Movie Review – Spectre

We, as a collective audience, are very lucky that after the impressive success of Skyfall, Sam Mendes decided to live and let die, and direct a second Bond film. Unlike 007’s famous vodka martini, Spectre left me both shaken AND stirred!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Kit Morris

It is difficult to say too much about Spectre without giving it all away, so like a good secret agent I shall be cryptic! Everything in this film feels like the end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as Ian Fleming’s suave MI6 hero, although this has yet to be officially confirmed or denied by Sony and EON Productions. His latest appearance as 007 in Spectre works brilliantly as a culmination of plot points from the three previous outings, weaving every film from Casino Royale onwards into a neat package.

After receiving a message from beyond the grave, our favourite secret agent tries to uncover an organisation that appears to be the puppet master behind many recent world events. At the same time, M (Lord Voldemort himself: Ralph Fiennes) is trying to swat away a power struggle with the head of the Joint Intelligence Service (Andrew Scott) who wants to close down the “00” section of the organisation as he considers field work outdated in the age of cyber warfare – a thought provoking storyline in the post-Snowden world we now live in.

In the opening act, Spectre feels very much like Skyfall’s sequel; threading together plot strands that were seeded in the second half of the 2012 blockbuster. While Spectre does not ignore its predecessor, it does move away from familiar territory to stand up as a strong entry in its own right. The breathtaking opening sequence is a perfect example of this; set during Mexico’s day of the dead festival, it features only two lines of dialogue, beautiful carnival costumes and rich location work. As a result, Spectre boasts perhaps one of the most mesmerising introductions to a Bond film in decades, with a high-octane helicopter fight that will leave you on the edge of you seat.

From Mexico, to England, to Rome, to Austria, to Morocco and then finally back to England again; Spectre darts all over the world. I would love to know what mode of transport Bond is using that allows him to zip from country to country so quickly, but at least the constant location changes are not too disorienting for those used to the rapid-fire pacing of 21st century Bond.

This is clearly Craig’s best work as Bond to date, and if it is indeed his curtain call, I hope he goes down in history as the most original incarnation since Sean Connery. Additionally, hats off to Ben Whishaw, a revelation in this film as the witty Q, and of course, I cannot end my review without mentioning the tour de force that is Christoph Waltz in his poignant performance as our newest Bond villain Franz Obenhauser.

It is difficult not to fall in love with this film: I appoint it a worthy 4½ stars out of five.

Spectre is available in Australian cinemas from November 12th

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures

Top 5 Bond Villains 

As we come to the end of our Bond series in the lead up to the release of Spectre, it seems only fitting to go out with a bang by shining a radioactive light on the most dangerously diabolical, and magnificently malevolent Bond villains.

**WARNING: spoilers ahead**

Corey’s Pick: Auric Goldfinger, Goldfinger (1964)

“He’s the man with the Midas Touch… a spider’s touch!” so crooned Shirley Bassey of the first truly memorable Bond nemesis; Auric Goldfinger, a  prosperous businessman with a penchant for golf and, of course, a psychotic obsession with gold. Played by the late German actor Gert Fröbe (though dubbed by the British Michael Collins due to Fröbe’s poor English), Goldfinger remains a truly iconic adversary for his sadistic, yet undeniably imaginative methods of murder- such as suffocating his rogue seductress Jill Masterson by covering her in gold paint. With almost equally unprecedented henchmen – Pussy Galore and Oddjob – and an extraordinarily diabolical scheme involving chemical and nuclear warfare, Goldfinger shall forever be one of Bond’s – and cinema’s – greatest villains.

“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoQwKe0lggw


Rhys’ Pick: Raoul Silva, Skyfall (2012)

Batman and the Joker, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader; the best villains have the capacity to mirror an aspect of the hero, and for James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Skyfall, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) represents his complicated relationship with, and his potentially misplaced trust in M (Judi Dench).

Silva, a past MI6 operative himself, is a victim of M’s uncompromising, take-no-prisoners attitude; the very same attitude which sees Bond shot through the chest, and left for dead at the very start of the film. Whilst Bond was able to put M’s questionable decision behind him, Silva was left disfigured and determinately disgruntled with his former handler. Driven by this personal vendetta, Silva’s plan involves disgracing MI6, dispatching Bond and, finally, exacting his revenge by assassinating M.

