Can spy films be cheesy again?

Last month, movie-goers flocked to their local theaters to go see Spectre, the newest installment of the James Bond franchise.

The film was good (not as good as Skyfall, mind you), but more importantly, Spectre took a step towards bringing the franchise back to the over-the-top campy spectacle iconic to the franchise that has been largely absent in Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond.

In a 2012 interview with a James Bond fansite, Craig attributed the change in tone to the Austin Powers films that parodied the character.

It would seem that the filmmaker’s view has softened a tad on this issue, with Spectre’s reintroduction of classic Bond cheesiness. However, it is still far away from borderline silliness of earlier films like Goldfinger and Octopussy.

But there are two recent films that set out to prove that it is still possible to have a spy movie that can be good without resorting to Bourne-esque melodrama.

The first, and more widely recognized, is 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service directed by Matthew Vaughn. The film even contains an oh-so-subtle scene where two characters discuss their nostalgia for older spy flicks.

The other recent film, which sadly fell into relative obscurity, is The Man From U.N.C.L.E. directed by Guy Ritchie. Folks may best recognize Ritchie’s work in the far superior Sherlock Holmes franchise, starring Robert Downey Jr. (fight me, Cumberbitches).

Rather than Kingsman’s modernization of the genre, Ritchie opts to harken back to a classic Cold War setting. Through a combination of Ritchie’s talent for tone, style and elaborate chase scenes, as well as unexpectedly great performances from Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, the film is the best action movie of recent memory.

Despite not getting much attention from audiences and critics alike upon its release, I believe that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. will eventually earn its place as a benchmark of what a spy film can be.

mayo1@stolaf.edu

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