Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The-Man-from-UNCLE-Film-2015-600x388 Spy movies are all the rage these days with the Mission Impossible and the James Bond franchises hitting a continuous and successful strides as of late. Simultaneously, old television shows are being re-adapted into movies with moderate success. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. under the control of veteran director Guy Ritchie falls right in line with these trends and makes a fun action/spy flick that will likely go on to be a highly successful franchise.

Using the 1960s Cold War as a backdrop, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. tells the story of two opposing spies. One American, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), and one Russian, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). The beginning of the film finds Solo working to extract a woman, Gaby Teller (Alicia Vinkader) from East Germany while Kuryakin is in pursuit to stop him. The two are at the top of their game and prove to be quite formidable for one another. Solo wins the day, but it's short lived as the two elite spies are forced to partner under the orders of their home countries to take on a larger third villain.

Set off on a mission to take down a some international weapons bad guys (classic spy movie trope), we are given interactions from Solo and Kuryakin that are simply priceless. The two could not be more opposite and it works so damn well here. From interactions with one another to how the spies work undercover in their own mini individual outings are all pretty entertaining. The action is shot in a way that matches the tone of the time frame. Framed action pieces almost out of a pulp comic at times, and witty one liners from resident ladies’ man, Napoleon Solo. The movie makes no means to distance itself away from the style and charm of the original show, but it does forge its own path for future endeavors. We also get a good look at the swinging 60s and the general slickness that came with that time.

Gaby Teller is the final part to this international trio, and she helps play to the more innocent side of Kuryakin. A man who says few words but carries a big stick. The massive KGB agent is nothing to toy with and he seems to love the more brutal side of his job. Contrast that with Solo’s sometimes overuse of finesse and charm. The two characters were born to hate one another and in that they succeed. The overall plot of the film is a basic 1960s spy story with a few minor twists and turns but never overly complicated for mystery sake. The performance from Alicia Vikander as Gaby was underused in my opinion, but that notwithstanding she was a fun almost cypher for the audience to go along with in this world of backstabbing and treacherous behavior. Armie Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin was to me one of the big highlights of the film. Playing a very stoic and calculating character, while being able to emote enough to gain the audience's’ trust isn’t easy work. However, Hammer does just that. Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo is the perfect balance between cool and laugh out loud funny. While he never plays a jester's role, his actions are so cavalier at times that you can’t help but find humor in it all. The team of Cavill and Hammer is incredibly solid and if a franchise is to be made of this (I think it’s a good idea) their chemistry together will hold it in high favor without a doubt.

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Review: Man of Steel

Man of Steel

Comic book movies have had such a successful run over the last number of years. The sub genre has become mainstream and is beginning to feel like a genre all its own. In 1978, Richard Donner’s Superman was unprecedented, but since then we have seen three direct sequels and a fourth unsuccessful pseudo followup in 2006. Superman is by far the most well known comic book character around the world. Even people who have never read a comic know his basic origin story. Being such a known character has made his onscreen adaptations difficult to tackle. Director Zack Snyder attempts such a task with this year’s Man of Steel.

The challenge in adapting Superman to film is making him relevant in modern times. The character was created in 1938, and has a dated look, morality code, and worldview. In an age of violent villains and brooding heroes, can the flying boy scout still impress us?Director Zack Snyder worked with producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) and writer David Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy) to create a movie that works to bring the “granddaddy of superheroes” back to the world of the living. To say that Snyder and his team delivered is a vast understatement. Man of Steel gives us a heartfelt take on a story we thought we already knew, outrageous characters, and action that rivals some of the biggest and best Hollywood has to offer.

The aforementioned origin story is relatively the same as we’ve seen in past films. We are treated to the added bonus message about free choice in a society. I am not sure if this was a metaphor for some modern day political issue or not, but to me it had some weight. Superman’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is the early focus of the movie and plays to adding a serious level of gravitas to this classic character who was originally played by Marlon Brando. Jor-El works early on to warn of the impending danger to his homeworld of Krypton. Opposite Jor-El's ease and heroism is brutal and myopic General Zod (Michael Shannon). Zod’s soul purpose is to protect Krypton at all cost. Like any automaton, Zod goes too far when his “programming” conflicts with what’s happening around him. He decides to make a go at taking over Krypton.

Flash forward to Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) as an adult on Earth and we see his interactions with Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, respectively). Intercut with moments of Clark as a child, the movie does a great job of not just rehashing the story everyone knows. The relationship between Clark and the Kents is very well explored and gives you a real sense of where Superman gets his moral center. For the first time in any Superman movie real exposition is given for Clark Kent/Superman’s struggle to adapt to living with his powers. The struggle to just be normal is a thread throughout his childhood. There is even time taken to give the audience a look at how Superman literally sees the world around him. A perspective not touched on ever in previous big screen outings.

Throughout his time in secret Clark is being pursued by the famous journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who is tracking his good deeds around the world. Lane has some interactions with him and she becomes obsessed with the very idea of an alien being. Eventually Superman in all his glory debuts himself to the world and Snyder does a great job of asking the question of “how would humans react to seeing a god show up on Earth?” This is yet another thing not explored in previous films. Once the world is put in danger Superman begins to make a myriad of sacrifices for the common good. From this point on a struggle ensues and we are treated to ~40 minutes of pure action. The sequences were heavy CGI-ed, but looked clean. The fight pace was insanely quick as you’d imagine. Jumping from one end of the screen to another and back again was common. Fighting through buildings and other urban landscapes was pretty par for the course after a while; this is not a complaint. The scope of the fights felt massive and lead to the the understanding of how powerful these characters were. Even smaller roles like Faora (Antje Traue), General Zod’s right hand woman was given a time to shine. I found myself grinning from ear to ear when she was onscreen battling. I cheered, smiled, and even chuckled as this was the Superman movie I’ve been waiting for for many years.

Henry Cavill’s Superman is a the classic good looking farm boy from Kansas that we all know and love. Cavill brings a nice guy innocence to the roll, but nothing really Earth shatteringly new. He is competent in the character and does no harm. His interactions with Lois Lane were on the weaker side, and was a rather decent hindrance to the overall flow of the movie. I wanted more from the two of them. Lois is fairly underwritten here, even as a damsel in distress character. A stronger definition for who she is would have helped greatly. The chemistry just wasn’t there this go round. When it came to Cavill taking on the big shoes and challenging Shannon face to face he delivers and you can't help but root for him. Cavill is my generation’s Superman, and I think we will be happy to have him. Michael Shannon shines as General Zod. Taking up about the massive mantel that Terrence Stamp left behind Shannon works his best just under the surface crazy personality style to the max. From calm General to foaming at the mouth psycho, Shannon runs the gamut.

All and all, Man of Steel is the movie I’ve been waiting for and I think modern movie goers will love it just the same. Warner Bros/DC have had some great moments with The Dark Knight Trilogy, but also had some false starts like Green Lantern. With Man of Steel it appears that they might just have got their footing back and are ready to start running full speed. Taking the route of a grounded world in which these fantastic characters live is the proper move for Warner Bros/DC and they seem to be taking it. What’s next for them is hard to say, but if they keep this up there is no end to the possibilities. The tagline for the 1978 Superman film was "You'll believe a man can fly." In 2013, you can believe again!

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