“Look upon your work, mother”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMOYiV7hUR0


Zachary’s Pick: Le Chiffre, Casino Royale (2005)

Among a great many surprises, Casino Royale treats us to one of James Bond’s most human villains; a man who makes some poor financial choices, and compensates by putting up a stoic front to try and redeem himself.

Le Chiffre is suave, deadly, deceitful, and a master of high-stakes poker, but weakness is ever-ready to gnaw away at his resolve. He’s not above sacrificing his girlfriend’s arm to African warlords, yet when deadlines close in, and debts have to be paid, he is impatient. Afraid, even. And Mads Mikkelsen hides a steely peril behind his cold, bleeding eyes. You know at once that this isn’t a man to be trifled with.

Le Chiffre’s not a larger-than-life organisation like SPECTRE, neither is he a megalomaniacal tech fiend like Max Zorin. He is very flawed. Very real. Very human. Not to mention he pummels Bond’s dangly bits with unabashed glee.

Le Chiffre wins – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IQb_ewSih4


Tom’s Pick: Dr. No, Dr. No (1962)

1962’s Dr. No successfully kicked off the ever-lasting 007 franchise with a hearty concoction of Sean Connery, gorgeous settings, and that white bikini. However, unlike most Bond villains, its titular antagonist is a dangerous, well-defined character. Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), part of super-villain super-group SPECTRE, fits the mad scientist trope. His thirst for radioactive materials, costing him his hands, drives his thirst for mass destruction and power. No’s plan, disrupting multiple rocket launches in superpowers including the USA and Soviet Union, resonates effectively. Sporting bionic metal paws and an elaborate island lair, the character, physically and psychologically, resembles the archetypal Bond foe. Bond, lured to No’s abode in Jamaica, is threatened by multiple attacks on No’s behalf. Capturing Bond and Honey Rider, No’s confronting persona and mercilessness make for a worthwhile obstacle throughout the climax. As the lair self-destructs, however, No is foiled by his physical deformities. Unable to grasp onto anything, he falls to his destructive demise into boiling coolant.

SPECTRE revealed – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsT1bLR2sfM


Rhys’ 2nd Pick: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, From Russia With Love (1963), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), For Your Eyes Only (1981).

James Bond has faced dozens of foes over the years, but none have been quite as fearsome and iconic as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head honcho of international terrorist group SPECTRE. The villain against which all others are measured, Blofeld has recurred more times than any other antagonist, and in many ways has transcended the series to influence cinema as a whole.

Concerned with only one thing – total world domination – Blofeld has orchestrated potential nuclear war between Russia and the United States, threatened to sterilise the world’s food supply and, perhaps most tragically, assisted in killing Tracy Bond (Diana Rigg) mere minutes after her wedding to James.

Although numerous actors have played him, perhaps his most iconic appearance was in You Only Live Twice when Donald Pleasance was cast in the role. With a pale and scarred visage, and gently stroking a white cat on his lap, Blofeld is also a villain who has been parodied a thousands times over, from Mike Myers’ hilarious Dr Evil in the Austin Powers series to the outlandish volcanic lair used by Hank Scorpio in my personal favourite Simpsons episode of all time.

“Allow me to introduce myself”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUQbmDMySpw


Images courtesy of United International Pictures, Chapel Distribution & Sony Pictures

Top 5 Bond Theme Songs

Swirling graphics. Crisp silhouettes. A screen drenched in blood… every 007 romp opens the same way: an intricate opening credit sequence backed by a killer song that boasts a powerful voice. From all-time legends (Paul McCartney), to eighties icons (Duran Duran) through to today’s megastars (Sam Smith), only the best of the best are fit to carry Bond’s theme songs, and below you will find our top 5 picks for the greatest of the great.


