30 March 2015

Dueling Spies - Shady Counter-Organizations are the New Black

By the end of last week we had two new trailers on our hands for a pair of 2015 films that have, for better or worse, somewhat slid under the radar. This is really only due to 2015 being absolutely huge and crazy for the mega-franchises of or day and in another year where these flicks may have swung some heavy cultural weight, they're being a bit overshadowed in the wake of men flying around in tights and triple-bladed lightsabers.
An used image from Tom Cruise: Man of Steel

But these are venerated franchises. The first trailer dropped for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015), which I really only had a shaky recollection of coming out this year. The second is something we have no reason not to be pumped out of our minds about, the twenty-fourth Bond Film, SPECTRE (2015). Here, go watch their trailers.

What do you think? Maybe it's just because it's been a while since we've had dueling spy films, but I haven't noticed how similar these properties have become. We had this in the mid-90s when GoldenEye (1995) battled Mission: Impossible (1996), and again at the turn of the century during the great bout between Die Another Day (2002), The Bourne Identity (2002), and of course, xXx (2002).

Our spy duel in 2015 seems a little different though, because they're not just sharing genres, but it would seem plots as well. See, there are shady uncover agencies everywhere, even more secret than MI6 or IMF and The Syndicate and SPECTRE are out to get our respective super-spies. And that is really just following up on HYDRA from Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), which is something I never thought I'd say.

Why this sudden upsurge in dastardly evil organizations in mainstream spy thrillers? Maybe it's the aftereffect of terrorist cells like ISIS recruiting your neighbors next door. Maybe cinema's writers have just watched too many episodes of The Americans. There is a sense, though, of suspicion, that anyone around you could be a deadly insurgent, and after all, what better threat to a super-spy than an evil super-spy? And just because these movies all seem similar doesn't mean they'll be terrible. In fact, Rogue Nation and SPECTRE both look a few shades of awesome, with both franchises cashing in on what they've built their bread and butter on lately.

Mission: Impossible has had sort of a strange, tortured road to becoming an A-list franchise. It's built completely on Tom Cruise and is so tied to whatever level of patience audiences have with him at that moment. Looking back on films in the franchise I'm always reminded of the Mission: Impossible staple: not remembering any plot or why anything was happening at any given time for any reason, but there's always one great scene or stunt that stands out. The classic wire-hanging. Cliff-climbing. Keri Russel's brain exploding. Scaling the Burj Khalifa. It's all there. From the looks of it, Rogue Nation is following this up with a compelling remade scene from Black Sheep (1996).

Thanks to the general goodwill steaming from Mission: Impossible III (2006) and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011), people are also expecting a good flick. I think folks have also come around with Tom Cruise, who has actually had a pretty reliable string of early summer films lately. At the very least he has built up a reputation for some awesome stunts, made more compelling by the public knowledge that he does just about everything himself. You know, like a crazy person. He's stayed out of the public eye and avoided jumping on Oprah, which has also allowed us to remember more of how fearless an actor he is than how much of a maniac he is. That bodes well for Rogue Nation.
Why is skiing always a staple of the spy genre?

SPECTRE has the benefit of following up the most successful Bond Film of all time, financially and arguably critically, Skyfall (2012), with the same production team and a really intriguing trailer. Bond has done well lately to trade the exact kind of insane stunts Mission: Impossible loves for more personal, introspective stakes. Sure, Skyfall has its really big moments and explosions, but the funnest part of that film is when it boils down to a farm battle in Scotland between Bond, his nemesis, and the surrogate mother to both of them. There is a lot of complicated pain and relationships in Skyfall, which SPECTRE looks to build on. There isn't a "Tom Cruise hangs from a plane" scene in that trailer, but I find myself re-watching it even more. There's a lot of hope there.

It's interesting to think back nineteen years now, the impossible amount of time it's been between now and the first Mission: Impossible. We've gone through two Bonds in that time and that's with even Daniel Craig is nearing the end of his run. This further proves that Tom Cruise, even after cresting fifty years old, is immortal. I love how he was that semi-retired agent in Mission: Impossible III, which was now a whopping nine years ago. Think of it this way - that year also showcased Daniel Craig as a new Bond while Skyfall showed him rather as an old, rusty Bond. Cruise just keeps barreling ahead.

All this is awesome for Jeremy Renner, who constantly seems on the cusp of A-list stardom, being primed to take over the Mission: Impossble and Bourne franchises but constantly being denied. Even poor Hawkeye keeps getting the short shrift. Maybe he can be the next Bond. No, Idris Elba has a better chance for that than Jeremy Renner.

So, what do you think? Why are shady counter-organizations in this year? Which film will reign supreme - Rogue Nation or SPECTRE? And is there any room for these films as cultural objects of affection in a crowded year filled with Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Terminator, Avengers, and Hunger Games films? If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on...Paul Blart.

Rogue Nation drops July 31st, while you can check out SPECTRE  November 6th.

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