The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Oh man, this movie. I think…I loved it? I came out of the theater thinking it was very competently made (aside from one minor quibble that we will discuss below) and had some great visual humor and fantastic music and costumes, but somehow that solidified to love over the next few days, perhaps because:
- I watched it at a sort of weird time1 and would perhaps have glommed onto any semi-decent form of media to fill my emotional void in the particular way that only obsessive fandom can.
- I looked up the Napoleon/Illya tag on AO3 immediately afterwards, as 1) I had seen Guy Ritchie’s remarks on NPR about how the relationship was totally not homoerotic at all, guys2 and 2) I wanted to track the rate at which the fandom would grow after the movie’s release because…I don’t know, numbers, man. Anyway, there were already all these works dating back to before the movie was ever announced because apparently the TV show was one of the first shows to have a legitimate fandom, and the sense of history just really got to me. So the sense of being part of something larger may have something to do with the initial transition from this was surprisingly decent to I LOVE THIS.
Also, regarding the history of the show and its fandom: we already knew this from that one episode of Mad Men in which Sally Draper has her Man from U.N.C.L.E. induced sexual awakening, but women were super into Illya Kuryakin in the original series. And so one of the specific issues people seem to be having with the movie is that movie!Illya is too different from show!Illya, both in terms of Armie Hammer’s physical portrayal of the character and the new backstory given to him. But I think this was actually a clever decision on Ritchie’s part—he’s effectively covering his ass by choosing to go a totally different route with the character. Had he hired an actor with the looks/presence of a young David McCallum, fans of the original series would probably be disappointed in or even insulted by this pale imitation of their beloved character.
In fact, I wonder how much (if at all) Ritchie was influenced by the success of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Because there really do seem to be some similarities in the approach to characterization, in terms of the casting choices—again, not just choosing actors to do impressions of the original actors—and the relationship dynamics portrayed—creating an origin story for the partnership that viewers are used to from the TV series rather than jumping in on the established relationship, giving the romantic plot-line to the less expected character, etc. Maybe it’s deliberate, maybe it’s just a coincidence, but in any case: one does wonder how directly that sort of recontextualization of the characters is related to the success of a reboot of a beloved property.
Okay, so our quibble: When explaining any double-cross or plot intricacy, Ritchie will show flashbacks to earlier scenes in the movie—like, “See? When Gaby made that mysterious phone call [a scene we’ve already seen, repeated], this was the person on the other line [a scene we haven’t seen].” This technique might work if this were a TV series and we were flashing to scenes from previous episodes, but is pretty insulting to the audience’s intelligence when we’re replaying almost exact footage from scenes that were onscreen like 5 minutes ago.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Eh, did not feel too strongly about this movie, although I really do need to marathon Soderbegh’s filmography at some point. But okay:
- The romance between Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Tess (Julia Roberts) really does not work. I wonder if that dynamic was more acceptable 15 years ago, when now it comes across as very Problematic or whatever—the whole thing where Ocean pesters Tess and disrespects her boundaries throughout the entire movie, but in the end he reveals that her fiancé cares more about money than he does about her so all of Ocean’s actions are totally justified. Perhaps it would work better if we had seen things more from Tess’s perspective or had any backstory for their relationship other than “she left him while (or before?) he was in prison, but he’s still in love with her.”
- The scenes introducing each member of Ocean’s Eleven really do work, though.
- That poker game is an interesting time capsule—all of those actors were on popular WB or WBish shows at the time (2001), but who even still remembers that3?
- I am a sucker for those sorts of “this is how we pulled it off” monologues and the ones in Ocean’s Eleven didn’t feel as condescending to the audience as the ones in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): 2nd time
Still great. The Green Place part, with Furiosa reuniting with the Vuvalini and then realizing it was all for naught, did not seem to lose any of its emotional impact the second time around—I definitely cried. The whole thing of Furiosa falling to her knees and screaming is just so effective—it feels very raw and iconic, much like the scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where Aragorn kicks the Uruk helmet (and Viggo Mortensen breaks his toes) and screams after finding Merry and Pippin’s belongings in that pile of corpses.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015): 2nd time
Also still great. I am reassured that my love was not misplaced, although the quibble from the first time remains a quibble.
Additional observations from the second viewing: I’m not super into chase scenes—obviously, there are tons of exceptions, like the chariot chases in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and History of the World, Part I and, say, the entirety of Mad Max: Fury Road, but they’re usually not the most interesting form of action in action movies to me, I guess. But The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has three big chase scenes that work so well in a way that’s really a testament to Ritchie’s directorial skills. The three chase scenes have distinct flavors in terms of the vehicles involved, the genre of the music on the soundtrack, the context within the narrative, and even the filming style. In the hands of a lesser director, the third chase scene might just feel excessive, like, “oh, this again,” but not so here.
The first chase gives us vintage cars on the streets of East Berlin at night and a jazzy score with aggressive flute and percussion; it serves as an introduction to our three main characters and their different skill-sets, as well as grounding us in the period and setting. The second chase scene is a fucking comedic masterclass—the boat chase involving Illya and the Vinceguerra guards occurs in the background while Napoleon enjoys a sandwich and Italian radio in the foreground (before eventually deciding to step in and save his partner)—it’s an amazing visual joke and also tells us about Napoleon as a character. The third chase scene involves a jeep, an ATV, and a motorcycle in the wilderness; the soundtrack features distorted male vocals and electric guitar; the whole thing may as well be Henry Cavill’s Bond4 audition, because holy shit, dude.
 Let’s just say a lot of Feelings were had around turning 23. ^
 Here’s the relevant interview. Ugh, there’s a whole other essay to be written here about slash shipping and directors’/showrunners’/actors’ reactions to it, but that’s still only half-formed in my mind and is probably better addressed elsewhere. Like, okay, the relationship between Illya and Napoleon as portrayed in the movie isn’t significantly more homoerotic than any relationship between two male leads in this sort of movie—i.e. any relationship that would be characterized as a “bromance.” There’s some clearly intentional double entendre involving tops/bottoms and in-and-out, and, well, two dudes riding a Vespa together, but as an audience, we’re supposed to find those funny specifically because of the underlying “No Homo,” you know? Nothing groundbreaking or controversial there. BUT: homoeroticism for comedic purpose is still homoeroticism, yeah? And to completely deny its existence (in an article with the header image of TWO BROS JUST PLATONICALLY RIDING A VESPA TOGETHER I GUESS) just feels insulting. ^
 I mean, me. I do. Except for Shane West, whom I do not remember at all, although I definitely did watch A Walk to Remember around the time it came out. Not in theaters, surely? ^
 I am not super invested in the Bond franchise—I’ve only seen From Russia with Love (did not enjoy), Casino Royale (too many car chases), and Skyfall (decent, I guess?)—so my opinion on the post-Daniel Craig Bond casting is kind of irrelevant. But I do think Henry Cavill would be a solid choice, if somewhat boring and expected. Most of the arguments against Idris Elba as Bond are grounded in racism, obviously, but I think the age argument is kind of valid—Elba is 43 now and, if we assume Spectre is Craig’s last Bond film, would probably be at least 45 in his first outing as Bond. It’s true that that was the case for Roger Moore as well, but weren’t people pretty grossed out by Moore’s age by the end of his Bond run? I mean, it could work if they choose to specifically tell stories about middle-aged Bond (like Skyfall) and cast age appropriate love interests (like Spectre, apparently), but unclear if that’s what the audience would want for the next long period of the franchise. ^