Zachary’s Pick: Tina Turner – Goldeneye (1995)

A Bond song has to sound like a Bond song. What’s the name of his game? Seduction. Espionage. Violence. Cheek. There have been a fair few theme songs over the years to wittingly capture the essence of 007, notably classics sung by Garbage, Adele, and perennially, Shirley Bassey (you can wipe all the love ballads of the ‘70s and ‘80s from your memory). While Bassey’s Goldfinger will forever remain the cornerstone of the Bond musical canon, none encapsulates all that the franchise is more succinctly and proudly than Tina Turner’s Goldeneye.

From the second it begins, Goldeneye hints at something clandestine, almost taboo; dark secrets not yet revealed. Then Turner sweeps in, singing as if she too is concealing deadly secrets, and is happy about it. The song has a masterful ebb and flow of power and restraint, much like Bond himself. Apart from Goldfinger, no other song in the Bond universe tells you everything you need to know about this character and the dangerous world he inhabits.

Tina Turner sings Goldeneye – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hGQ97tCTOs


Tom’s Pick: Adele – Skyfall (2012)

Like Skyfall itself, the titular song eclipses everything that has come before it. Building upon the already immense success of British pop singer/songwriter Adele, this theme song elevated her career into Golden Globe and Oscar glory.

Hitting its stride immediately, the song’s orchestral riffs and straight-edged tone establish the film’s dark, gritty aura. Like the accompanying credits sequence, Adele’s sombre, hushed style firmly emphasises the film’s refreshing rebirth angle.

The singer’s graceful harmonies pay tribute to the Shirley Bassey era whilst ushering in the new-and-improved Bond universe. From the piano-key lead-in to the ear-shattering crescendo, Skyfall delivers an array of memorable, heart-pounding touches. Eclipsing recent entries including You Know My Name and Another Way to Die, the track is one of very few themes to successfully accompany, and elevate, the film and franchise.

Adele’s Skyfall music videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HKoqNJtMTQ


Rhys’ Pick: Paul McCartney & Wings – Live and Let Die (1973)

Despite racking up the most appearances as the iconic super spy, Roger Moore’s era is lumbered with a divisive reputation; however, you can’t deny that the titular track on 1973’s Live and Let Die didn’t get things off to a rip-roaring start.

Written by Paul and Linda McCartney, and performed by Paul’s band WingsLive and Let Die was a departure from the series norm of grandiose horns and operatic themes. It’s a much stranger beast as McCartney kicks things off with a gentle piano intro before diving into racy guitar snarls, hammering drums and some spacey, fever dream weirdness in the middle.

It’s a fitting companion to the film also; Live and Let Die concerns itself with drug trafficking in New Orleans, Blaxploitation and voodoo rather than maniacal supervillains in Alpine bases or volcanic lairs, and marks the first time that 007 cosies up with an African-American character (Rosie Carver played by Gloria Hendry). Simply put, it’s a vastly different song for a vastly different Bond.

Live and Let Die opening titles sequence – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn8alMYSu44


Corey’s Pick: A-ha –The Living Daylights (1987)

The two Timothy Dalton-starring Bond films – The Living Daylights and License to Kill – seem to divide 007 aficionados; some welcoming a darker, more realistic side to their favourite spy, others criticising Dalton’s sombre, humourless hero. Their theme songs, on the other hand, were decidedly upbeat; particularly the former. Performed by Norwegian synthpop rock band A-ha (yes, the guys who did Take On Me) The Living Daylights is among the catchiest of the many Bond theme songs, despite not ranking among the most well-recognised. After the commercial success of Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill, the producers sought after another popular band, first asking Pet Shop Boys (who declined) before opting for A-ha. A clash with the film’s composer John Barry led to the existence of two versions of the song; Barry’s string arrangement that wound up in the credits, and A-ha’s synth-heavy reworking for their own album – though both are deliciously 80’s and perfectly capture the essence of Bond’s style with cryptic lyrics. An underrated gem.

The Living Daylights opening titles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo9uXd48HME


Kit’s Pick: Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger (1964)

Performed by the mightily lunged Shirley Bassey, the opening theme to 1964’s Goldfinger is not only not only synonymous with James Bond; it’s also one of the most recognisable theme songs in film history. The searing vocals, catchy lyrics and bold brass section marry together to create something truly special.

