Dec 10, 2018

AGENT RUNNING IN THE FIELD: New John le Carré Novel Coming in 2019!

John le Carré announced a new novel today, coming in 2019! He may be in the second half of his Eighties now, but, happily, the undisputed master of the spy genre keeps going strong. While either a personal memoir (2016's The Pigeon Tunnel) or a novel revisiting his most famous character, George Smiley, one last(?) time (2017's A Legacy of Spies) both seemed like they might be fitting moments to retire, le Carré clearly still has more to say. Agent Running in the Field will be released by Penguin/Viking on October 17, 2019 in the UK, and October 22, 2019 in the U.S. UK bookseller Waterstones and Amazon UK already has it available to pre-order. Here's the publisher's blurb on the new thriller:
Set in London in 2018, Agent Running in the Field follows a twenty-six year old solitary figure who, in a desperate attempt to resist the political turbulence swirling around him, makes connections that will take him down a very dangerous path. In his plot and characterisation le Carré is as thrilling as ever and in the way he writes about our times he proves himself, once again, to be the greatest chronicler of our age.
Agent Running in the Field will be the author's 25th novel. His first, Call for the Dead (review here) was published in 1961. Le Carré's work continues to be popular in other mediums as well. There have been recent feature film adaptations of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Most Wanted Man, and Our Kind of Traitor, and television miniseries versions of The Night Manager and, most recently, The Little Drummer Girl, based on his 1983 novel. Park Chan-Wook's visually stunning six-part adaptation recently aired on AMC in America and the BBC in Britain.

Dec 8, 2018

Tradecraft: Paramount Picks SICARIO Sequel Director Sollima to Direct Michael B. Jordan in Tom Clancy's WITHOUT REMORSE

Deadline reports that Sicario: Day of the Soldado director Stefano Sollima is in talks to direct Michael B. Jordan in Paramount's next Tom Clancy movie, Without Remorse.

After a couple of underperforming movies, Clancy's famous CIA analyst Jack Ryan has finally found success on TV thanks to Amazon. Now Paramount hopes to build a new feature franchise around Clancy's other main hero, covert warrior John Clark. In September, Deadline reported that the studio has tapped Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, Fruitvale Station) to star.

Clark, who became known as "Jack Ryan's dark side," was first introduced in Clancy's third Ryan novel, The Cardinal of the Kremlin in 1987, but retconned in Clear and Present Danger (when field man Clark and analyst Ryan finally meet face to face) to have also played an important role in the events of Patriot Games. He went on to take center stage in the Clancy novels Without Remorse (which goes back to Vietnam) and Rainbow Six. Clark is a former Navy Seal and off-books CIA field operator. In the films, he's been played by Willem Dafoe (in Clear and Present Danger opposite Harrison Ford as Ryan) and Liev Schrieber (in The Sum of All Fears opposite Ben Affleck).

Paramount hopes, of course, to launch a franchise. The plan is to start with Without Remorse, then do Rainbow Six. This is the reason that Clark has, sadly, not appeared on Amazon's TV show Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. Because the studio was planning a film, they didn't allow the show's producers to use Clark. That's really too bad, as both characters work better together. In the books, they compliment each other, as Ryan is frequently deskbound, and Clark is always up to his neck in action. There was a plan a few years ago to (re-)introduce Clark and Ryan individually in two feature films, Without Remorse and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, respectively, with This Means War co-stars Tom Hardy and Chris Pine playing Clark and Ryan (again, respectively), then team them up, Marvel-style, in a third film. (At that point Mission: Impossible - Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie was attached to Without Remorse.) Sadly, Shadow Recruit bombed and those plans never came to fruition. (Hardy has also been linked to another Clancy franchise, Splinter Cell.)

Italian director Sollima, who first achieved international acclaim for his mob drama Gomorra, is a good choice to launch a potential Clancy franchise. His Sicario sequel was more than a tad Clancy-esque, playing at first like an unofficial adaptation of Clear and Present Danger before going a different direction in its second half. Sollima did a good job blending compelling characterizations with military hardware fetishism, a crucial skill set for tackling Clancy material. Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) will produce alongside Jordan and screenwriting duo Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec (Alias, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol).

