Spies are the new Vampires


Whoever said Fairies are the new Vampires obviously missed the bigger picture. Yes, there’s four Snow White projects on deck, but will they be any good under the guidance of commercial directors often criticized for taking style over substance to the extreme? Among the dozens of projects I… I mean he talked about last week, there are only two or three worth betting on, directed by Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, and Peter Jackson, all slipping in quality control.

A lasting trend, I would hope, survives on the value of its first push. We should take weight of the Spy genre. Mostly fenced in by television shows with high ratings on Chuck, Nikita, and Burn Notice, movies have remained gunshy of late, perhaps after seeing J.J. Abrams fail with Undercovers and watching Dollhouse and The Bionic Woman crash and burn. Matt Damon announced his departure from Bourne, saying the creative department started to refer to their own franchise as “The Bourne Redundancy,” and Bond 23 suffered long delays after MGM studios filed for bankruptcy.

Nevertheless, Hollywood cannot resist the call of Anna Chapman, the real life foreign spy who became a media frenzy with looks that could kill. She graced the cover of Maxim magazine and was traded back to Mother Russia. If her story ends there, it won’t keep us from making up a bunch of fake ones to lure the thriller-hungry audience that formed in the fallout. “Now is the time.”

The age of espionage begins…

2010 failed to see much in the way of momentum. the year had an unexpected hit with Angelina Jolie in Salt (a sequel is on the way), but an absolute nightmare when The Tourist was reviewed. Other relatively modest vehicles had awkward openings with Clooney in The American, Naomi Watts taking on the true story of a blown cover in Fair Game, and John Travolta starring in From Paris with Love, a Luc Besson concept sent out to die when he let younger “up and coming” French talent take the reigns. Knight and Day also failed to make waves, even with Tom Cruise in tow.

Early 2011 was more of a draw. Pixar’s attempt to spyify Cars 2 triggered sub-par reactions, X-Men: First Class was positively received for it’s Bondian CIA-play on the Cuban missle crisis, but came short of soaring at the box office despite ugly sums of money spent on marketing by Fox. Liam Neeson cashed another check for Taken by playing a similar role for Unknown… but all of this is circumstantial in light of Hanna, a shot of globetrotting trained agents that came into existence on the wheels of both the phenomenon explored here and that of the Fairy Tale.

At PG-13, it wasn’t within the kid friendly realm, and that’s where Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D Aroma-Scope will make a stand. It’s beyond me why Robert Rodriguez won’t pass the series on to a less impressive talent, but at least that gives the young ones a follow up to Cars 2, which they loved blindly.

The filmmaking entourage of Luc Besson returns again for Colombiana, a spiritual successor to Leon: The Professional in which a young girl trains to become an assassin after her parents are murdered. Come to think of it, Nikita is a television treatment of his early work, and Besson’s Burmese political drama The Lady has reportedly been stalked by people of unknown identity with way too many questions. Most of the film was shot in Thailand but I’m happy he made it out of Burma, itself, when he shot scenes under the guise of a tourist.

Oscar buzzworthiness will begin shortly thereafter. The Debt skips between a mission gone sour and the older versions of its characters attempting to balance karma. I think it’s safe to assume the dual casting of The Tree of Life‘s Jessica Chastain and Dame Helen Mirren gives it a shot as some acting awards. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is being remade with every in-demand actor of English descent, spare Bill Nighy. The movie has a guaranteed Best Actor nomination for Gary Oldman, based on the logic that his role offered Sir Alec Guinness the chance to perform what is often thought to be his finest work. I recommend the understated BBC miniseries, which also features the single greatest use of Patrick Stewart’s voice. The directors of these 2011 films are known for Shakespeare in Love and Let the Right One In.

After that, it’s a bit of a crap shoot with five undercover themes filling out the Fall. Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) will reprise for Johnny English Reborn, with Miley Cyrus struggling to remain relevant in the teen comedy So Undercover (please let that not become a popular phrase). The Thing will remake John Carpenter’s horror thriller (itself, a remake) where any of the survivors could be monsters in disguise. That dynamic qualifies.

A little too tame to quell your gunplay obsession? Leave it to one-note Jason Statham to bring on a pair of elite agents, first with the aim of rescuing his mentor in Killer Elite (another remake), then as an SAS agent protecting a computer program in Echelon, then protecting a young Chinese girl in Safe. Hey, wasn’t that the plot of The Transporter?

This is when things really start to explode. The windup to the big break for action oriented spy features begins with a couple globetrotting mystery flicks reminiscent of the genre. First, an adventurized Tintin in The Secret of the Unicorn. Sherlock will also hop across continents while trying to best his nemesis in A Game of Shadows. Meanwhile, American tourists are besieged by “invisible predators in the wake of an energy crisis” while vacationing in Russia. Welcome to The Darkest Hour.

More to the point, a new Bond, Bourne, and Baur. Sounds like the character options in Obsidian Entertainment’s videogame Alpha Protocol more than a film slate. Sam Mendes (American Beauty) is finally bringing the world’s most famous superspy to the forefront with Daniel Craig returning in Bond 23 (still working on that title, I guess). Kiefer Sutherland promised a 24 theatrical turn in 2012, but can we believe him? This thing’s being teased more than the Arrested Development feature. Without Matt Damon, The Bourne Legacy will reboot with Jeremy Renner taking on Edward Norton. That one’s helmed by the writer of the previous films, who also got behind the camera for Michael Clayton to that film’s benefit.

Speaking of Renner, he’ll play an agent of Marvel’s superspy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. when appearing in The Avengers, a superteam directed by fan favorite writer/director Joss Whedon, with spies reprised by Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson as well. Before both, Renner squares off with, or against, Tom Cruise, depending on the four-too-many plot twists inevitably included in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the first live action feature at the hands of Pixar director Brad Bird. The trailer managed to renew our interest in both Mission Impossible and Eminem. Little is known about the new Tom Clancy movie Moscow, except that Chris “Captain Kirk” Pine will take over the Jack Ryan role in the footsteps of Ben Affleck, Harrison Ford, and Alec Baldwin. How much you wanna bet it’ll be called Jack Ryan?

After failing to land a job with one of the big ticket franchises, Steven Soderbergh recycled his unused ideas for Haywire, a female Bourne-like story that looks well choreographed, before directing George Clooney in a film based on the spy TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Clooney’s tenth CIA/Special Agent/Covert Ops project to date (catch up Mr. Renner).

This article’s already surpassed the length of Faries are the new Vampires, but I’m not quite finished. Everyone’s favorite interstellar secret agents will return for Men in Black III. A factory worker from Mars will come to learn his true identity as a spy in another take on Total Recall, claiming to be closer to the original Philip K. Dick short story. First female Academy Award winner for Best Director Kathryn Bigelow is gearing to tell the story of the Black Ops team that silenced Osama Bin Laden, as well.

More still, Act of Valor is flying under the radar with Roselyn Sanchez, depicting the Black Ops rescue of a captured CIA agent. Denzel Washington will watch over a CIA safe house in… Safe House. In The Cold Light of Day Henry “Superman” Cavill must rescue his family, Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver, after they’re kidnapped while vacationing in Spain, learning his father’s secrets along the way. Will these mysteries reveal a reverse Taken?

Speaking again of Taken, Luc Besson is back (seriously, calm down Luc) as writer/producer of Lockout, where Guy Pearce will be wrongly convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, with one chance to redeem himself by rescuing the president’s daughter from… space prison. I guess this wasn’t the Sci-fi Besson said he would be directing, after all, instead passing the duties to a pair of short film directors. But whatever happened to Red Dawn? The 2011 remake with Chris “Thor” Hemsworth in the lead? Russia was replaced by North Korea, flags were digitally altered in an act of political correctness, and finally… it vanished. There’s no release date anywhere for this film.

So why Spies? You’d think the whole double identity angle reached it’s peak with Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Hollywood seems to be treating it as some kind of Gold Rush and actually, I’m ok with that given the pedigree of those involved. I don’t actually have anything against Fairy Tales but show me a Tom Cruise on in that genre. Oh right… Legend. Thank God they’re not remaking that one too. I’m gonna have to chalk it up to the headlines. Any number of espionage experts could find their families endangered in the wake of a sudden Wikileak, and even before Anna Chapman we were seeing an uptick in awareness after a presidential-office-bound Ukranian politician survived poisoning.

Where you come in: Purchase everything that’s advertised in the latest issue of Esquire magazine. This should only run you a half million dollars. If you can’t pick between watches, go with the heavier one. Learn to speak fluent Russian, Mila Kunis already has. Join the popular trend of professional travel blogging, but keep vague about your activities and strategically photoshop pillowing smoke coming from distant clocktowers. Once you get used to blogging, upgrade to a screenplay that’s barely removed from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You need to know how to tango and you’ll be wearing a black or navy blue turtleneck sweater regardless of where you are or how hot it is. Finally, drink, but don’t order it shaken. Vodka hasn’t tasted oily since Ian Fleming was an aklie because potato vodka is a thing of the past.

[Special thanks to Alex Katz for helping me find some of those old links. We’re coming on one year!!!]