The song set a high bar and generated a long-standing influence that can be seen in later themes that copied its formula. Bassey would return to record two more efforts for the franchise for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever and 1979’s Moonraker, making her the only artist to record multiple Bond themes. The song, along with an iconic opening title sequence (featuring sexy female silhouettes painted gold) capture the film’s tone perfectly.

Goldfinger title sequence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy_PJODH3p0


Images courtesy of United International Pictures, Chapel Distribution & Sony Pictures

Top 5 Bond Gadgets

Go-go-gadget: where would our suave spy be without his modest collection of exploding devices, souped-up cars and various deadly weapons disguised as innocuous objects? Like Tony Stark with his Iron Man suit, or Bruce Wayne and his Batmobile, Bond often relies heavily on innovative – or at least, imaginative – technology to see him through each near-death situation he faces. From the early sixties’ instalments, through to the contraption-shunning Daniel Craig era, we have scoured the Bond canon to bring you our top picks for the most ingenious 007 gadgets.

Rhys’ Pick: Watch Laser, Goldeneye (1995)

Have you ever been stuck in a bomb-rigged train carriage, with all the doors and windows locked, and wondered how you’re going to get out? Well, James Bond has, and luckily, he had his cool laser watch on hand (well, wrist) to help him out. With just the press of a button, this otherwise unassuming timepiece emits a high-powered laser that can cut through metal in an instant – and you thought it was just for telling the time (pah!)

Featured in Pierce Brosnan’s 007 debut Goldeneye, this gadget doesn’t just help James and current squeeze Natalia (Izabella Scorupco) out of the aforementioned tight spot, it also looks really swish – with the Omega logo emblazoned on the face, it’s an example of movie product placement at its finest! After that scene, you know you want one. I mean, c’mon – who doesn’t want to look stylish whilst simultaneously saving the world?

90’s Omega Watch Commercial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhpvIO9Sj2s


Zachary’s Pick: Lotus Esprit, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The gadgets assigned to the various incarnations of James Bond have always tinkered with the parameters of fantasy, reality and science-fiction. In The Spy Who Loved Me, the world of Bond electronics finally plunged headfirst into the realm of science-fiction, producing the Lotus Esprit; a car that could also transform into an operational submarine. The transformation was so sublime the entire vehicle served as one massive gadget, whisking Bond ( and Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) away from danger in the most absurd fashion.

The car was such an oddity, such a marvel in the Bond canon, that BBC show Top Gear recreated it, and literally dunked it into a lake with critic Richard Hammond at the wheel. Of course, the replica didn’t survive nearly as gracefully as its original, but the science was there. The Lotus Esprit, while not small enough to fit in Bond’s grip, certainly propelled the world of 007 into the future.

Can You Swim? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeBqf6bYZak


Corey’s Pick: The Dagger Shoe, From Russia With Love (1963)

Not actually an MI6 invention used by 007, but instead a lethal weapon concealed by agents of SPECTRE in From Russia with Love; the dagger shoe – a boot with a retractable, poison-tipped blade hidden within its cap – is among the franchise’s most ingenious gadgets, manufactured to cause death within seven seconds of stabbing. This fatal footwear is sported by Morenzy – head of SPECTRE’s training grounds, and Rosa Klebb – the No. 3 ranking operative of the ominous organisation; the latter attempting to spike Bond whilst disguised as a maid. Though the films do not specify the toxin utilised, Ian Fleming’s original Dr. No novel notes that it is tertodotoxin, known to cause paralysis of the diaphragm, preventing breathing. These loafers proved so iconic that they were paid tribute in the “greatest hits” Bond outing Die Another Day, and have become something of a clichéd weapon in cinema, appearing in The Dark Knight, Wild Wild West, The Punisher, Salt, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Kingsmen: The Secret Service and many more.

