Aug 12, 2019

Trailer for USA's Bourne Spin-Off Series, TREADSTONE

USA has released the first trailer for their upcoming Bourne TV spinoff, Treadstone.

Treadstone is the long in the works TV series derived from the Matt Damon Bourne films and based on the secret super assassin program originated in Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Identity (review here).

The project has been percolating in one form or another ever since 2010, when CSI creator Anthony Zuiker attempted a Treadstone show for CBS. But when Tony Gilroy came aboard to direct the theatrical spinoff The Bourne Legacy, he didn't want a competing version of the mythology on TV, and made it a condition of his directing that the nascent show be killed. The new incarnation comes from Heroes creator Tim Kring, who produces along with Captivate Entertainment's Ben Smith. Smith's fellow Keeper of the Ludlum flame at Captivate, Jeffrey Weiner, executive produces (as he does on the Bourne films) along with Ramin Bahrani, among others. Acclaimed Iranian-American helmer Bahrani directs the pilot. Bahrani has directed such indie features as 99 Homes and Chop Shop, the latter of which late film critic Roger Ebert famously anointed the sixth best film of the 2000s. More recently Bahrani directed HBO's Fahrenheit 451, with Michael B. Jordan and Sophie Boutella.

Seasoned spy veteran Michelle Forbes (Berlin Station, 24) leads the cast in what sounds like a role similar to Joan Allen's in the movies as "Ellen Becker, a savvy CIA veteran trying to balance the demands of work and family while investigating a conspiracy with international implications." Patrick Fugit (First Man), Michael Gaston, (Jack Ryan) Shruti Haasan (a Bollywood star), Brian J. Smith (Sense8), Tess Haubrich (Alien: Covenant), Jeremy Irvine, Omar Metwally, Tracy Ifeachor, Hyo Joo Han, Gabrielle Scharnitzky and Emilia Schüle also star.

It's clear that Kring's Treadstone takes some liberties with the versions previously established in both the books and the films, making all of the programs' assets virtual amnesiacs, in that they have been brainwashed not to realize that they are sleeper agents until the moment they are awakened. While this does somewhat undermine Bourne's own special circumstances, it also feels like a clever way to really cash in on the brand and give audiences an experience similar to what they've seen in the movies.

In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity (review here), Treadstone 71 was the shadowy intelligence group that David Webb worked for (based out of a New York brownstone), with whom he created and assumed his more famous identity as assassin Jason Bourne. Nebulous and illegal though it may have been, in the book Treadstone's motivations were basically heroic. The Treadstone of the movies, which creates super-assassins through brainwashing and later drugs, is a much more sinister organization. It was also, I believe, officially shut down by Brian Cox's character, Abbott, in The Bourne Supremacy, and then reconstituted as Outcome by Ed Norton's character in The Bourne Legacy (review here). It will be interesting to see if the TV series mentions Outcome at all, and how closely it sticks to the mythology established in the movies.

Treadstone is not only keeping alive on the small screen, but also in print. Earlier this year, the Ludlum estate has commissioned author Joshua Hood to pen the first book in a new Treadstone literary series, The Treadstone Resurrection, which will be in stores this fall—I assume about the same time the show premieres on USA.

Jul 28, 2019

Tradecraft: William Boyd's Cold War Berlin-Set SPY CITY Series Gets Revived with Dominic Cooper

Several years ago, around the same time that Olen Steinhauer's Berlin Station was announced, another Berlin-set spy series from another major novelist was also announced: William Boyd's Cold War-set Spy City. But it sadly never came to be at that time. Now, five years later, though, it's finally happening!

Originally set up as a 10-part series at Gaumont, Deadline reports that Boyd's vision will finally come to life as a 6-part series for Miramax and Germany's H&V Entertainment and ZDF. And it will star a face who's become quite familiar to spy fans--Dominic Cooper. Cooper starred as Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark, in Captain America: The First Avenger, and again on the excellent late 1940s-set spy TV series Agent Carter. He also played Ian Fleming in the BBC miniseries Fleming. He'll continue his run of period spy shows in Spy City by playing a British agent dispatched to Berlin in 1961 to root out a traitor in the UK Embassy or among the Allies, shortly before the construction of the Berlin Wall. "The city, declared by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev as 'the most dangerous place on earth,' is teeming with spies and double agents. One wrong move could trigger the looming threat of nuclear war as American, British and French troops in West Berlin remain separated from their Soviet and East German counterparts by nothing more than an imaginary line."

William Boyd is the author of the James Bond continuations novel Solo, as well as the excellent generational spy saga Restless  (which the author adapted into a miniseries with Agent Carter's Hayley Atwell) and what might very well be my favorite novel so far this century, Any Human Heart. That one's not a spy novel, though it does feature some spying, and Ian Fleming as a minor character. It was also turned into a miniseries with Atwell, as well as Spooks' Matthew Macfadyan and Casino Royale's Tobias Menzies as Fleming. There are a lot of odd connections forming here! An intelligence analyst might even discern some sort of pattern. Can an announcement of Ms. Atwell co-starring in Spy City be far off? So far, Johanna Wokalek (The Baader Meinhof Complex) and Leonie Benesch (The Crown, Babylon Berlin) have been announced besides Cooper. Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Alexandre will direct.

When the project was first announced in its original, slightly longer format, Variety reported that Spy City "sheds light on the personal lives of spies and focuses on a group of men and women of different nationalities and backgrounds who are in the 'hornet’s nest' of divided Berlin." The Hollywood Reporter added, "Spy City is set in the hottest period of the cold war, when Berlin was the center of the global chess game between the powers of East and West. The series is billed as an intimate look at the men and women who risked everything to become spies."

In addition to being an internationally acclaimed novelist, Boyd is also a successful screenwriter. He co-wrote Richard Attenborough's Oscar-nominated biopic Chaplin (1992), adapted other people's novels into Mister Johnson (1990, starring Pierce Brosnan) and Sword of Honor (2001, starring Daniel Craig), and adapted his own novels A Good Man in Africa (1994, starring Sean Connery and Diana Rigg) and Stars and Bars (1988, not starring any James Bond, but starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which is also pretty good), among many other credits. He wrote and directed The Trench (1999), which also starred Craig. Besides Solo, his recent novels include the WWI espionage tale Waiting for Sunrise, the pharmaceutical thriller Ordinary Thunderstorms, and the short story "The Vanishing Game." The latter, Boyd's homage to John Buchan's The 39 Steps, is a great read and a great introduction to the author, as it's available for free (thanks to Land Rover) as an e-book from Amazon and as an audiobook download from Audible. It's a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. Most of all, though, I can't wait for Spy City! I'm glad it's come back to life.
Thanks to Jack for the heads-up on this!