It's unclear whether Sollima's Without Remorse will be a Vietnam-era period piece like the book (which would be fantastic!), or updated to a contemporary setting. Sadly, I suspect the latter. (Though if I were the president of Paramount, I would seriously consider the franchise prospects of a historical setting, which could ultimately follow Clark through three decades of CIA covert actions across multiple films....)

Dec 7, 2018

Eric Van Lustbader Quits as Bourne Continuation Author

Bestselling author Eric Van Lustbader announced today in an exclusive interview with The Real Book Spy that he is stepping down as the official author of the Jason Bourne continuation novels. Lustbader was hired by Robert Ludlum's estate in the early 2000s to continue the adventures of Ludlum's famous amnesiac assassin character following the success of the Matt Damon movies, despite Ludlum's own Bourne trilogy having reached a pretty definitive conclusion. From 2004 to 2016, Lustbader wrote ten Jason Bourne novels, far outpacing the character's creator. Furthermore, the author's previously announced eleventh Bourne novel, The Bourne Nemesis, will likely never see completion.

"What I found," he told the website,"when I started to go back and work on polishing the draft, was that I just didn’t want to do it. Every time I would sit down to do it, I would start writing something else and that made me realize, finally, that I just didn’t want to do it anymore." He elaborated, "I had pretty much said everything that I wanted to say with Bourne, and . . . I wanted to do something different. Something more."

Lustbader has maintained a grueling schedule over this past decade, most years producing both a Bourne continuation novel and an original novel featuring his own characters. He's not the first continuation author to become fatigued. John Gardner also grew weary balancing a James Bond novel every year during the 1980s and early '90s with his own (considerably lengthier) spy fiction (the excellent Herbie Kruger novels and the Secret Generations epic). Writing schedules like that can't be easy!

This likely isn't the last of Jason Bourne on the printed page. The Ian Fleming estate (operating first as Glidrose Publications, and later Ian Fleming Publications) commissioned Raymond Benson to continue the Bond series, and later settled on a strategy of appointing different authors for different books, with Anthony Horowitz recently becoming the first writer since Benson to pen more than one novel in the main series. The Ludlum Estate has followed a similar strategy with other series created by the late novelist. Numerous writers have tried their hands at Covert-One novels (a series which was handed off to other writers even in Ludlum's lifetime, and indeed created with that strategy in mind), and at least two writers have continued the adventures of Paul Janson, hero of one of Ludlum's final novels, The Janson Directive (review here). I strongly suspect we'll see another new Bourne novel sooner or later with a new name on the cover.

Meanwhile, head over to The Real Book Spy to read the entire, in-depth interview with Lustbader including his future plans.

Trailer: KIM POSSIBLE Live-Action Movie

Today, Disney Channel dropped the slightly underwhelming first full trailer for their upcoming live action Kim Possible movie, and announced a premiere date. It will premiere Friday, Feb. 15 at 8 ET/PT on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW. And, thanks to Deadline, we finally know a little bit more about the plot. This won't be a continuation of the cult animated show, nor will it take place within the series' continuity. Rather, it will be a full reboot, and an origin story for Kim. (It was never explained on the show how she came to be a teenage superspy beyond having inherited good genes from her brain surgeon mom and rocket scientist dad.)

While the series concluded with Kim's high school graduation, the live-action Kim Possible will pick up just as Kim and sidekick Ron Stoppable are first starting Middleton High School, and (in a page out of the Buffy playbook), the ultra-capable young woman finds navigating the classrooms and social hierarchy of high school much more difficult than saving the world. Kim will compete with her rival and frenemy Bonnie Rockwaller not for a spot on the cheerleading squad, as she did on the TV show, but the school's soccer team. And Ron will acquire his pet naked mole rat, Rufus, over the course of the telefilm. The pair will be joined on their mission by a new friend, Athena, who quickly surpasses Kim as the trio, along with gadget maker and tech expert Wade, take on the villainous Dr. Drakken and his henchwoman Shego. (Do you think the hitherto unknown Athena will turn out to be a double agent?)