Death of Kronsteen – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7cEnaXU8Ec


Tom’s Pick: Radio Transmitter, Skyfall (2012)

Released in 2012, Skyfall reinvigorated the once-ailing Bond franchise thanks to Sam Mendes’ efficient direction, and Roger Deakins’ exquisite cinematography. The film capped off Bond’s 50th year in style – honouring 007’s past, present, and future. Among many titbits and gags, the film acknowledged the lack of gadgets in the Daniel Craig-led instalments. Q (Ben Whishaw) gives him one particular device – a radio transmitter. Though clunky, the device was needed in the right place at the right time. Bond, cornering cyber-terrorist Silva (Javier Bardem), uses the device to send back-up and imprison him. However, Silva, manipulating Bond and M (Judi Dench) into revealing MI6’s new location, uses the device to entrap 007 in London’s subway network. The device, effective on both occasions, illustrates Bond and Silva’s two-sides-of-the-same-coin dynamic. Though unaware of each other’s moves, both characters use similar strategies to outwit their opponents. The old-school device proved exploding pens and invisible cars aren’t necessary in today’s surveillance-driven world.

It’s Called Radio – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R3o8S4km8c


Kit’s Pick: Palm-Print Reader Gun, Skyfall (2012)

As Tom has mentioned, Skyfall was mostly void of high-tech gadgetry; however, Daniel Craig‘s 007 was armed with a Walther semi-automatic pistol with a difference in this most recent entry. Wishaw’s Q equips our favourite spy with this new weapon, which is encrypted with an in-built palm reader, guaranteeing that only Bond can fire the gun. In a tense scene, a thuggish bodyguard grapples Bond in a Komodo dragon pit, and attempts to shoot him with his own weapon to no avail. Walther firearms have been a long-standing fixture in the franchise, featuring in the original literary series, and debuting in the film series’ first entry.

Komodo Dragon Fight Scenehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmeXgpBQNnk


Images courtesy of United International Pictures, Chapel Distribution & Sony Pictures

Top 5 Bond Girls

Super sexy and delectably dangerous; the Bond girls rep the femme fatale archetype unlike any other seductress of the silver screen. Along with dry martinis, Aston Martins and psychotic villains, no Bond movie would be complete without them, and often they are far more intriguing than the men behind 007 himself (#sorrynotsorry George Lazenby). So, to celebrate the upcoming release of Spectre, we decided to reminisce over our favourite female roles of the past 23 Bond films.

**WARNING: spoilers ahead**

Zachary’s pick: Lupe Lamora, License To Kill  (1989)

In the only film where two leading Bond girls simultaneously vie for 007’s heart (and share copious amounts of screen time together), Lupe Lamora has to be my pick for the best Bond girl. Not only is she not white, she’s also feisty, strong and stunningly beautiful.

Played by Talisa Soto, who’d later go on to mentor Robin Shou in the video game adaptation Mortal Kombat (1995), Lupe manages to outsmart her abusive druglord boyfriend, withstand the lecherous advances of some of his henchmen, and seduce James, only to have her love spurned in favour of the easier, whiter choice (Carey Lowell) by the end of the film.

Licence To Kill stood out for me because it gave Bond a heart. Here were two immaculate women before him, and he loved them both. No longer were the women in these movies purely for sex and death; they were breathing, feeling counterparts, and Lupe is perhaps the greatest lover Bond never had.

The Whipping Scene – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lv-7vIdkBiQ


Tom’s Pick: Xenia Onatopp, Goldeneye (1995)

1995’s Goldeneye is an entertaining balance between classic Bond canon and inventive ideas. Indeed, Pierce Brosnan’s first stint as 007 far surpasses most of the franchise’s adventures. Along with Brosnan’s Bond, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) and Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) became formidable, and memorable, characters.

Onatopp, matching her amusing surname, establishes swift, irrefutable dominance over her targets. Bond and Onatopp’s car chase sequence pits both characters’ fearlessness against one another. In addition, their first conversation sparks a witty, unique dynamic. Labelled a “Georgian lust murderer”, the former Soviet Air Force pilot’s tenaciousness combines Bond-girl beauty with Oddjob-level intimidation. Among many talents, her trademark thigh-grip unleashes an anaconda-style grip. Like many Bond foes, Onatopp reaches a tough, painful demise. Despite matching Bond blow-for-blow, she, ironically, is painfully suffocated. 007 perfectly sums it up: “She always did enjoy a good squeeze”.

