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Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Written by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram and directed by Ritchie, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a genre throwback to the bygone Bond era of spy films- to a time when characters like Bond made the most sense, the height of the Cold War. However this film, based on the popular television show of the same name airing in the 1960’s, has a twist on the suave American spy trope, pairing Henry Cavill’s C.I.A. agent Napoleon Solo with Armie Hammer’s Russian KGB muscle Illya Kuryakin to stop a threat greater than they pose to each other. Which is, of course, Nazis.

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The plot is simple enough, former Nazi scientists were not only scooped up by American intelligence after the war, but also by more sinister forces that seek an atomic bomb and the plans to create thousands more. This puts iron curtain enemies like the CIA and the KGB into a prickly situation, working together to thwart a greater evil for the greater good. The movie unfolds with a great opening action set-piece that showcases both Armie Hammer’s Illya and Cavill’s Solo quite well while providing a snappy sense of movement, Guy Ritchie’s sense of style shines in this scene and others like it later on. Which brings us to the potential negatives of the film. The characters and the plot are fairly serviceable but they don’t outright stun or awe. The performances, not to forget Alicia Vikander’s charming role as Gabby Teller the mechanic in West Berlin who gets wrapped up in these international spy-games, and the style of the direction are what makes this movie work. Particularly entertaining is the chemistry between the two leads Hammer and Cavill, if they had more time to flesh out the characters that they inhabit here these two could become more than they are, but I had fun with what we did get.

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I suppose it all depends on your level of expectation going into a film like this. I was looking for an entertaining spy genre flick. One with action, humor, thrills, maybe even a bit of wit and charm thrown in for good measure and for the most part, that’s what I got. This film worked for me. I’d even be ready to throw down some cold hard cash to see a sequel if another one came along. Who knows if that will happen, but I would gladly welcome another adventure with these characters.

Final Score: 2 spies, a couple nazis, and 1 atomic bomb

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Review: Justice League

SPOILER WARNING: In order to have more a free form discussion on the film I will be removing all restrictions to give a more complete picture of my perspective.

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Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon and directed by Zack Snyder, “Justice League” is the superhero movie culmination of the DC film universe (so far). Going into this film admittedly my expectations were fairly low after the mess that was “Batman V Superman”. This past summer’s success in “Wonder Woman” was a delightful surprise in the series and so I began to hope, with cautious optimism, that maybe the DC team-up film could have potential. To be honest the film hooked me right at the opening of the film, in which some children with a camera interview Superman before his death in the previous film. They ask him what his favorite thing about Earth is and he looks away in thought before turning back to face them, and he smiles right before the scene ends without his answer. That was just the first nugget of reassurances that the whole movie bends over backwards to tell us, We know these characters- we will fix our mistakes.

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This film is a gigantic step in the right direction, by focusing on what they needed to fix most from previous installments they’ve carefully reexamined their heroes and mended the past’s wounds. Let’s focus on what they did right first, the heroes. The newcomers in this film, Ezra Miller’s Flash, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman all shine in various moments and scenes. Ezra Miller was a comedic hit throughout the film, his reactions to the other league members were memorable, and his Barry Allen was different enough from Grant Gustin’s version that no one at the CW should feel maligned or discredited by Miller’s take on the character. Ray Fisher surprised me with his performance of Victor Stone A.K.A. Cyborg, he was subdued and subtle and he grew over the course of the film as he became more adjusted to his evolving abilities and new body. We even got a “Booyah!” and as someone that grew up with the animated Teen Titans show, that’s all I needed, and I appreciated it. Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry was intimidating when he needed to be, and a great presence in the film, but he seemed to be a hero lost in his own storyline at times-an effect of not having his own solo film before the team up entry. Make no mistake though, I am now enticed by the idea of an Aquaman movie, something I thought I’d never say years prior.

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The trinity of DC’s superheroes, Wonder Woman, Batman, and (let’s be honest we all knew he would be back) Superman worked so well in this film that I was wonderstruck. Gal Gadot proved to be the beating heart of this film franchise this summer with her World War One origin story and she again earns her rightful place as one of the most well rounded and consistent of these characters. All hail Diana Prince, respectfully. However my two favorite re-renditions of characters in this film were that of Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman. These characters went under massive overhauls since the last time we saw them onscreen, and I couldn’t have asked for a better apology than Batman himself telling Superman at one point, “I was just fixing a mistake, righting a wrong” (Or something along those lines), and he’s right. Warner Brothers has righted many wrongs here for me and it will be exciting to see where the franchise goes from here.

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This doesn’t mean that the film is without it’s flaws though. The main problems that I have with the film echo what most take issue with, namely the villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his motivations. I understand that there needs to be a huge threat facing the planet for the league to assemble, but when you compare this film to, say, “The Avengers” Loki may have been playing a cosmic gamble for power in allegiance to Thanos, but we know his inner issues of pain and spite towards his father Odin and thus his dive into a darker path. This is where Marvel’s plan of having standalone films before the team up event films make more thematic sense. Steppenwolf was essentially a mindless drone with cardboard thin characterization. You can only shout “MOTHER!” so many times before people start asking questions. Which is why the filmmakers were bright enough to keep the focus on the heroes and them gearing up to face the threat of Steppenwolf rather than examining a character that’s not worth examining.

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“Justice League” was a success in my eyes because the people behind the film took the time to ask, Why are these heroes beloved worldwide? What are the core essences and values of these people and how do we develop a compelling story about them? Batman never once picked up a shotgun in this film, Superman smiles and has become a more recognizable Clark Kent, and the filmmakers were wise enough to throw some well timed self aware humor into the story. Hopefully this is indicative of the DCU’s future, because it is one where we finally have some hope.

Final Score: 10,000 Leagues above Batman v Superman’s quality