I really wish this were being done as a big budget, theatrical film. The actors look fine in this trailer, but without the spacious, Ken Adam-inspired sets, and lit like a 90s TV pilot with way too much blue, it just doesn't look like Kim Possible. Here's hoping they prove me wrong! It is, after all, co-written by series creators Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle (along with The Duff's Josh Cagan).

Sadie Stanley stars as Kim Possible; Sean Giambrone (The Goldbergs) plays Ron. Todd Stashwick (12 Monkeys) and Taylor Ortega (Succession) co-star as Dr. Drakken and Shego; Ciara Wilson (OMG!) as newcomer Athena; Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Kim’s mom; Issac Ryan Brown (Raven’s Home) as Wade; and Erika Tham (Make It Pop) as Bonnie. Patton Oswalt reprises his voice role from the animated series as villain Professor Dementor, and original Kim Possible voice Christy Carlson Romano has a cameo.

Dec 6, 2018

Tradecraft: NBC's ENEMY WITHIN Explores Interagency Espionage Antics

Interagency espionage rivalries are all the rage on network television these days. We're getting closer to the premiere of Whiskey Cavalier, the show I've been most looking forward to this season, which takes a romantic, comedic look at the relationship between CIA and FBI agents. Hulu (which, I know, isn't network), of course, had The Looming Tower this year (currently racking up awards nominations and mentions on critics' year end lists), a very serious exploration of the disconnect between America's various intelligence agencies leading up to the massive intelligence failure of 9/11. Now NBC is gearing up to use the FBI/CIA rivalry as a backdrop for what Deadline describes as "a fast-paced thriller set in the world of counterintelligence," The Enemy Within.

The Enemy Within boasts an impressive spy pedigree. Covert Affairs creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord produce (along with Gotham's Ken Woodruf), and the cast includes Morris Chestnut (Legends), Kelli Garner (Pan-Am), Raza Jaffrey (Spooks/MI-5), and Coral Peña (24: Legacy), along with Jennifer Carpenter (who apparently voiced Black Widow in some animated Marvel short, so that counts as some spy cred, right?) Here's how NBC describes the series, which is expected to premiere mid-season:
In this fast-paced, spy-hunting thriller, Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter) is a brilliant former CIA operative now known as the most notorious traitor in American history serving life in a Supermax prison. Against every fiber of his being but with nowhere else to turn, FBI Agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) enlists Shepherd to help track down a fiercely dangerous and elusive criminal she knows all too well. For Keaton, it's not easy to trust the woman who cost him so much. While Shepherd and Keaton have different motivations for bringing the enemy to justice, they both know that to catch a spy... they must think like one.

Dec 5, 2018

Mezco Made a Diabolik Action Figure... and You Can Pre-Order it Now!

Toy company Mezco has been displaying a prototype for a Diabolik action figure since at least summer of 2017, and I was beginning to wonder if it would ever actually happen. Then, last week, they did a blog post offering a good precis on the character's history, and also reassurance that Diabolik was still on their mind. And yesterday, the figure became available for pre-order on the Mezco website! (Be warned though... it isn't cheap. You may want to polish off your own suction cup climbers and stake out Mezco's warehouse!)

Shipping in summer 2019, the figure is part of Mezco's high-end One:12 Collective figures. Those figures are known for their realistic clothing and ultra posability. The figure runs about 16cm tall (a little over 6 inches), and features over 30 points of articulation. It comes with two interchangeable heads (one masked, the other not), and eight interchangeable hands to create various poses or grip accessories like throwing knives or loot.