Bond and Onatopp’s banter gets the ball rolling – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJpc-zXc4cc


Rhys’ Pick: Vesper Lynd, Casino Royale (2006)

Would Casino Royale, 007’s gritty 2006 reboot, worked even half as well without the striking presence of Vesper Lynd? Doubtful. Played by sultry French actress Eva Green, Vesper ranks among the best Bond girls to date not because she rigidly conforms to the archetype, but because she so fiercely rejects it.

Think about it; she’s intelligent, self-made, resilient and oozing with sarcastic wit. She more than holds her own in that now infamous introductory scene aboard the train to Montenegro, exchanging quip after quip with the sassy young spy she detests from the get-go; “So as charming as you are, Mr. Bond, I will be keeping my eye on our government’s money – and off your perfectly-formed arse.”

That’s not to say she’s a heartless robot – her vulnerability starts to show after aiding Bond in a brutal stairwell fistfight, and the eventual love that blossoms between them is made even more gut-wrenching when we discover she was working to undermine Bond’s mission the whole time, an emotional twist that turns Bond from naïve rookie into the hardened killer he is today.

Plus, she has a pretty rocking drink named after her too.

“I’m the money”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S39paDGZ0Ew


Kit’s Pick: Strawberry Fields, Quantum of Solace (2008)

My favourite Bond lady is unlikely to rank alongside Ursula Andress, Diana Rigg or Honor Blackman in a popularity contest. She featured (with very little screen time) in a film which was panned by critics as one of the worst in the Bond canon. However, Agent Strawberry Fields, played by the stunning Gemma Arterton, shone opposite Daniel Craig in 2008’s Quantum of Solace. Fields harkens back to the stereotypical glamour girls of the Connery and Moore eras who would aid Bond in a particular location, as opposed to the entire movie. She met her sticky end in a hotel room; a direct parallel to an iconic scene in 1963’s Goldfinger where another Bond Girl was killed in a similar fashion using gold paint. An accomplished theatre actress, Arterton gives it her all in the role; presenting us with a plucky character who didn’t easily submit to Bond’s art of seduction.

My Name Is Fields – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZEiTllO-nI


Corey’s Pick: M, Goldeneye (1995) – Skyfall (2012)

Bond girls come and go with each adventure, succumbing to betrayal, death, or simply disinterest, but one woman (at least since GoldenEye) has remained consistent in 007’s life – Dame Judi Dench’s M, the head of MI6 and watchful eye over every dangerous mission undertaken by her agents.

Based on an actual female Director General of British Intelligence, M initially holds Bond (originally Pierce Brosnan) in disdain, but, like most, is won over by Bond’s famous charm and pure efficiency. Proving so endearing she survived the series’ retcon, and evolved into something of a maternal figure for Daniel Craig’s rendition; particularly in Skyfall, where her past actions involving a former MI6 operative make her integral to Bond’s mission, and lead to her untimely death.

As an orphan, the matriarchal M was the closest thing to a mother 007 ever had; he did indeed care deeply for her, as evidenced by his breakdown into tears clutching her lifeless body – an atypically emotional moment for the franchise, and perhaps the most human Bond has ever behaved. She will be sorely missed.

Bond pays M a visit in Skyfall – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIaauiVU4To


Images courtesy of United International Pictures, Chapel Distribution & Sony Pictures

Movie Review – The Man From U.N.C.L.E

KGB agents! Femme fatales! Exotic locations! Yes, it’s back to the sixties for some Cold War-era spy nostalgia in Guy Ritchie’s ode to the suave styles and erotic thrills that defined the secret agent genre.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Despite the brilliance of the most recent, reinvented James Bond films, it must be said that amidst the darker, grittier tone and heavier emotional complexities, 007 has lost that sense of espionage fun he once embodied. But while Bond has fallen and risen and resuscitated himself over the past twenty years, another spy caper with roots in the sixties has struggled to escape the cold clutches of development hell and see the light of day. Based on the TV series of the same name, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has been through more than a dozen script changes, several directors (including Quentin Tarantino, Matthew Vaughn and Steven Soderbergh) and had just about every Hollywood leading man attached to it at some point – from Ryan Gosling to Bradley Cooper to Tom Cruise, and many more. At long last it lives, thanks to cockney gangster king Guy Ritchie (Snatch, RocknRolla), and pleasantly defies expectations of any film lost on the movie-making blacklist for so long.

