Full disclosure: for the longest time I didn’t enjoy spy movies. I never liked the old James Bond flicks and found Sean Connery to be a lousy actor, neither sexy nor marginally attractive (also, too freaking hairy).

I did watch the occasional Mission: Impossible episode when I was younger, but only in recent years have I discovered what everyone else seems to see in spy films. I haven’t been a Cruise fan since he started jumping on Oprah’s couch like a chimpanzee and went ape-shit on Brooke Shields, but I have to admit that the M:I movies are pretty entertaining.

I started warming up to the Bond franchise when Pierce Brosnan took over, and then it took me forever to finally warm up to Daniel Craig.

I also never really enjoyed post-war movies or those depicting the 60’s and 70’s (which is why I also never warmed up to Mad Men, although I’m sure I’ll binge-watch it eventually), and films about the cold war leave me… well, cold.

Anyway, since I’ve come around on the spy genre, last weekend’s movie night was a 2015 spy feast, beginning with:

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

man from uncle MI rogue nation

I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about this one despite the high IMDb rating, and not only because it takes place in 60’s era Germany and Italy. I loved Guy Richie’s earlier work but both RocknRolla and the second Sherlock Holmes movie were a let down for me (and that’s quite a feat, given I’ll pretty much watch anything starring Robert Downey Jr). I had never watched the titular British show, either, and had no idea what U.N.C.L.E. stands for, so I was completely ignorant of what was to follow when I pressed play.

In the end, I was very pleasantly surprised: the acting was great, there was plenty of action, and the story was interesting – it’s not everyday the top three nations’ intelligence team up against a common enemy, after all. The surprising plot twist and open ending probably leaves things wide open for sequels, which is fine by me. I’m no expert on 60’s stylistic nuances but it seemed pretty realistic, and the costume department did a phenomenal job.

guy ritchie set in rome with henry cavill

The opening sequence was what sold me on this movie: it was an excellent example of what a car chase should be like, and the zip-lining scene that topped it off was spectacular.

But what really sealed the deal for me was Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. Both their roles were a far cry from their most well-known portrayals of characters in previous movies, and they were both great as CIA/KGB spies respectively. Although a shirtless Cavill scene would have been most welcome, his glorious physique shone through even in suave 3-piece-suits. Armie Hammer as the Russian giant with superhuman strength (and a weakness for tough female mechanics) was surprisingly convincing.

My only gripe with this movie is Richie’s trademark camera work: the fast cuts and shaky cam action scenes may be great for building tension, but it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on in some of the fight scenes. Other than that, it was a solid movie, highly entertaining, and one I would definitely watch again.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

MI rogue nation

The M:I franchise needs no introduction. We all know what we’re in for when we sit down for a Mission Impossible movie, and unlike the second installment of the franchise, with those long, pointless, pretentious pigeon-flying scenes, it did not disappoint.

Tom Cruise does what he knows best: he runs, he fights, he swims against powerful currents, he even grabs onto a moving airplane. Say what you will about the guy, but for a guy his age he looks pretty damn good, and he does his own stunts. The rest of the team, which has evolved over the years, was a wonderful ensemble: Simon Pegg is awesome in just about everything he does; Jeremy Renner was an excellent choice for Brandt in Ghost Protocol, having earned his spy genre street cred in the Bourne franchise sequel, and I was glad to see him reprise the role in Rogue Nation. Ving Rhames is one of the coolest dudes in the movies as far as I’m concerned, although I will always think of him as Marcellus Wallace. Rebecca Ferguson is gorgeous (and any actress who can pull off dangerous stunts in an haute couture gown is a heroine in my book) and, well, every time we get to see Alec Baldwin on screen is a treat as far as I’m concerned.

Aside from the amazing action sequences we’ve come to expect in the M:I films, perhaps what stood out for me was Solomon Lane. Sean Harris looked the part, and acted his ass off to pull off the soft-spoken evil mastermind at the helm of the Syndicate. As far as super-villans go, it’s always nice to see a geeky-looking guy capable of despicable crimes, instead of the cartoonish thug most movies employ.

Granted, M:I Rogue Nation, like its predecessors, is the kind of movie that should be taken with a grain of salt: it’s over the top action, ridiculous car/bike chases, cheesy one liners delivered by heroes who can withstand just about any amount of torture or injury and still come out unscathed with nary a hair out of place. Which is exactly what makes these movies so entertaining. Being a recent convert in terms of spy movies, I’m definitely looking forward to my upcoming Spectre movie night!