Jul 27, 2019

First Teaser Trailer for Amazon's JACK RYAN Season 2

At the TCA today, Amazon Prime unveiled a first glimpse at Season 2 of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, again starring John Krasinski as the titular CIA analyst. The show was renewed for a second season before the first had even debuted, and was successful enough for the streamer that it's already been renewed for a third. Once again, this season is an original story rather than a direct adaptation of a specific novel, but just as the terrorism-themed Season 1 took some cues from Clancy's Patriot Games, it's clear from this teaser that the South America-set second season will, as expected, take similar cues from Clear and Present Danger--both the book and the 1994 movie (which starred Harrison Ford as Ryan). Keeping up with current headlines, the action, however, is centered mainly in and around Venezuela rather than Colombia.

Along with Krasinski, Wendell Pierce and John Hoogenakker return as, respectively, Ryan's mentor James Greer and SAD operative (and quasi-Clark surrogate) Matice. With the new setting, a lot of newcomers also join the cast, including Noomi Rapace (Unlocked, The Girl Who Played With Fire) as German intelligence agent Harriet “Harry” Baumann, Michael Kelly (Fair Game, House of Cards) as CIA field officer Mike November, Tom Wlaschiha (Crossing Lines, Game of Thrones), Jovan Adepo (Overlord), Narcos alums Cristina Umaña and Francisco Denis, and the always excellent Jordi Molla (Knight and Day, Criminal). Amazon hasn't yet set a premiere date for the second season, but the first one did well in August, so I'd hazard we can expect this one soon.

Jul 23, 2019

Tradecraft: Marvel Announces Shang-Chi Casting, Title

As much as I love Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and I love it dearly!) and Black Widow, my favorite Marvel spy comic has to be the original 1970s run of The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu... particularly the issues showcasing the brilliant collaboration of writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy (a team who would go on to produce the best James Bond comic book to date, "Serpent's Tooth"). Last December, it was first reported that a Shang-Chi movie would feature among Marvel Studios' next slate of films. All has been quiet since then... until this past weekend. On a massive panel at Comic-Con Saturday night, Deadline reports, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced the first official details about the studio's upcoming Master of Kung Fu movie, including its title and who will play the titular master, Shang-Chi.

Feige told the assembled hordes of fans in SDCC's Hall H that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will open on February 12, 2021. Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu will play Shang-Chi. Best known for a Canadian sitcom called Kim's Convenience, Liu has earned spy cred with roles on Nikita and the Taken TV show. As studied Marvel fanatics will glean from the title, Iron Man comics villain the Mandarin (basically a Marvel rip-off of Sax Rohmer's 1920s-created "yellow peril" character Fu Manchu) will replace the actual Fu Manchu (a character Marvel licensed in the Seventies, but no longer has the rights to) as Shang-Chi's criminal mastermind father... and the great Tony Leung (Lust, Caution, The Silent War) will play him. Actress and rapper Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean's 8) will also appear in the film, though her role was not announced. I can't really imagine her as Shang-Chi's love interest Leiko Wu, but she might make a good foil as his duplicitous half-sister Fah Lo Suee. (Or she could be playing an original comedic role, of course.) As previously announced, Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) will direct, and Dave Callaham (Jean-Claude Van Johnson) handles scripting duties, making up an all Asian-American creative team driving the picture.

The comic book The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu was created in the early Seventies to (obviously) cash in on the kung fu craze of the time. Comics legends Steve Englehart (Batman: Strange Apparitions) and Jim Starlin (Avengers: Infinity War) originated the character, but it was the dynamic writer/artist team of Moench and Gulacy who became most associated with Shang-Chi... and who gave the comic a new direction as an espionage series.

Shang-Chi's real world origins at Marvel are a bit complicated, as the publisher had acquired the rights to Rohmer's villainous Fu Manchu character (still well-known at the time thanks to a series of Christopher Lee movies in the Sixties), but Englehart was more interested in the popular TV series of the time, Kung Fu. So he incorporated Rohmer's characters Fu Manchu and his nemesis, British adventurer Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, but invented a new character to star in the series more inspired by Kung Fu... Fu Manchu's hitherto unknown son, Shang-Chi. Though the father had seen to it that the son was trained from birth to be a Master of Kung Fu, when Shang-Chi discovered that the father he believed to be munificent was actually a diabolical criminal mastermind, he turned on him, and found employment with Nayland-Smith and the British Secret Service. In the hands of Moench and Gulacy, secret agent Shang-Chi encountered all manner of spy hijinks, from moles inside MI6 to supervillains with private islands, gadgets galore, and robotic armies. He also developed a roster of memorable sidekicks, including Nayland-Smith's assistant and bodyguard Black Jack Tarr (drawn by Gulacy to resemble Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King), and fellow MI6 agent Clive Reston (drawn by Gulacy at first to resemble Connery in Goldfinger, but later looking more and more like Roger Moore), who is strongly hinted to be the son of James Bond and the grand-nephew of Sherlock Holmes. Should the character of Black Jack Tarr make the movie roster (and it's hard to imagine Master of Kung Fu without him), I'd love to see Jason Statham brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in that role! Sure, he's too short... but I think he'd nail the attitude--and make a formidable physical foil for Liu.

While Marvel's most famous spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D., never showed up in the pages of Master of Kung Fu (though Shang-Chi did eventually team up with Nick Fury and Black Widow in a multi-issue arc of Marvel Team-Up), Gulacy's stunning artwork owed a clear debt to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. artist Jim Steranko. Like Steranko, Gulacy reveled in quasi-sci-fi technology and weaponry and innovative, experimental page layouts. (One particular standout turned the page into a maze, following Shang-Chi's progress against a variety of opponents as he navigated the labyrinth.) He also brought his own obsessions to the table, like Bond-inspired, movie poster-style splash pages, relentlessly sexy women in proto-Gaultier leather fashions, and the liberal use of famous actors' likenesses to "cast" the book with everyone from Bruce Lee (upon whom Gulacy's Shang-Chi was clearly based) to Marlon Brando, Christopher Lee (as Fu Manchu, of course), David Niven, and even Groucho Marx. The result was a truly unique book that far transcended (and consequently outlasted) the kung fu movie trend from which it was born, and drew influence from all sorts of popular culture. I think it may well be my very favorite Marvel comic. Long unavailable outside of back issue bins, the entire 125-issue series has at long last been reprinted over the past few years in four massive, hardcover omnibus volumes, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Marvel has also recently begun a line of cheaper paperback "Epic Collections."