Taking us back to that simpler period of early-60’s Cold War, two agents – the American Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and the Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) face off as they hunt down Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing German scientist for the CIA and KGB respectively. After nearly killing each other, Solo and Kuryakin are instructed to work together as agents for U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) on a mission to infiltrate, and stop a covert criminal organisation led by femme fatale Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) before her plan to destabilize the international power balance by means of nuclear weapons is executed.

There is something so very refreshing to this delightfully breezy and retro through-and-through escapade; no dark, sombre themes, no social commentary, no overload of flashy visual effects – the scope is smartly kept intimate, offering a light-hearted and pure experience that brings to mind the Sean Connery-era Bond films (no surprise, since 007 author Ian Fleming was involved in the original U.N.C.L.E.’s conception).

Strands of Guy Ritchie’s early works pop up throughout, particularly during the often hilarious action scenes (Solo’s outrageous rescue of Kuryakin while helping himself to a gourmet Italian sandwich is a show-stopper), though overall this is closer in tone to his Sherlock Holmes films, matching mystery sleuthing with a dynamic pair’s witty banter and chemistry. Hammer’s Kuryakin is the straight man to Cavill’s wise-cracking Solo, an original odd couple upon which the film structures and stabilises itself to great effect – anytime the duo is onscreen amuses; particularly when they infiltrate an enemy base together, each using their own preferred methods and scoffing at the other’s. But equally entertaining is love interest Gaby Teller, brought to life by 2015’s breakout starlet Alicia Vikander; subtly sexy and incredibly amusing as she and Kuryakin go undercover as fiancés. Props to Hugh Grant too as the head of U.N.C.L.E., definitely showing his age but proving his charm hasn’t faded.

Any complaints can be directed towards the story itself, playing second-fiddle to the slick style and enticing character charms. It is serviceable, with a number of double and triple-crosses and twists keeping our spies bounding from one sizzling set piece to the next, but is rather pedestrian, and winds up leaving the film a little forgettable. Nonetheless, this is the antidote to the bleak, overstuffed blockbuster fair of late – U.N.C.L.E. is accessibly paced, hugely likeable and witty, and above all enormously entertaining; the resurgence of the spy flick is more than welcome.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E is available in Australian cinemas from Thursday 13 August

Images courtesy of Warner Bros / Roadshow Films

Quick Picks – Pitch Perfect 2, Spy & A Royal Night Out

Pitch Perfect 2

When it first hit cinemas in 2012, Pitch Perfect did for a cappella what Bring It On did for cheerleading. Fast-forward to 2015, and Pitch Perfect 2 takes everything that made the first film such a hit, and trebles it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Rhys Graeme-Drury

The Barden Bellas in Pitch Perfect 2

In this energetic sequel, the Barden Bellas are facing challenges such as dating, life after college, and competing in the world a cappella tournament. Returning faces include Anna Kendrick as talented DJ Beca, Rebel Wilson as loudmouth Fat Amy and Brittany Snow as the obsessive but determined Chloe.

Kendrick is as cute and adorable as ever, but it’s Wilson who will have audiences clutching their sides as the resident scene-stealer. Every scene she’s in is jam-packed with hilarious one-liners, and subtle inflections that make her character such a winner.

That’s not to say she casts a shadow across the rest of the characters, Kendrick’s side storyline with newcomer Hailee Steinfeld brings them into contact with a hysterically mental music producer played by Keegan-Michael Key. That being said, a few of the Barden Bellas are interchangeable and two-dimensional, Ester Dean is essentially just a walking “hey look, I’m a lesbian!” punch line.

