Cold War. Sure, at the start of the film Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are on opposing sides, but it's not long after they face off that their handlers say they must partner up. And even though it's an uneasy alliance, it still felt forced.
Maybe it's the lack of strong villains - sure, the count and countess or whoever they are are trying to get nuclear warheads, and no good can come of that, but they just didn't seem as sinister as your average Bond villain, so I didn't feel the same sense of danger. The leads were stylish and suave, and seemed to be very good at what they do, but I have to wonder if the justification for reviving this franchise has everything to do with how much money the last few Bond films have brought in. "Skyfall" took in over 1 billion (yep, with a "B") dollars, and three years later, there's another film about 60's era well-dressed secret agents? You do the math.
It also feels like they couldn't go too far in any direction - there were bits that were supposed to be humorous, but clearly they didn't want to make a comedy, like "Spy" or "Austin Powers". But they didn't want this one to be too serious, either, like, say, "Jason Bourne" or "John Wick". So everything seemed a little middle-of-the-road and negotiated by focus groups, if that's really the way they decide on a film's tone. And there's stunt action, too, but nothing as impressive as the big-budget stunts they do in the "Mission: Impossible" films, like hanging from a building or flying on the outside of a plane.
I did like the idea of making the two leads "imperfect" characters - Bond's just a little too perfect sometimes. Here Solo made a few mistakes, plus he has a criminal background, and Illya has his own problems, namely fits of uncontrollable rage. I thought this created a good balance for two characters who would otherwise seem to have a form of superpowers, like the spies in "Kingsman".
Also starring Armie Hammer (last seen in "The Lone Ranger"), Alicia Vikander (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Luca Calvani (last seen in "To Rome With Love"), Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant (last seen in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"), Jared Harris (last seen in "Pompeii"), Christian Berkel, with a cameo from David Beckham (last seen in "Bend it Like Beckham").
RATING: 6 out of 10 hidden microphones