Jul 20, 2019

Tradecraft: ARCHER Renewed for Season 11 and a Return to Spying

When FXX ordered 3 additional seasons of the animated spy comedy Archer back in 2016 (taking it up to 10), it was expected that Season 10 would be the show's last. But executive producer Casey Willis surprised fans at today's Comic-Con panel, Deadline reports, with the announcement that the cable network has renewed the show for Season 11. And, after three seasons taking turns parodying other genres (the most recent two through Archer's coma dreams), the program is expected to make a welcome return to the genre it started out spoofing: espionage. Wilson said, “We are incredibly excited for our 11th season and look forward to Archer waking up from his coma and returning to a spy world that has continued without him for the past three years." Personally, I'm also very much looking forward to that return. While I was initially excited by seasons lampooning Magnum PI, Sam Spade, Tales of the Gold Monkey, and Space: 1999 (among other classics of their various genres), the show, which began as a James Bond parody, is simply strongest operating on the familiar ground of international intrigue. In 2014, current events forced the series to abandon its original spy agency, ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service) for obvious reasons. In the last full season of spying, Season 6, the team (including Sterling Archer, voiced by H. John Benjamin, his sometimes wife Lana Kane, voiced by Aisha Tyler, and his mother Mallory, voiced by Jessica Walter) worked for the CIA under the auspices of control Slater (voiced by Christian Slater).

Jul 15, 2019

Trailer: THE KING'S MAN (2020)

So far each Kingsman trailer has gotten me excited, and then each movie has disappointed me. But now they've done it again! Even after being burnt twice, I'm still on the edge of my seat waiting for director Matthew Vaughn's latest excursion into that world, this time a prequel set in the early 20th century. I'm a real sucker for WWI-era spy stories, and there are altogether too few. So despite my misgivings about the contemporary Kingsman movies, this trailer has me 100% on board for The King's Man!

The King's Man opens on Valentine's Day 2020, having moved into that slot (previously occupied by Bond 25, which then jumped to April) from fall 2019 after the Disney acquisition of Kingsman studio Fox.

Obviously none of the characters from the first two Kingsman movies, set in the present, appear in this one (which will depict the birth of the organization), so there's an all-new cast including Harris Dickinson (Trust) as Conrad, the WWI-era equivalent of Eggsy, Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall), Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace), Rhys Ifans (Snowden), Matthew Goode (Cambridge Spies), Daniel Brühl (Captain America: Civil War), Djimon Hounsou (Alias), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), Charles Dance (For Your Eyes Only), and Tom Hollander (The Night Manager) in a triple role as Royal cousins King George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

Jun 30, 2019

Trailer: CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2019)

The latest incarnation of Charlie's Angels is a new feature film directed by Elizabeth Banks and starring Kristin Stewart (American Ultra), Ella Balinska (Hunted), and, after seeing her in Guy Ritchie's Aladdin, my pick for Modesty Blaise should any studio ever wake up and realize the world is running out of heroes, Naomi Scott. And, after McG's two movies in the early 2000s (especially the second one) dabbled in espionage, this version seems to dive full into spy territory. And it looks pretty awesome! Charlie's Angels, which co-stars Banks (Catch Me If You Can), Patrick Stewart (Smiley's People), and Sam Claflin (Any Human Heart) opens November 15. Check out the trailer!

Jun 28, 2019

First Look Video at BOND 25

MGM this week revealed our first look at Cary Fukanaga's upcoming James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig in a fifth outing as 007. It's not quite a teaser and it's definitely not a trailer, but whatever you want to call it, it's pretty awesome! Made of largely of behind-the-scenes (BTS) footage, the spot still gives a good idea of the look that cinematographer Linus Sandgren (First Man) is going for in this film. And it's quite a stylish look! There's some great imagery here. (I love that shot of Lashana Lynch in her sunglasses.) Bond 25 is still officially title-less, though fansite MI6 reported this week that for a while it was known as A Reason to Die. Apparently that title was dropped on the eve of the Jamaica press event for commencement of filming in April because studio execs found it not Bondian enough. I don't know... it sounds pretty Bondy to me! It's certainly easy to hear the theme song in your head while saying it, anyway. Check out the Bond 25 first look video:

Jun 22, 2019

Movie Review: ANNA (2019)

French director Luc Besson single-handedly revived the latent Eurospy genre, so prominent in the 1960s, for this century with popular series he produced like the Taken and Transporter movies. Now he finally turns his hand to directing a neo-Eurospy movie himself (his first outright spy movie since the one that put him on the map, 1990’s seminal La Femme Nikita—one of the very best action movies of its decade)… and the results are spectacular. Anna is a slick, sexy, action movie, as the trailers lead you to believe (a twist, in fact, on La Femme Nikita—though more of a “remix” than a remake), but it’s also so much more than that. And it’s a movie very specifically targeted at spy fans. The more you know about the genre, the more you’re likely to appreciate its surprising number of layers.

Like the matryoshka dolls the title character starts out selling in a Moscow market, Anna is a spy movie inside a spy movie inside a spy movie. We tend to divide the genre into the action-packed fantasy school of James Bond and Mission: Impossible and the gritty, more realistic tales of double- and triple-crosses like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Homeland. Anna is both at once. Like you might see a novel that amounts to a le Carré-esque spy tail set in a sci-fi setting (like an intergalactic war), or in a historical setting (on the high seas or what have you), Anna is such a twisty spy tail set in the heightened world of fantasy spy movies. It’s Tinker Tailor set inside of Mission: Impossible, or, more appropriately, John Wick. Anna’s reality is a heightened one. This is a world where a skinny model can take on hordes of armed KGB troops in hand to hand combat… and firmly within that world, this is a gritty, twisty, “realistic” tale of double- and triple-crosses. “Realistic,” obviously, being a relative term.