Mezco's Diabolik figure is based on the Italian comic book (fumetti neri) character created by the Giussani sisters, and not specifically on Mario Bava's sublime 1968 film version thereof (one of the all-time classic Eurospy titles), so the maskless likeness sadly doesn't resemble John Phillip Law. But the film costume was so true to the comic (as was its logo) that with the mask on you can easily pretend your figure is Law's Diabolik! And it's a damn cool figure either way. Diabolik may be a master thief and not a spy, but the Jaguar-driving supercriminal embodies so many tropes of the Sixties spy fantasy! (As does the movie.) Let's hope this toy sells well and Mezco follows it up with a matching Eva Kant figure!

Check out the figure in detail and put in a pre-order (requiring a $20 deposit) on Mezco's site.

To get an idea of how the prototype developed over the past fewyears, check out toy news sites like Super Punch or Action Figure Fury, both of whom posted good images from various conventions.

Read my review of Bava's Danger: Diabolik (one of my all-time favorite movies) here.

Dec 4, 2018

Tradecraft: Marvel Plots SHANG-CHI, MASTER OF KUNG FU Movie

Deadline reports that among the next wave of Marvel Cinematic Universe titles to follow in the wake of the fourth Avengers movie will be Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. For spy fans, this is staggering news! 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 Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy (who would later re-team on one of the best James Bond comics ever, Dark Horse's Serpent's Tooth) 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 Sax Rohmer's villainous Fu Manchu character, 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 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.

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 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), 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 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."

As for the movie, it's hard to say how closely it will resemble the comic book. But I certainly hope Chinese-American screenwriter Dave Callaham (Jean-Claude Van Johnson) retains the heightened espionage vibe, and the supporting character of Clive Reston. Marvel is, of course, hoping that a superhero film with an Asian lead and Asian and Asian-American talent behind the camera (they are looking to hire a director of Asian descent) will find similar box office success to their excellent black superhero pic Black Panther and this past summer's megahit and milestone for cinematic representation, Crazy Rich Asians. Not since the kung fu craze of the early Seventies has the moment been so right for a Shang-Chi movie! I can't wait to see who they cast as Shang-Chi, and who gets chosen to direct. This movie has the potential to finally deliver a spy film heightened to futuristic Marvel proportions on a truly epic scale!

Nov 23, 2018

La La Land Records to Release Expanded Score for THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

La La Land Records has announced another expanded James Bond score! Hot on the heels of their unexpected but extremely welcome Die Another Day expanded score last year, the specialty label has another David Arnold score on tap. On November 27, they'll release a remastered and expanded 2-CD set of Arnold's stellar second Bond score, 1999's The World Is Not Enough. It will be packed with previously unreleased music, including tracks fans have been clamoring for for nearly two decades like "Snow Business" and the gun barrel music, along with hitherto undreamed of rarities like two early song demos performed by Arnold himself (one for the title song, and another for "Only Myself to Blame," which was intended for the closing credits and not used, but included in its final version on the original soundtrack CD). Unlike La La Land's Die Another Day, which omitted the Madonna title track (some would say mercifully), this new The World Is Not Enough release will include the songs! (The excellent theme performed by Garbage, and the album version of "Only Myself to Blame," performed by Scott Walker, who also performed the greatest Bond theme not written for a Bond movie, "Deadlier Than the Male" from the terrific Eurospy film of that title.) Liner notes by Tim Greiving will include new remarks from Arnold, legendary Bond lyricist Don Black, and director Michael Apted. This special expanded score will be strictly limited to 5,000 copies. It will go on sale on the La La Land website at noon, Pacific Time, on Tuesday, November 27, retailing for $29.98. I really hope this trend continues, and La La Land eventually releases expanded editions of all of David Arnold's James Bond scores!

Here is the full track listing for this one:


Disc 1
Score Presentation

1. Gun Barrel*† / Bond Has Left The Building*† 3:13
2. Show Me The Money† 1:27
3. Come In 007, Your Time Is Up† 5:20
4. Balloon* 1:03
5. The World Is Not Enough 3:54
-Performed By Garbage
6. Dr. Warmflash* :30
7. Access Denied 1:34
8. M’s Confession 1:35
9. Welcome To Baku 1:42
10. Snow Business* 1:15
11. Ice Bandits 3:42
12. Out Of The Snow* / Stay With Me Please* 1:27
13. Casino Jazz* 2:12
14. Casino 2:56
15. Card Game* 1:27
16. Devil’s Breath* 2:08
17. Elektra’s Theme 2:06
18. Body Double 3:00
19. Welcome To Kazakhstan*† 1:32
20. Going Down - The Bunker (Extended Version)**† 8:50
21. Bond’s Bedroom Bombshell* :38
22. Pipeline† 4:16
23. Elektra Turns* / Renard’s Plutonium Gift* 1:38
24. Remember Pleasure (Extended Version)** 3:14
25. Caviar Factory (Extended Version)**† 6:03
26. Submarine Surfaces* / Renard Greets Nik* / M Clocks Locator* 1:52
27. Bomb* 2:30
28. Torture Queen 2:24

Total Disc 1 Time 73:58

Disc 2
Score Presentation Continued

1. I Never Miss 3:32
2. Submarine #1 4:11
3. Submarine #2** 6:26
4. Sub Gets It* :46
5. Christmas In Turkey 1:28
6. Orbis Non Sufficit*† 4:01
7. Only Myself To Blame 3:36
Performed by Scott Walker

Total Score Time 97:58

Additional Music

8. Gun Barrel (Separate Elements)*† 1:14
9. Welcome To Baku (Film Version)** 1:42
10. Snow Business (Alternate)* 1:27
11. Elektra’s Theme (Alternate)* 2:05
12. Going Down - The Bunker 6:26
13. Pipeline (Full Mix)**† 4:15
14. Remember Pleasure 2:45
15. Caviar Factory† 6:01
16. Submarine 10:19
17. The World Is Not Enough (Demo)* 3:59
Performed by David Arnold
18. Only Myself To Blame (Demo)* 2:56
Performed by David Arnold

Total Additional Music 43:09
Total Disc 2 Time 67:40

* Previously unreleased
** Contains previously unreleased material
† Contains “James Bond Theme” written by Monty Norman

Thanks to Neil for the heads-up!

Oct 20, 2018

Paul McCartney Releases Previously Unheard Alternate Studio Version of "Live And Let Die"

Yesterday Paul McCartney announced two new, multi-disc, super deluxe reissues from his Archive Collection, the Wings albums Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway. The latter will include among its copious bonus tracks the album version of his classic 1973 James Bond title track "Live And Let Die" (which originally appeared on the George Martin-scored soundtrack LP and as a single, but not on a Wings album) along with a previously unissued alternate version. (This makes sense, as the song was recorded during the Red Rose Speedway sessions.) The alternate version, labelled "Live And Let Die [Group Only, Take 10]," is stripped down, lacking Martin's gloriously bombastic orchestral arrangements, and includes some extra screaming from Paul at the very end. It's an interesting listen! While "Live And Let Die" has been covered by almost everyone, it seems (including Guns'n'Roses, Billy Joel, Ginger Spice, Chrissie Hynde, Duffy, and perhaps most thrillingly, the must-listen version from Brazilian band Pato Fu), and McCartney has included it on almost all of his live albums, alternate studio versions from Wings are quite rare. As far as I'm aware, this is the first such official release.

One of the DVDs in the massive, deluxe Red Rose Speedway set will also include a live performance of the track, listed as "Live in Liverpool," but with no date given on the track list. The DVD also includes the 1973 James Paul McCartney TV Special, which marked the debut of "Live And Let Die" (preceding the film's premiere by a few months), showing footage of the band in the studio interspersed with clips of the film.

You can listen to the alternate version below, courtesy of Universal Music Group:

Read more about the sometimes surprising connections between The Beatles and James Bond over the years in my post "The Beatles vs. James Bond (or Blond)."

Oct 18, 2018

New James Bond Short Story to Appear in November/December PLAYBOY

Continuing a long tradition begun with the publication of Ian Fleming's short story "The Hildebrand Rarity" in the March 1960 issue, James Bond will once again appear in the pages of Playboy Magazine this fall, in a brand new short story. The only difference is this one will be in comic book form. Dynamite and Ian Fleming Publications announced jointly today that an exclusive, 6-page story from the team behind Dynamite's James Bond Origin comic book will see print in the November/December issue. Like the series, the story is written by Jeff Parker (The Interman, Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and drawn by Bob Q, both of whom have done stellar work on the first two issues of the comic. The new story takes place in March 1941, flashing forward a bit from events in the current issues. According to the press release, "James is dropped off the coast of Belgium to help a Resistance cell take out a supply train that's important to the Nazis." This is very exciting news, not just because it extends a longstanding tradition of appropriate brand partnership, but because more James Bond Origin is definitely a good thing! As previously reported, James Bond Origin bridges the gap between the Young Bond novels and Fleming's Casino Royale, finally telling the story of James Bond's war years. The November/December issue of Playboy hits newsstands October 30, but the digital version is already available now. The first two physical issues of Dynamite's ongoing comics series James Bond Origin are currently available in comics shops or digitally.

While Playboy (which now bills itself as "Entertainment for All," not "Entertainment for Men") published many Fleming stories and serialized novels back in the Sixties, the magazine also has more recent history with 007. During Raymond Benson's tenure as continuation author in the late Nineties, he published two Bond short stories and an excerpt of his first novel in the magazine. (The stories were eventually collected in the Benson anthologies The Union Trilogy and Choice of Weapons.) The most recent James Bond short stories to be published in magazines were written by Samantha Weinberg during her stint writing the excellent Moneypenny Diaries spinoff novels, and focused on that character as well as 007. "For Your Eyes Only, James" (review here) was published in Tatler in 2006, and "Moneypenny's First Date With Bond" (review here) was published in The Spectator that same year. To date, neither story has ever been collected.

Thanks to Gary for the alert!

Oct 13, 2018

Network Finally Releases CHESSGAME: THE COMPLETE SERIES Based on Anthony Price Novels on DVD

Way back in May of 2015, Network announced they would release a Region 2 DVD set of the 1983 UK spy series Chessgame, starring Terence Stamp. This was exciting news, as it marked the series' first ever DVD release in its original episodic format. However, it never appeared. Months went by and the release date kept getting pushed back... until it finally disappeared from Network's website altogether. But now, more than three years later, it's back! And it's actually coming out, as it's available to pre-order right now! The actual release date is October 22, 2018.

Chessgame was adapted from Anthony Price's excellent series of novels about the intellectual spymaster David Audley and his rotating roster of assistants. Though he doesn't quite match the author's physical description of his hero, Stamp (Modesty Blaise) plays Audley. Robin Sachs (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) co-stars as Hugh Roskill; Michael Culver (Philby, Burgess and Maclean) plays Nick Hannah (an amalgamation of several Price characters including Col. Butler), and Carmen du Sautoy (The Man With the Golden Gun) plays Audley's love interest Faith, whose role is beefed up from the books. The six hour-long episodes cover the first three novels, The Labyrinth Makers, The Alamut Ambush (a truly terrific spy novel) and Colonel Butler's Wolf. They were subsequently re-edited into a trilogy of feature films for television syndication in the U.S., and are available that way on budget Region 1 and Region 0 DVDs of limited quality re-titled (respectively) Cold War Killers, The Alamut Ambush and The Deadly Recruits. Not only does this forthcoming Network release guarantee a level of quality not found on those discs, but it certainly offers a much more attractive package as well! And I'm looking forward to seeing the show in its proper episodic format, with its original opening title sequence. Price wasn't satisfied with these adaptations (and fans of the books will understand why), but they're still quality Eighties spy television. The 2-disc set is due out October 22, and will retail for £13.00. It's available through Network's website or on

Now if only BBC would release their trio of  Michael Denison/Lucy Fleming miniseries, Blood Money, