Cry Uncle?

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is currently in theaters

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

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) – Rated PG-13

“In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.”

I love Robert Vaughn’s turn in The Magnificent Seven. As a kid, I remember enjoying the short-lived Invisible Man series starring David McCallum. Yet strangely I have never seen their signature roles in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin. For some reason, it wasn’t in syndication in Miami, perhaps because the spy craze had mostly burnt out by then. So, for once, I find myself unable to compare a reboot to the source material.

Henry Cavill did not make much of an impression on me in Immortals or Man of Steel. Both were pretty yet vapid movies. Man of Steel was the anti-Superman Superman movie. I thought Cavill was pretty vacant as Superman but I’m not sure if that was Cavill or director Snyder.

Likewise, Armie Hammer has never made an impression on me. I saw him as The Lone Ranger in Disney’s Deppified The Tonto Show. He was good as a complete gooberhead John Reid but the role required a lack of depth. Likewise his role as Clyde Tolson in J. Edgar was to subvert any personality and play sidekick to the titular personage.

Alicia Vikander, so terrific in Ex Machina (go see it!) is just fine here but the role doesn’t call for much. Elizabeth Debicki looks incredible in the retro fashions and, as that seems to be her primary role, does a good job. I look forward to seeing her in a role that stretches her abilities.

Now Guy Ritchie I do have an opinion of. Ritchie had a wonderful debut with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and no sophomore slump with Snatch. They both did a wonderful job capturing London thugs. He bombed with Madonna’s Swept Away but so did just about anyone who filmed with her.

Guy Ritchie is an amazing visual stylist. He certainly proved that when he shifted his milieu to Holmesian England with a dash of steampunk. The visuals in Uncle are simply wonderful. The setting, fashions, and vehicles are droolworthy. I believe Ritchie intended the performances to be superficial as they all seem to be a uniform shade of vanilla. As such I don’t really fault Hammer or Cavill here (or Vikander or Demicki).

Uncle would be a great film IF the script matched the visual stylings and IF Ritchie had worked on getting better performances instead of photogenic characters. The script and story were from Richie, Lionel Wigram (Sherlock Holmes), Jeff Kleeman (first feature), and David C. Wilson (Supernova? and nothing for fifteen years?). Too many cooks spoil the broth.

There is a lot of semi-clever banter here but Ritchie has had so much better dialogue. The deadpan deliveries also ruin some of the lines. Everything seems just a little off in the movie like it could have been a classic if…

As it is the movie is a visual treat, a good amount of fun, and has two incredible scenes. The best is a great gag involving torture (yes, I know that’s a sore subject these days – the humor plays all the better for it).

The second best is one a lesser director would never try. One of the signature action sequences takes place almost entirely in the background.

It is not at all that Uncle is a bad film (it isn’t), it is just that it is disappointing that it doesn’t live up to its potential.

Man of Steel = Bizarro Superman

Some July 4th thoughts on Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Pardon my beating the dead horse – I hope this will be my last post on this topic. Previously I covered why I felt that Man of Steel wasn’t a good movie. Now I’d like to cover why this isn’t even a Superman story. Almost all of the characters come from a bizarro Superman world where they say and do things antithetical to their nature.

Bizarro Superman
* Watch Jor-El ride an insect dinosaur!

* Gasp at Lara’s hesitation over whether to save their infant son!

* Listen to Jonathan Kent argue the merits of letting children die!

* See Martha Kent risk her husband’s life because they left the family dog in the car!

* Witness Superboy irradiate his teacher and classmates giving them cancer!

* Feel Superman’s rage outweigh his common sense!

* Wonder as you find out that the ‘S’ does not stand for Superman!

* Marvel as Jor-El and Superman argue FOR genocide!

* Yawn as Perry White speaks against journalistic integrity!

* Cha-ching! at all the in-your-face product placement, from Nikon to Nokia, IHOP to Sears!

* Gape as Superman deliberately endangers the lives of everyone in Smallville – repeatedly!

I would also like to make the argument that Zod is actually the tragic hero of the story, desperately trying to save his people. First he fights against the corrupt and decadent government, just as Jor-El does, then Zod tries to uphold the law and prevent Jor-El from stealing Krypton’s heritage. He tries to help Kryptonian outposts after the destruction of Krypton. Unlike Jor-El, he respects his foe and has regrets. Everything he does is to try and save his people.

There are plenty more reasons for my above arguments but I don’t post spoilers. Man of Steel is not egregiously bad and the fight scenes are fun. I just had to vent some more.

Man of Asbestos

Man of Steel

Man of Steel (2013): I had very high hopes for this. I love director Zak Snyder’s update of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and his comic book movies, 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009). These fooled me into thinking he was a great director. He then made the vanity project, Sucker Punch (2011), which was truly awful, despite having some nice visuals.

Christopher Nolan co-produced and co-wrote the story. David S. Goyer co-wrote the story and penned the screenplay. He worked on all three of Nolan’s Batman pictures. This was a really good sign as all of those were tightly, smartly written. The only concern would be that Batman’s darkness would carry over to Superman. Unfortunately it did in a number of areas and the titular Man of Steel does not feel like Superman.

The good: Some of the fight scenes are intense and quite well done. There are a handful of cute moments (when Lois first decides what to call him, a scene involving a copier, Lois finding out what anonymous means).

The bad: Everything else. Seriously. Henry Cavill is not bad as Superman but he is certainly no Christopher Reeve and he has absolutely zero chemistry with Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Russell Crowe underplays well in what should be a cameo as Jor-El but is in way too much of the film and many of his later scenes undercut any tension. The writing of Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent is pretty much the exact opposite of the way Jonathan has always been played and his final scene is absolutely ludicrous. The most egregious offender is easily Michael Shannon as Zod. Every scene has him playing his character on ’11’ – moderation and nuance are not in this actor’s repertoire.

Snyder uses flashbacks willy-nilly and to terrible effect. Ditto with his soft-focus on the camera. Ditto ditto with his jump cuts. The special effects are serviceable but many of them look cheap. Hilariously, the flying in Superman from thirty-five years ago looks better than the flying in Man of Steel (except the sonic booms).

The dialogue is pretty bad. The re-imagining of Krypton started off interesting but quickly became ridiculous and went on for far too long. Man of Steel could have used about thirty minutes cut from the running time. Man of Steel also appears to have used last year’s blockbuster, The Avengers, as a template, particularly the last half hour.

Finally, as with Iron Man 3, the ultimate resolution could have been used much earlier, saving countless lives. At least Man of Steel has less unnecessarily slow dipping mechanisms to employ than Iron Man 3. Also less fun.

Wife POV: “Superman: now with less chemistry, less logic, and more flying insect dragons than ever before. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re welcome.”