Anna does not exist in a recognizable real world. It ostensibly occupies a historical setting—the late Cold War, specifically 1985-1990. But this isn’t a late Eighties or early Nineties that anyone who lived through those decades would recognize. Rather, it’s a deliberately inaccurate simulacrum. We might recognize fashions and music of the era, but in this alternate 1980s, we also see technology that did not exist then. Characters constantly use cell phones and pagers that behave like modern smart phones. They are not the obscenely chunky cell phones of the era, but the Nokias of the early 2000s—only chunky in comparison to today’s phones. There are laptops, too, and they, also, are chunkier than those we are used to… but again, the chunkiness of the early 2000s, not the early 1990s. Yet, while this technology didn’t exist in the real period, it might have existed in spy movies of that period, had they been thinking ahead along realistic lines. Other forms of tech—ones that never actually came to be—certainly litter Cold War spy movies. It’s artifice, and intentional artifice. But that’s only one layer—only the outermost matryoshka doll.

In that outer layer dwell recognizable characters from the fantasy spy genre. Foremost among them is Anna herself (Sasha Luss), the “female James Bond”/Modesty Blaise/Nikita archetype—the sexy, asskicking female superspy. (But she proves to have layers of her own.) In the movie’s middle layer lies a more complex, twistier narrative derived from the le Carré school. Here dwells a different kind of spy archetype—one based very obviously on George Smiley. But this archetype, too, has undergone a sex change. Helen Mirren plays the KGB spymaster Olga, and seems to be basing her performance on Alec Guinness’ BBC Smiley portrayal, right down to the distinctive, thick-framed glasses she wears.

All of the characters have inner lives—or inner layers. Most attention is paid to Anna’s—revealing, finally, the film’s innermost matryoshka doll—a cat-and-mouse character study hidden beneath the shoot ‘em up action. Because even within this heightened world of spy fantasy, people are complicated. No one is the simple “cardboard booby” Ian Fleming reductively described James Bond as being. But all three of Anna’s love interests over the course of the movie—Maude (Lera Abova), Alex (Luke Evans), and Lenny (Cillian Murphy)—also have inner lives. Maude’s is dealt with the least, but when a late scene between her and Lenny could cut away as he walks out, instead we dwell on her for several long moments as she cries. This is the classic innocent whose life is inevitably torn apart upon contact with the secret world, and it’s somewhat unusual for a neo-Eurospy-type movie to dwell on such a character at all. Lenny and Alex, both macho genre archetypes on the surface, are also allowed more introspective moments than we might expect. But they are very clearly supporting players in Anna’s story. “Never put your faith in men, Anna. Put faith in yourself,” Alex tells Anna early on. And from there, hers is a journey of female empowerment, with a very rewarding payoff.

In her most revealing speech (which Luss, until recently a model and not an actress, handles impressively), Anna admits, “When I was a kid I used to play with matryoshka dolls, way before I pretended to sell them on the street corner. I loved putting them up and looking at their beautiful faces. It’s a woman inside of a woman inside of a woman. If there would be a doll made of me, what would she be? A daughter? A girlfriend? Russian spy? Model? An American spy? If you go to the very smallest doll buried deep inside and say, ‘what is she?’… I never knew, and I would like to find out.”

But the matryoshka concept is not merely thematic. It’s also structural. Besson’s remarkable script is carefully constructed of different layers. It’s nearly (but not quite) palindromic, treating us to scenes that we think are complete the first time we see them, but later revisiting them and showing another half that reveals far more information, significantly altering the plot. If I’m being cryptic, it’s only because I don’t wish to spoil the actual plot elements revealed as Besson peels away layers; there’s a lot of satisfaction in watching that play out.

Lest I spend too much time on the fascinating inner dolls, however (which become clearer and clearer on multiple viewings), I should make it clear that that flashy outer layer is also terrific. And that may be the only layer some audience members choose to see… and that would be fine. They will still be satisfied. The action is spectacular.

For its first act, Anna plays like a fairly straight remake of La Femme Nikita, relocated from France to Soviet Russia (one setting not yet explored by previous remakes of the original concept, including American, Canadian, and Hong Kong versions of the story). On my first viewing, I thought that was what I was watching, and I was surprised it hadn’t been sold up front as a remake of that endlessly fruitful tale. It’s an interesting idea for a director to take another pass thirty years later at the film that put him on the map. What would he do differently? As it happens, Besson is telling a whole different story. But he makes the most of the Nikita foundation from which to do so. The basic concept is replicated intact: a woman involved with crime and drugs leading a seemingly dead-end life is taken off the streets by a secret government agency and given a new lease on life as a spy... but not given a choice. There are familiar characters (Alex is a version of Tcheky Karyo’s Pygmalion-like spy mentor figure Bob; Maude a gender-flipped variation on the innocent boyfriend Marco), and familiar situations, including the restaurant at which first Nikita and now Anna is given her first assignment—with a duplicitous catch. The catch in Anna is even more devious than the one in Nikita (where the exit she’d been briefed on turns out to be bricked up), and appropriate for the more heightened world in which this movie is set. The scenario escalates into a bloodbath, and it’s the most deliriously cinematic bloodbath I’ve seen in Western cinema in years. (And that includes the expertly choreographed action scenes of the John Wick franchise!) It's hyper violent, yet balletic in its execution.

It won’t be a spoiler to anyone familiar with La Femme Nikita that Anna does, indeed, survive her trial by violence, and impresses the not easily impressed doyenne of Moscow Centre, Olga (a frumped down Mirren channeling Guinness). Because of her beauty, she is assigned the cover of a model and sent to Paris. From there, Anna embarks on a dual career as rising supermodel and secret KGB assassin… and parts ways with Nikita’s path as the film’s further layers start to reveal themselves.

One interesting byproduct of making the movie a period piece is that, with the U.S.S.R. securely relegated to Trotsky’s “dustbin of history,” Western audiences can actually root for a character working for the KGB. Because the Cold War is an old enough conflict now that the specific ideologies no longer matter, we can accept a heroine with shifting loyalties without identifying too strongly with any single one. Call it The Americans Effect.

Of course, Anna has enemies within her own organization as well (including the fearsome director, Vassiliev (Eric Godon), who informs her at the wrong end of a pistol that there is only one way to leave the KGB), and that final layer of the film—the character layer—turns out to typify another favorite spy subgenre of mine, the internecine office politics thriller. Until the last frame of film, you’re never sure who Anna can trust and who she is betraying to achieve her ultimate desire (in fact, there may be just one twist too many)—to break free of the various intelligence services that have control of her, and take the time to get to that very smallest doll buried within herself. This is the story of an asset breaking free and becoming master of her own destiny—learning to put her faith in herself.

Anna is a gritty spy movie within a fantasy one, and a character-focused thriller within a flashy, surface, action picture. It’s a more mature work than many audiences will realize upon first viewing, and rewards repeat watching. It’s the crowning achievement of Luc Besson’s career, and one of the best spy films of this century.

Jun 20, 2019

Tradecraft: Bourne Spin-off TV Show TREADSTONE Sets Cast, Starts Filming

It's been a while since we've heard anything about Treadstone, the TV series spun off from the Bourne films and based on the secret super assassin program originated in Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Identity (review here), but that doesn't mean things haven't been happening! Yesterday, Deadline gave us a glimpse at some of those developments.

Reiterating what we already knew, the trade summarizes, "Treadstone explores the origin story and present-day actions of a CIA black ops program known as Operation Treadstone — a covert program that uses behavior-modification protocol to turn recruits into nearly superhuman assassins. The first season follows sleeper agents across the globe as they’re mysteriously 'awakened' to resume their deadly missions." Assuming the series takes place in the movie universe (which seems likely), then it would make sense for the present-day segments to feature a reactivated Treadstone under new leadership, and the origin sequences to serve as a prequel to the films set in the late 90s or early 2000s, theoretically opening the door for a new actor eventually being introduced as a younger Jason Bourne.

According to the trade, spy veteran Michelle Forbes (Berlin Station, 24) leads the cast in what sounds like a role similar to Joan Allen's in the movies as "Ellen Becker, a savvy CIA veteran trying to balance the demands of work and family while investigating a conspiracy with international implications." Patrick Fugit, who stood out in a small role in last year's First Man, "recurs as Stephen Haynes, a high school math teacher with a dark side that he’s struggling to keep under control." (I'm assuming that means he's one of the sleepers.) Michael Gaston, whose extensive spy credits include playing the President on Jack Ryan as well as turns on The Americans, 24, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Blindspot, and The Man in the High Castle, "plays Dan Levine, a no-nonsense senior CIA veteran overseeing an investigation that involves some of the Agency’s darkest secrets." Bollywood star Shruti Haasan "stars as Nira Patel, a young woman in Delhi whose waitress job serves as a cover for a dangerous double life as a trained assassin." Brian J. Smith (World On Fire, Sense8) stars as Doug McKenna, and Australian actress Tess Haubrich (Alien: Covenant) recurs as his wife Samantha, a nurse who must reconcile her husband's dark past. Jeremy Irvine, Omar Metwally, Tracy Ifeachor, Hyo Joo Han, Gabrielle Scharnitzky and Emilia Schüle also star. So it sounds like Treadstone will follow characters all over the globe, similar to series creator Tim Kring's previous series Heroes.

Kring produces along with Captivate Entertainment's Ben Smith. Smith's fellow Keeper of the Ludlum flame at Captivate, Jeffrey Weiner, will executive produce (as he does on the Bourne films) along with Ramin Bahrani, among others. Acclaimed Iranian-American helmer Bahrani will direct the pilot. Bahrani has directed such indie features as 99 Homes and Chop Shop, the latter of which late film critic Roger Ebert famously anointed the sixth best film of the 2000s. More recently Bahrani directed HBO's Fahrenheit 451, with Michael B. Jordan and Sophie Boutella. His involvement really elevates this series!

Perhaps the best news related in the Deadline article is that filming on this incarnation of Treadstone is already underway in Budapest! I say, "this incarnation" since, as long-time readers will be well aware, this is not the first attempt to bring Treadstone to television. Back in 2010, CSI creator Anthony Zuiker attempted a Treadstone show for CBS. But when Tony Gilroy came aboard to direct the theatrical spinoff The Bourne Legacy, he didn't want a competing version of the mythology on TV, and made it a condition of his directing that the nascent show be killed.

In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity (review here), Treadstone 71 was the shadowy intelligence group that David Webb worked for (based out of a New York brownstone), with whom he created and assumed his more famous identity as assassin Jason Bourne. Nebulous and illegal though it may have been, in the book Treadstone's motivations were basically heroic. The Treadstone of the movies, which creates super-assassins through brainwashing and later drugs, is a much more sinister organization. It was also, I believe, officially shut down by Brian Cox's character, Abbott, in The Bourne Supremacy, and then reconstituted as Outcome by Ed Norton's character in The Bourne Legacy (review here). It will be interesting to see if the TV series mentions Outcome at all, and how closely it sticks to the mythology established in the movies.

Treadstone is not only keeping alive on the small screen, but also in print. As I reported yesterday, the Ludlum estate has commissioned author Joshua Hood to pen the first book in a new Treadstone literary series, The Treadstone Resurrection, which will be in stores this fall—I assume about the same time the show premieres on USA.

Jun 19, 2019

Bourne and Treadstone Live On in New Robert Ludlum Continuation Novels

After ten Bourne continuation novels (compared to just three by the character's creator), Eric Van Lustbader chose to hang up his proverbial holster last year, abandoning his previously announced eleventh series entry. But at the time I mused that probably wouldn't be the last we'd see of Robert Ludlum's bestselling character in print. And sure enough, it's not. The Ludlum estate isn't going to let that particular cash cow rest. In fact, they're doubling down! Not only will Bourne continuation novels resume next year under the stewardship of a new author, Brian Freeman (not to be confused with Charlie Muffin creator Brian Freemantle), but this fall will see the first book in a new series spun off from Ludlum's original Bourne trilogy, based on the Treadstone 71 program that first gave rise to the deadly Bourne identity. According to the Associated Press, Joshua Hood's The Treadstone Resurrection is due out September 17 as the first of the estate's new four-book deal with Putnam. It will be followed in 2020 by The Bourne Conspiracy by Brian Freeman. (If that title sounds familiar, it was also used for a Sierra videogame in 2008.) Hood is a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division and author of two military thrillers with good ratings on Amazon. Freeman is the author of multiple psychological thrillers, with three different series characters. Jason Bourne (aka David Webb) was created by Robert Ludlum and first appeared in his seminal 1980 novel The Bourne Identity (review here).

