Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’

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2014’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was a pleasant surprise, released during the otherwise sleepy late-winter box office and chewing up spy thriller tropes with a gleefully irreverent, R-rated, comic-book aesthetic.

It was the kind of movie that featured a villain with swords for legs, leaning full-tilt into the absurdity. And as its centerpiece, an unforgettable sequence of frenetic violence as chaos is unleashed inside a church, resulting in a choreographed slaughter and [barely-a-spoiler alert] the impactful death of a major character.

But in continuing the series with “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn outruns his own creativity. Good ideas are squandered while his sequel blows up (literally and figuratively) everything built by its predecessor and bends itself into a pretzel of expository nonsense in order to fruitlessly resurrect the same character whose death gave K1 its Midas touch.

Now a full-fledged member of the Kingsman spy agency, our hero, Eggsy, is in a committed relationship with Princess Tilde (who provided the first film’s controversial stinger). But when the Kingsman organization is all-but wiped out by an eccentric, robophilic cartel leader (a…bizarre…Julianne Moore, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) must seek the help of their American counterparts, The Statesman, to save the world.

The addition of the Statesman is inspired, building out the world of the franchise and providing some of the best gags as Eggsy is introduced to a bizarro version of the Kingsman tailor shop. But while the Statesman are the best element of the sequel, they’re not used to their full potential (major actors appear only to vanish with only perfunctory plot participation) and come at the expense of pre-existing plot and characters.

To whit: [spoilery-rant alert] Kingsman is an egregiously male-centric franchise and it’s an enormous miscalculation that the film abruptly jettisons Sophie Cookson’s “Roxie,” arguably a co-lead of the first film and one of the franchise’s few named female characters. Her energy was critical to K1, providing a much-needed respite from the machismo (and borderline misogyny) on screen, despite being relegated to second fiddle behind Taron Egerton’s “Eggsy.” I assume a scheduling conflict made Cookson’s participation difficult, but the second film suffers as a result. [/spoilers]

It also suffers from a paint-by-numbers redundancy in the film’s third act. Having assembled the team and wakened the dead (again, stupid) K2 globe trots around the necessary action beats before arriving at the eventual showdown with Moore’s kingpin Polly.

There are robot dogs, a kidnapped and expletive-tossing Elton John (yes, really), and a man with a robot arm to fill the void of Sofia Boutella’s sword-legs. But while the camerawork is slick and the effects are top-notch, the going’s on lack all of the wide-eyed inspiration of the first film’s madcap insanity.

It’s fun enough, to a point, but rapidly loses steam as it reaches the final curtain. If a third trip to the tailor shop in store, Kingsman: The Golden Circle fails to make the case for why moviegoers should care.

Grade: C+
Kingsman: The Golden Circle opens nationwide on Friday, Sep. 22

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If you believe the reports, Daniel Craig is definitely done playing James Bond. Unless you believe the other reports that he definitely intends to return for the final film in his contract.

That type of behind-the-scenes uncertainly wouldn’t normally be an issue, especially for a franchise where perpetual casting changes are built into the machine, but for the fact that in Spectre, Craig et al deliver a film that very much feels like the final chapter in a Bond quadrilogy.

There’s a gravitational pull with most franchises to deliver the movie that Ties It All Together™, and more often than not its an impulse best avoided. Such is the case with Spectre, which attempts to retcon all of Craig’s villains – Le Chifre, Mr. White, Dominic Greene and Silva — into a shadowy organization headed by Hannes Oberhauser (Chistoph Waltz), a figure with a mysterious tie to Bond’s past.

But before you can say “Wait…how?” the film skips off to Tangier in an attempt to distract you with beautiful women, beautiful locales and beautiful fights on a train so that you’re too occupied to question how Oberhauser could have possibly orchestrated the events of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. For one thing, QUANTUM already gave us one shadowy organization, which now was a subsidiary? Is this a Bond movie or a quarterly earnings report?

It’s par for the course of Spectre, in which THINGS HAPPEN out of necessity, with little time spent on the “why?” of it all. There are plots and subplots, villains and sub-villains, but they’re parceled out like a paint-by-numbers book as the film follows the establish Bond formula established decades ago (the introduction of Andrew Scott as a drone- and surveillance-minded head of British security intent on shutting down MI6 is the definition of an afterthought).

And that’s a shame, because the Daniel Craig era has been marked by an overall sense of freshness and experimentation. Beginning with Casino Royale (still the strongest entry of Craig’s time in the tux, IMHO) the four films have enjoyed a sense of unpredictability, even while calling back to the tried-and-true aspects of the cherished (by many, myself included) franchise. Spectre, on the other hand, is quite predictable, from the car chase in Act I, to the love interest in Act II and the Big Twist Reveal in Act III.

None of this is to say that Spectre is a bad film, it is not. The visuals are delightful (the film opens with a beautiful tracking shot meandering through Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico) and the introduction of classic bond elements like Moneypenny and Q that began with Skyfall continue to pay dividends as the new era of the Bond Team develops. The female characters in Spectre (you know, the Bond Girls) are also more developed than their predecessors, with Lea Seydoux in particular offering more than just a pretty face.

Spectre’s greatest challenge is its own success, coming off the heels of Skyfall and hearkening back to Casino Royale. It falls short of those elevated expectations, but continues the trend of overall quality that has defined the recent exploits of 007.

Grade: B

*Spectre opens nationwide on Friday, November 6

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When an atomic weapon falls into the wrong hands, two elite intelligence agents from the United States and Russia are forced to set aside their Cold War differences and work together to bring down a Nazi-influenced criminal organization.

That’s the set-up for ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” the latest from ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Snatch’ director Guy Ritchie. It stars current Superman Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo – a gentleman thief turned CIA master spy – and erstwhile Lone Ranger Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, an emotionally disturbed and volatile KGB operative.

One part Scotch-swilling period piece and one part buddy cop comedy, U.N.C.L.E. is a globe-trotting romp that keeps one eye firmly winked, evoking the memory of the classic James Bond films with all the befits of modern cinematic technology

The presence of Henry Cavill is a particular coup by Ritchie, who creates a world in U.N.C.L.E. that is the functional antithesis of Zach Snyder’s dour, monochromatic Man Of Steel. Ritchie’s spy-vs-spy tale is practically drowning in bright colors, jazzy soundtracks, double entendres and the gleaming white smiles of its leading men, who it turns out are quite winning when their actually allowed to enjoy themselves.

Hammer, lately adrift in the forgettable streak of Lone Ranger, J. Edgar and Mirror Mirror, takes a slight backseat to his costars, including Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander. But he’s also given plenty of screen time to chew on his faux-accent as a Russian volcano perpetually on the verge of eruption.

It’s easy to imagine studio heads pushing for a “gritty modern” remake of the Cold War-set property, but luckily the screenwriters resisted that urge. As intriguing as a forced U.S.-Russia team up in the modern era could be from a thematic standpoint, there’s no trading the bouncy charm of U.N.C.L.E.’s period details unencumbered by realism.

The bubble of style over substance threatens to pop in the film’s third act, when the action shifts to a frenetic car chase that – one signature stunt notwithstanding – plays jarringly generic after two hours of sizzle. And the ultimate resolution is as tidy one of Napolean Solo’s tailored suits.

But that breezy finish is also earned, and a late entrance by Hugh Grant provides an energy jolt for a sequel that Hollywood could – and has done – significantly worse than greenlight. At worst, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is guilty of being too enamored with its own sense of fun, which is hard to hold against it.

Grade: B

*The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens nationwide on Friday, August 11.

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A lot of praise has been heaped upon ‘Skyfall’. Many respectable, wise critics have dubbed it “The best Bond ever,” lauding it for its ability to both incorporate long lost elements of Bonds-gone-by while still preserving the moody, gritty realism of the Daniel Craig ever.

While I fall short of deeming Skyfall the best of all the 23 Bonds — or even the best of Craig’s 3 outings as the titular provocateur — I could not agree more that what Sam Mendes has produced is a near flawless fusion of old and new and one of the most thrilling adventures in 007’s 50-year career.

Skyfall — as with all bonds since Thunderball — begins with a pre-credit sequence that is both breathtaking in scope and pulse-pounding with adrenaline. It hearkens back to movies of yesteryear as bond goes from a foot chase to a car chase to a motorcycle chase along rooftops to a backhoe chase on a moving train, all while pausing to straighten tie and cufflinks (as seen in the trailer). It’s a piece of exquisite Bond-action joy that sets up the films resurrection theme as bond is injured and struggles to return back to 100% health and active duty.

From there, we jump skip to a series of attacks on Mi6 that are seemingly directed vendetta-style at Judi Dench’s ‘M’, who has played the role since Pierce Brosnan’s Goldeneye (another “best”). On the job is Bond, back from some much-needed R&R, who pursues a somewhat-confusing trail of breadcrumbs first to Shanghai (where apparently everything glows, which looks awesome) then to Macau (where everything is dimly lit and floating on water, which looks awesome) and finally to a remote island where we meet our villain Silva, a snake-tongued cyber criminal with an axe to grind played by Javier Bardem.

Once again Bardem shows that he is adept at playing off-kilter evil, trading his bowl cut and cattle gun from No Country For Old Men for flowing blond locks, a laptop computer and just a pinch of homo-eroticism. He is eerie, off-putting and fascinating to watch but his motivations and actions struck me as slightly incomplete.

Back at home in London there are a number of side elements, such as the re-introduction of gadget-master Q and a political threat to M in the form of Ralph Fiennes, which all come to tie together nicely in the film’s third act, which I won’t describe suffice to say that it was an interestingly low-key way to stage the final showdown, whichbrought back memories of the Man With the Golden Gun era.

Casino Royale remains my favorite of the Craigs, but I admit that some of the criticism of being Bourne-ified is justified. Skyfall looks, feels, smells, and loves like the Bond we all grew up with; a suave Brit cracking wise, seducing women and taking names around the world. For the diehards, Skyfall is peppered with throwback nods and canonical additions that you may not have realized you missed but are nonetheless grin-inducing when they appear. For the uninitiated, it’s just one heckuva good ride. A-

 

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