The soundtrack is bursting with an eclectic mixture of original tunes, and covers from artists including Jessie J, Taylor Swift, Destiny’s Child, Muse and A Tribe Called Quest. Elizabeth Banks’ direction in the songs and competition scenes builds an infectious energy, with the snappy editing and a bright, dazzling colour palette making this film an eye-catching and toe-tapping two hours with rarely a dull moment.

Amongst the laughter and singing it’s easy to forget what a rarity Pitch Perfect 2 is; not only is it a sequel that markedly improves on the original but, beneath the sequins and the strobe lights, it’s also a mainstream film about a group of talented, educated, ambitious and ethnically diverse young women who pursue a passion, providing a positive and promising message that will hopefully resonate with young female audiences far and wide.


Spy

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to laugh more than twice during Spy – a predictable and uneven bag of half-arsed 007 tropes.

⭐ ⭐
Review by Rhys Graeme-Drury

Rose Byrne & Melissa McCarthy in Spy

Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who has always dreamed of being an ass-kicking field agent. When her partner (Jude Law) falls off the grid, and the identity of another top agent (Jason Statham) is exposed, Susan volunteers to step into the field and pursue evil villainess Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne).

This simple premise starts off strong, but soon dissolves into poorly-edited fight scenes, and ridiculous action sequences that feel out of place in a film attempting to send up the spy genre. The plot, which involves a missing nuclear bomb, sees McCarthy zigzag across Europe from France, to Italy, then Hungary as she tails Rayna and her cronies. A lot of details fade into the background, and soon become redundant; after all, who cares why Rayna is dangerous or the world is at stake when we’re having so much fun, right?

The thing is, Spy doesn’t know what it’s aiming for; it shies away from going full Austin Powers, but doesn’t have enough quality ingredients to forge its own distinct identity. When the piss-weak Bond spoof is set aside for a stab at something more substantial, the fault lines start to show. McCarthy’s transition from meek loner to ass-kicking super sleuth is rather sudden, almost like she steps into a phone booth, spins around, and emerges as a Frankenstein monster of Ripley, Sarah Connor and the Bride combined.

Fans of director Paul Feig’s past work on The Heat and Bridesmaids will lap it up, but it’s the lack of conviction or original thought that makes enjoying Spy an almost impossible mission.


A Royal Night Out

It seems the Queen of England once had a naughty streak not unlike you and I; Elizabeth II is refreshingly humanised in this wickedly funny night on the town, inspired by true events.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Corey Hogan

Bel Powley & Sarah Gadon in A Royal Night Out

BAFTA-nominated director Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane, Brideshead Revisited) delivers us the monarchical romp A Royal Night Out, a pleasant, and somewhat scandalous sapience into Queen Elizabeth II’s teenage years. It is VE Day 1945, the end of World War II in Europe, and celebrations have erupted across the globe. In Buckingham Palace, 19-year-old Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), still a princess, and her sister Margaret (Bel Powley) have convinced their parents, the King and Queen (Rupert Everett and Emily Watson), to allow the siblings to attend a party anonymously, provided they are accompanied by the royal guard and return no later than 1:00AM. Naturally, the pair are separated when audacious Margaret leaves the party with some unsuspecting officers, leaving Elizabeth to track down her sister with the help of reluctant soldier Jack (Jack Reynor) in a rousing and dangerous race around a jubilant London.

Amusingly, this plays out almost like a wartime-era Superbad, with sexual and drunken escapades aplenty. Rising luminary Sarah Gadon turns in what could be her star-making role; she is simply exquisite as the soon-to-be-Queen Elizabeth. Bel Powley is a riot as her untameable sister, and the oldies make for an excellent King and Queen. The letdown is unfortunately Jack Reynor’s miserable soldier, sadly forced into the position of romantic interest for Elizabeth and turning the film’s dramatic moments direly inert. This tragically lessens its lasting impact; while A Royal Night Out is undeniably breezy, light-hearted and quite humorous period entertainment, it is unlikely you will remember it for long afterwards.


Pitch Perfect 2 is available in Australian cinemas as of Thursday May 7th
Spy is available in Australian cinemas as of Thursday May 21st
A Royal Night Out is available in Australian cinemas as of Thursday May 14th 

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures