I have only a passing familiarity with the original TV series that ran from 1964 to 1968. I think I caught some reruns in syndication when I was a kid. I am pretty sure I remember the awesome Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum (Duckie from NCIS) as Illya Kuryakin. It was very much a product of it’s time in a similar Cold War era vein of James Bond, The Avengers (no not those Avengers), Mission: Impossible, Danger Man/Secret Agent, Get Smart, The Saint, I Spy, culminating in the end of the Cold War with Scarecrow and Mrs. King (I never missed an episode).
Something you may notice, I made all of those links to the original series. Something else you may notice almost all of them have been remade into modern movies – very very poorly with only two notable exceptions. As a reminder ( I am cruel) here you go to the notably bad ones.
I understand if you need to pause reading to take anti psychotics or antidepressants at being reminded of those films. I needed to set the stage for what is one of the last of the genre of old spy movies being redone.
Did it work better than the others? Does it break the curse?
If you are a regular reader you know the Three Writer Rule. 3 or more writers goes bad almost invariably. This movie has four unique story credits and with two of those repeating on the screenplay. This is excluding the Sam Rolfe credit for the TV series. Lets knock a few parties out right now. Jeff Kleeman is a producer with a pen. He generally is the money and some influence on a film, with no major film credits prior as a writer it’s clear he wanted a say in the film enough to get himself a story credit. Then there is David C. Wilson, who has precisely two credits; the 1991 martial arts movie that made Escrima cool The Perfect Weapon and the oft forgotten 2000 film Supernova. I am almost wondering if David C. Wilson is an Alan Smithee in disguise? This brings us to Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie. Now things begin to get interesting as Wigram helped give us the RDJ Sherlock Holmes in 2009 as a writer, then has largely served as an executive producer for such films as Harry Potter 5, 6, 7.1 and 7.2. He also gave us Cool as Ice. I am trying to decide if that wipes all the other good credit out. Then of course is Guy Ritchie, writer, director, producer. Gaining his fame from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, later to give us the two new Sherlock Holmes films.
Did they tell a good story together? Well yes and no. The film is so predictable with its beats and overall plot that I probably could have looked like some sort of PreCog from the Future Crimes division if I had written this review first. Every single plot point is 100% unsurprising and even telegraphed. The movie then goes onto explain, as if we’re idiots, how some of the beats happened when a cut was used to show not tell. Not good. What is good is when the movie takes small moments to be quiet. They are a touch absurd and a bit off, yet bring the whole thing back together. The downside of course is they, like the movie run a bit long and rather than allowing you to catch your breath leave you checking your watch. Not that the movie needed time to let you catch your breath, the pacing, music, and overall feel of the film read more like Steven Soderbergh (Haywire, Oceans 11, Traffic). The only touch of Ritchie I see is some of the cuts he chooses and a deliberate attempt to give it that 60’s film grain vibe.
From an acting perspective the mediocre retreaded script does little to help the actors. Thankfully someone reminded Henry Cavill he wasn’t working with Zack Snyder and that he could smile again and be charming again. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that and that isn’t a good thing as beyond his magnificent physique the man actually has natural charm. Armie Hammer, who hasn’t had much work since the atrocity of the Lone Ranger plays our Russian. If you want a man to be charming and charismatic when he reads wooden – don’t let him play a cold war russian. It doesn’t mix. Thankfully Hammer and Cavill both transcend the script and what must be poor direction to at least make me crack a smile a few times. They made it work. They had the quiet moments and bromance that fan fic writers are already scribbling down ideas for. Supporting the stars we have a star in her own right, Alicia (I am really not an AI) Vikander, coming off of a stellar performance in Ex Machina. She at least has chemistry with the male leads which allows this film to work and Ritchie and the script realize she is not just a window dressing and use her appropriately.
No one else is really able to transcend the script, except Hugh Grant who as near as I can tell is playing Hugh Grant.
Short version the movie is a meh.
You can get a few smiles and maybe some nostalgia from it if you enjoyed the original series. Hammer and Cavill pull off Illya and Solo rather well and I buy them and everything about them. If you were interested give it a matinee shot, otherwise this is a pass.
Slightly longer version? I think the Spy Genre is dead in film. Sad thing is I like Spy Movies. Always have. We’ve been Bourned to death. Mission Impossible and Bond work because they are larger than life. They are so huge from both the characters and the enemies. Even in the grittier and more reality (hah) centric film style we’ve gotten both Bond and MI are still bigger than us and that makes them truly timeless. The world that produced these earlier works is gone and even though the idea of vintage everything is still popular it doesn’t work as well when your genre needs a black and white enemy that is firmly of this world. Maybe in another few years this could be revisited but right now in the context of the world we live in the genre just does not work if you dance too close to reality. That thought, even watching the movie, took me out of it so hard that I started seeing the figurative paint and set dressing.
I think that explains why this was released in August. People might just be desperate enough to see it and it could make some money back.
So again – It’s a Meh. If you were planning on it anyway – Matinee. Otherwise, save your money a few more weeks until something that is must see comes out.