I Spy With My Little ’60s Eye.
“This organisation does not tolerate failure” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
It was only a matter of time before we got around to the ubiquitous spy thriller. Preferably, any such fare produced these days worth its bespoke tailoring has to be set in the 1960s: arguably the best period for Bond movies – the franchise to which any thriller teeming with dapper-suited agents, beautiful yet mysterious femme fatales, guns and gadgets, must inevitably be compared.
In my relentless quest for quality sci-fi, should spy thrillers be counted here? Of course, the gadgetry wielded by 007 during his Sixties heyday, heralded – some say directly inspired – this more technological era in which we live and work.
The covert world of the spy – the colder the war, the more dangerous the assignments – was given such a ridiculously glamorous edge, thanks in large part to the fiction concocted by Ian Fleming. Ultimately, the “spy” was elevated to the status of becoming “what every woman wanted and every man wanted to be.”
“Shocking… positively shocking…”
“Not very good at this whole subtlety thing, are you?” – Napoleon Solo.
Amidst the heavy revival of the spy thriller genre this year is a revitalised rejig of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This slick and (lightly) enjoyable ride starring Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander and Armie Hammer has thankfully stayed rooted in the ’60s, immersing itself in the fashions, music and politics of that so-called “swinging” era.
It’s directed by Guy Ritchie, which means that you can expect his unique quotient of style to shine through. Cavill cuts a suitably devilish dash as the debonair illicit-art-dealer-turned-CIA agent: Napoleon Solo, who goes up against high-strung Soviet powerhouse: Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) before they are forced to collaborate in thwarting the usual nasty plot involving that old chestnut of – oh yes – “world domination.” Yet behind the predictable postcard locations, champagne and caviar-coated glamour and the – oh no – same old dodgy Russian “accents,” there is neither any drama, nor tension.
The major flaw here lies with the script; it lacks that necessary edge of substance and sophistication. Sounds therefore like the perfect mission for the White Rabbit, aka Agent Brad.
The earliest Bond pictures were especially blessed with sensational music by John Barry; in keeping with that essential element, this film does come with a cool soundtrack. At least Ritchie‘s U.N.C.L.E. certainly beats sitting through that present-day-set blockbuster featuring a diminutive Scientologist hanging from the side of a plane.
“This never happened to the other fella.”
“You come over for dinner… and I’ll cook you a wonderful angel cake” – Miss Moneypenny.
Apart from the ludicrous-yet-painfully-predictable “model-like hotel clerk submit[ting] within minutes of casual proposition,” one of the highlights about the Man From U.N.C.L.E. is Alicia Vikander. She plays Gabby Teller, the daughter of “Hitler’s favourite rocket scientist” whom Solo and Kuryakin must find. Having already made waves in the impressive Ex Machina, this Swedish actress is particularly good in this feisty female lead, first seen working as a car mechanic in East Berlin, and later proceeding to try and melt Ilya’s big cold heart.
Just as well, for the majority of women to have crossed the path of this gentleman spy – emphasis on the gentleman, you understand – were cool and confident, quite the opposite of the archetypal “Bond girl,” who invariably played the feeble screamer and not much else.
“I must be dreaming.”
Forever fit and well-attired, the Man From S.C.R.I.B..E. can be found propping up the bar with a cool White Russian. And that’s just the drink…
What is my secret? Why, its top, and well-kept, obviously. And just what does the acronym: S.C.R.I.B..E. stand for exactly? That’s Classified, like most of my best missions, of course.
“Do you expect me to talk?”
Well, the ‘C’ has to stand for ‘Cake’ – the best bargaining chip an(y) agent could have in this business; the ‘I’ denotes ‘International,’ naturally – a perusal of any one of my passports would tell you that; while the ‘E’ would have to be ‘Enjoyment’ – otherwise, what’s the point, eh?
Hang on – sniff, sniff – what’s that burning? Will this blog self-destruct in five seconds?
No, this spy has just accidentally sat on his own exploding pen…
“Oh, the things I do for England…”
Licenced to thrill.