Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ants and Uncles

Here's a fun double bill from this year: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Ant-Man (2015).

First up, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The Ms. and I were both great fans of the original series. I myself had several of the spy gadget toys, like the false finger gun, and David Maccallum as Illya Kuryakin inspired me to wear lots of black turtlenecks (as an 8 year old). So how does the new version fare?

It's basically an origin story: Armie Hammer is suave thief Napoleon Solo, blackmailed into working for the CIA in East Berlin during the Cold War. While extracting lovely mechanic Alicia Vikander, he runs afoul of gigantic Henry Cavill as Illya. Illya is a giant cold-blooded agent with a rage-control problem (or asset, if you think of it that way). But even though they start out fighting for control of Vikander, they are soon forced to work together to get at her father, the Nazi nuclear scientist Dr. Teller (hm, I thought he was one of ours).

So they dress Vikander up in mod clothes (Kuryakin is famously fashion-forward) and head for Rome. This being a Guy Ritchie movie, there are lots of fun action/comedy scenes, but there is a lot nice character stuff for the leads. Hammer makes a decent Solo - he gets the detached amusement and crooked smile right, but I'm not sure he has the Connecticut Lockjaw accent that Robert Vaughan was so good at. Which is funny, because of course, he is British, and that accent is an American affectation of a British upper-class accent. Never mind, as long as his suits are perfect, his accent can be a little off.

Cavill as Kuryakin is surprising - he is an East German Superman, and I never thought of Kuryakin as big or strong. He was more of an intellectual with karate skills. (Face it, he was Spock to Solo's Kirk.) He also didn't have Ilya's odd, big-eyed, big-forehead good looks. But in so many ways, he got it so right. There's one scene where he is guarding Vikander, playing chess solitare, when Vikander tries to seduce him. This scene is right out of the TV series (I think he was guarding a princess? The Quadripartite Affair?), and shows Kuryakin's cool detachment and intellect - although I think he put some cool jazz on the stereo in the TV version. In the movie, Vikander gets to do a sweet panty dance to entice him, so it works out quite well.

Next up for the weekend, Ant-Man, miles away from U.N.C.L.E - or is it? Hank Pym, Michael Douglas, is inventor of the Ant-particle, which compresses matter to tiny size while increasing strength. He is trying to keep his invention out of the hands of madman industrialist Corey Stoll. He does this by tricking master-thief Paul Rudd as Scott Lang into stealing the suit. So, Pym isn't Ant-Man in this movie - he passes the baton to Lang. His daughter, Evangeline Lilly, isn't too happy about all this. So, both movies have women with daddy issues.

Paul Rudd is fun as new Ant-Man. Like Napoleon Solo, he's a scoundrel who gets to crack at least one safe, but is basically a pussycat. His "posse", a bunch of wannabe thieves lead by Michael Pena, are a lot of fun, good comic relief. The action is fun, Incredible Shrinking Man style. We get a touch of the core Marvel Universe with an Ant-Man/Falcon fight, but mostly this is its own thing. It's a little sillier, more lighthearted than the Avengers. The villain is fun - he's a scientist and respectable businessman who may sometimes have to break a few eggs to make his omelet. He's like an evil Ray Palmer from Arrow - he takes over the company from the hero and builds a miniaturization suit!

Aside from the safecracking and the daddy issues, the thing that makes these two films such a good double-bill is their sense of fun. Good action, by directors who don't take themselves or their subjects too seriously. Good fun.

Update: Mr. Schprock in comments is right. I got the leads of Man from U.N.C.L.E. mixed up. I haven't corrected this in the text because: 1) I got kind of attached to the idea of Superman as Ilya Kuryakin, even though that isn't happening, and 2) you're pretty used to me being wrong by now, aren't you?

1 comment:

mr. schprock said...

I think you have Cavil's and Hammer's roles mixed up. I saw both movies. I thought they were just okay, but maybe that's because I'm becoming more and more of a curmudgeon and nothing pleases me anymore.