According to the publisher's blurb for The Treadstone Resurrection:
The first novel in an explosive new series inspired by Robert Ludlum's Bourne universe, The Treadstone Resurrection introduces an unforgettable hero and the shadowy world that forged him...

Treadstone made Jason Bourne an unstoppable force, but he's not the only one.

Operation Treadstone has nearly ruined Adam Hayes. The top-secret CIA Black Ops program trained him to be an all but invincible assassin, but it also cost him his family and any chance at a normal life. Which is why he was determined to get out. Working as a carpenter in rural Washington state, Adam thinks he has left Treadstone in the past, until he receives a mysterious email from a former colleague, and soon after is attacked by an unknown hit team at his job site.

Adam must regain the skills that Treadstone taught him--lightning reflexes and a cold conscience--in order to discover who the would-be killers are and why they have come after him now. Are his pursuers enemies from a long-ago mission? Rival intelligence agents? Or, perhaps, forces inside Treadstone? His search will unearth secrets in the highest levels of government and pull him back into the shadowy world he worked so hard to forget.
Hm. I have to admit, I'm a little dubious.... First, this version of Treadstone seems closer akin to the version in the popular Matt Damon movies than the one established by Ludlum in The Bourne Identity novel. Which makes sense, I suppose, since more people today probably know the character and the organization from the films, but personally I would hope for the author's estate to hew closer to his books. Second, I worry that this book may fall into the same traps that ensnared the Jeremy Renner Bourne spinoff movie, The Bourne Legacy (review here). Namely, why do the same exact thing that we've seen with the actual Bourne—namely, putting another former agent on the run from his own people? Why not try something different and show an active agent working successfully with and for the program? At least that would be a fresh take. But we'll see! Maybe this book will prove completely fresh.

Treadstone will also be resurfacing soon as a new USA TV series spun off from the films. I'm sure that's the reason for the Treadstone books, but I have no idea if they'll actually tie into the show at all or not. I would guess not. Van Lustbader's continuation novels were completely separate from the movies (even if they were clearly more inspired by Damon's virile take on the character than Ludlum's aging, reluctant assassin last seen in The Bourne Ultimatum—a very decisive conclusion to the series and fitting swan song for the literary chracter), despite both sharing the title The Bourne Legacy. My guess is that will be the case with Treadstone as well.

Jun 18, 2019

Full Trailer for the Batman's Butler Sixties Spy Show PENNYWORTH

Following the brief teaser revealed in March, EPIX has released a full trailer for that Sixties spy show about Batman's butler, Alfred Pennyworth... long before he was Batman's butler. Hey, whatever it takes to get a Sixties-set spy show on the air today! (And clearly what it takes is some sort of popular superhero property branding.) While Pennyworth is not directly connected to any other specific incarnation of the Dark Knight (including Gotham, which hailed from the same creative team), it certainly seems as if the appealing star, Jack Bannon (Endeavor), is doing his best to channel a young Michael Caine. (Caine played Alfred in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, and of course embodied the quintessential 1960s London spy, Harry Palmer.) Set in an alternate reality Sixties London, Pennyworth follows young Alfred's adventures as a budding private security contractor fresh out of the SAS working with Thomas Wayne (future father of Bruce) to stop a threat against Her Majesty's Government.

Jun 12, 2019


eOne Entertainment has released a trailer for the long-in-the-works movie about Katherine Gun, the GCHQ whilstleblower who exposed the faulty intelligence used to justify the second Iraq war. Official Secrets is based on the 2008 book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell. The title pretty much says it all, but Gun leaked an email to The Observer exposing an illegal U.S./UK intelligence operation designed to influence U.N. approval of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Matt Smith (Doctor Who), Matthew Goode (Kingsman: The Great Game), Rhys Ifans (Berlin Station), and Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall) star, with Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) directing. Official Secrets was first announced back in 2016, at which time Justin Chadwick (Spooks) was set to direct Natalie Dormer in the lead role, with a cast including Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, and Martin Freeman. Clearly things changed, but the resulting movie still looks intriguing!

Jun 5, 2019

Trailer for STARZ Series THE ROOK

STARZ has released a trailer for their upcoming supernatural spy series The Rook. Surprisingly, it doesn't look as supernatural as I was expecting, but does pack in plenty of spyish paranoia and betrayal. It looks like The Bourne Identity meets the X-Men. Based on the series of books by Daniel O'Malley, The Rook premieres June 30 on STARZ.

Jun 4, 2019

Lots of Big Screen Spy Movies at L.A.'s New Beverly This Month

The June line-up at Quentin Tarantino's L.A. revival theater The New Beverly Cinema has lots to offer for spy fans! Foremost among them, in terms of big screen rarity, is a Sixties Irving Allen spy double bill of the fourth and final Matt Helm movie, 1969's The Wrecking Crew (advertised as being a gorgeous new 35mm print!) and the highly entertaining 1968 Eurospy movie Hammerhead. (Read my review here.) Like all of the Dean Martin Helm movies, the former (also starring Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, and the villainous Deadlier Than the Male duo of Elke Sommer and Nigel Green) has relatively little to do with the gritty Donald Hamilton novel whose title it bears, but the latter is a pretty faithful adaptation of James Mayo's debut Charles Hood novel, despite changing hero Hood from a Brit to an American (Vince Edwards). This swinging double feature plays two nights--Wednesday, June 12, and Thursday, June 13. The first feature starts at 7:30, and the second at 9:45.

They'll also be showing Alfred Hitchcock's two late Sixties spy movies on consecutive Wednesday afternoons as part of their "Afternoon Classics" matinee series. Since these aren't among Hitch's most famous titles, they're also relative rarities on the big screen. I wish they weren't only playing during the day when I'll be at work! But should you be lucky enough to have Wednesdays off, be sure to check out "vibrant" IB Technicolor prints of Torn Curtain (1966), starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, on Wednesday, June 19, at 2pm, and Topaz (1969), based on the Leon Uris novel and featuring a Eurospy all-star cast of Frederick Stafford (OSS 117: Terror in Tokyo), Michel Piccoli (Danger: Diabolik), and Karin Dor (You Only Live Twice), on Wednesday, June 26, at 2pm.

There's also a slew of spy-adjacent Sixties movies on the docket, including Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman's other giant Ian Fleming adaptation, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, playing as a 2pm matinee on Saturday, June 22, and Sunday, June 23, Sean Connery in another Wednesday matinee of Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) on June 12, Eurospy goddess Elke Sommer in the heist picture They Came to Rob Las Vegas (paired with another Gary Lockwood vehicle, Jacques Demy's mesmerizing love letter to Sixties L.A., Model Shop) on June 18 (one night only), and on June 19 and 20 a double feature of Frank Sinatra's second Tony Rome movie (essentially an attempt to reinvent the hard-boiled P.I. genre for the Swinging Sixties Bond-Age), Lady in Cement (co-starring Fathom's Raquel Welch) and the faux spy thriller Pretty Poison, wherein mental patient Anthony Perkins convinces Tuesday Weld he's a secret agent. That's quite a month!

It should be noted that both The Wrecking Crew and They Came to Rob Las Vegas both feature in the latest trailer for Tarantino's upcoming 1969-set Once Upon A Time... in Hollywood (the former in a clip and poster, the latter flashing by in a billboard adorning the Chinese Theater).

Tickets for all shows are available through Brown Paper Tickets.

Apr 30, 2019

Tradecraft: KOLYMSKY HEIGHTS Miniseries in the Works

Interior artwork from the U.S. paperback
Deadline reports that the BBC Studios-backed production company Moonage Pictures has optioned Lionel Davidson's legendary final novel, Kolymsky Heights (1994) to adapt as a miniseries. As the trade puts it, the novel "tells the story of an Oxford Professor, who receives an envelope containing nothing but two cigarette papers, which begins a chain of events that will change the course of history. Set just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the story follows Johnny Porter’s attempt to infiltrate the most secret research facility in Russia – a laboratory buried deep underground, a place nobody has ever left alive. Porter’s quest takes him over the Arctic Ocean and into deepest Siberia – constantly switching identities as he goes."

Davidson rose to prominence as a writer of spy thrillers in the 1960s, debuting with The Night of Wenceslas, which was adapted as the immensely entertaining 1964 movie Hot Enough For June (aka Agent 8 3/4) starring Dirk Bogarde, Sylva Koscina, and Leo McKern. He wrote spy novels for adults and, under the pseudonym David Line, for children fairly consistently throughout the Sixties and Seventies before going dormant in the early Eighties. He then re-emerged in the Nineties to great acclaim with Kolymsky Heights, and then never published another novel, dying in 2009. The book had gone out of print and Davidson had faded into relative obscurity until bestselling The Golden Compass author Philip Pullman talked it up, calling it "the best thriller I've ever read." The subsequent demand prompted Faber & Faber to issue a new edition in 2015.

According to Deadline, Moonage Pictures was "set up by a handful of Peaky Blinders execs," including "veteran Tiger Aspect exec Will Gould, former BBC Drama Commissioner Matthew Read and Tiger Drama’s Frith Tiplady." They've produced the Sean Bean action drama Curfew for Sky One, and are currently in production on the new sci-fi show Intergalactic. Read has a real passion for this project, telling the trade, "Lionel Davidson’s sensational novel has been at the top of my wish-list to adapt for a very long time. It has all the flair of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, combined with the awe of The Revenant, and in Johnny Porter it has that same elemental will to survive at its core. It’s a breath-taking adventure, and it demands the time and the ambition that only long form TV today can offer."

This will not be the first miniseries based on Davidson's work. His Cold War children's adventure Run For Your Life formed the basis for the beloved 1974 ITV miniseries Soldier and Me (available on Region 2 DVD from Network in the UK), and his 1978 novel The Chelsea Murders was adapted on Thames Television's Armchair Thriller series in 1981 (also available from Network, as, for that matter, is Hot Enough for June).

Dynamite's LIVE AND LET DIE Graphic Novel Due This Fall

While the publisher hasn't officially announced it yet, there is now an Amazon listing for Dynamite's second Ian Fleming graphic novel adaptation, Live and Let Die. According to the listing it's due out September 24, but that's probably best taken with a grain of salt considering their Casino Royale adaptation was delayed multiple times. While Denis Calero handled art chores on that book, Kewber Baal takes over for the second title. Baal is an old hand in the Dynamite stable, having contributed to volumes of their ongoing Army of Darkness, KISS, Jennifer Blood, and Green Hornet comics, among others. Van Jensen again pens the adaptation. The very cool cover art (which may not be final) nods to the famous poster for the Roger Moore movie, while remaining true to the content of the novel. It's unclear whether it's by Fay Dalton, who created the cover for Casino Royale along with the art for those beautiful Folio Society Fleming editions. It's not in quite the same style we're used to from her, but it is gorgeous! The 168-page hardcover will retail for $24.99 and can be pre-ordered now. Here's Dynamite's description:
In this second adaptation of the Fleming novels, Bond is sent to New York City to investigate "Mr. Big", an agent of SMERSH and a criminal voodoo leader. With no time for superstition―and with the help of his colleague in the CIA, Felix Leiter, Bond tracks "Mr. Big" through the jazz joints of Harlem, to the everglades and on to the Caribbean, knowing that this criminal heavy hitter is a real threat. No-one, not even the mysterious Solitaire, can be sure how their battle of wills is going to end… 
Thanks to Jack for the heads-up!

Apr 25, 2019

Full Cast Revealed for BOND 25 at Goldeneye Press Conference

At a non-traditional press conference today in Jamaica, appropriately held at the resort that used to be Ian Fleming's house, Goldeneye, James Bond producers revealed details about the next 007 movie--the twenty-fifth official entry in the 57-year-old series. One detail they did not provide was a title. This same situation occurred on Daniel Craig's second Bond film; no title was revealed at the commencement of filming press conference for the movie that ultimately became Quantum of Solace.

Goldeneye resort
What was revealed was the cast, confirming some long running rumors and offering some pleasant surprises. Foremost among those pleasant surprises was the news that, after more than a decade, Jeffrey Wright will reprise his Felix Leiter role! The beloved series character was last seen in 2008's Quantum of Solace. With a third turn as 007's CIA friend, Wright will surpass David Hedison, becoming the actor to play the role the most times. And should this untitled film prove to indeed be Craig's swan song as Bond, as he has said, then it will also make him the only Bond actor to date to have one consistent Felix throughout his entire run in the role. History in the making, folks!

Other new male faces include Billy Magnussen (a comedic standout in Game Night who previously worked with Bond 25 director Cary Fukanaga in Maniac), rumored to be playing another CIA agent, Rami Malek (Best Actor Oscar winner for last year's Bohemian Rhapsody), seemingly confirming that he'll be an antagonist by saying, via video, that he'll "be making sure Mr. Bond does not have an easy ride of it," Dali Benssalah (A Faithful Man), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Toby Esterhase, David Dencik. The stunning Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), who previously worked with Craig in Rian Johnson's upcoming whodunnit Knives Out, and Captain Marvel scene stealer Lashana Lynch (who is of Jamaican descent) join the hallowed ranks of Bond Girls.

Ana de Armas
As previously reported, for the first time since Eunice Gayson's Sylvia Trench in From Russia With Love, there will also be a returning Bond Girl this time out. (There have, of course, been other returning actresses, but in different roles.) Lea Seydoux will reprise her SPECTRE role of Madeleine Swann, last seen driving happily off into the sunset with Craig's James Bond. Other returning cast members include Bond's entire MI6 support staff: Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner (also setting a new series record, surpassing Michael Kitchen's two turns in the role during the Pierce Brosnan era), and Ben Whishaw as Q.

Lea Seydoux
Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson also confirmed some heavily rumored contributors to the screenplay for Bond 25. Series mainstays Neil Purvis and Robert Wade will be joined by Scott Z Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum) and, in especially exciting news Killing Eve creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (rumored to have been brought on a Craig's suggestion to inject more humor). Killing Eve is a terrific spy series with a very unique creative voice, and should she end up with a screen credit (something ultimately determined by the Writers Guild), Waller-Bridge will be the first woman to receive one since Joanna Harwood on the first two movies with Sean Connery! As previously announced, American director Cary Joji Fukunaga (who helmed the entire riveting first season of True Detective) directs, having come aboard after Danny Boyle famously left the production. Though not mentioned at today's Jamaica presser, cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land, First Man) was previously confirmed to shoot the movie. As far as I know no composer has yet been announced. Personally, I'm crossing my fingers hard for a David Arnold return to mark Craig's final outing.

Cary Joji Fukunaga
Broccoli revealed a tantalizing outline of the new film's plot. As recapped by The Hollywood Reporter, "Bond is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica after leaving active service. But his peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology." Besides a triumphant return to Jamaica, the iconic shooting location of Dr. No and Live and Let Die, filming will take place in Norway (where at least one second unit sequence has already been shot, in order to take advantage of the winter weather) London's Pinewood Studios, and scenic Matera in Italy. The press conference (whose only questions were actually chosen from Twitter rather than journalists) concluded by offering us our first glimpse at one of these locations. Presumably this is Bond's house in Jamaica where he's enjoying the soft life (a plot point perhaps borrowed from John Pearson's experimental 1973 continuation novel James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007, which had the agent retiring to the island).

Apr 20, 2019

Trailer for Luc Besson's LA FEMME NIKITA Remix ANNA

Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment have finally set a release date for Luc Besson's latest neo-Eurospy spectacle, Anna. It will open June 21. And the director's latest take on his oft-trod La Femme Nikita territory looks spectacular! It's got a late Cold War setting, a sexy leading lady, an impressive fight in a restaurant... and apparently Helen Mirren as George Smiley! (Check out those Guinness glasses!) Seriously, this looks utterly awesome. I can't wait!

There's no U.S. or international 1-sheet yet, but here's the French advance poster.

Mar 29, 2019

Trailer: PENNYWORTH, a 1960s Spy Show Starring... Batman's Butler?

It seems the only way to get period spy shows now is when they're spun off from superhero franchises. Remember that 1960s-set, Avengers-like Hellfire Club we almost got, that was to be spun off from X-Men: First Class? (It would have focused on the White Queen, an X-Men character inspired by Emma Peel's guise in the classic Avengers episode "A Touch of Brimstone.") And we did, of course, get two superb seasons of Marvel's Agent Carter set in the late 1940s and spun off from Captain America: The First Avenger. There were even (really!), at one point, plans at Sony to make a Spider-man spinoff about Peter Parker's Aunt May... as a secret agent in the Sixties! That didn't happen, but this is almost as rich.

Last summer, as Deadline, reported, EPIX ordered the latest of these efforts, a 1960s spy show... about Batman's butler, Alfred Pennyworth. And today, we got the first trailer for Pennyworth, from Gotham alums Bruno Heller (Rome) and Danny Cannon (Nikita). While the famous butler may have been originally created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger, it's unlikely that they ever imagined Alfred (originally depicted as plump and comical) as a former secret agent. Yet that aspect has entered into DC Comics lore in recent decades, and been notably explored in stories like Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, and All-Star Batman: The First Ally by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque. This side of Alfred was first explored in detail on television in the 2013 animated series Beware the Batman, which featured a Jason Statham-ish take on Alfred. But I suspect the main inspiration for Heller was probably seeing Michael Caine as Alfred in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies and flashing back to the young Caine as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine Palmer as an antecedent of Caine's Alfred, and indeed Pennyworth looks to take inspiration from the likes of Ipcress. (Hopefully it will also feature a John Barry-ish sound, as director Cannon has experience with that, having commissioned David Arnold's very Bondian Bjork song "Play Dead" for his breakout 1993 movie, The Young Americans.)

In the 10-episode drama series, Alfred Pennyworth (The Imitation Game's Jack Bannon), described by Deadline as "a former British SAS soldier in his 20s," forms a private security company "and goes to work with young billionaire Thomas Wayne (Fleabag's Ben Aldridge), who’s not yet Bruce’s father, in 1960s London." The end result appears, from this brief teaser, to somewhat resemble BBC's sadly short-lived period spy drama The Game. I'm excited for any Sixties spy drama, and if lashing their idea to a superhero franchise is the only way creators can get that kind of programming made, that's fine with me. I'm on board! Pennyworth premieres this summer on EPIX. Check it out: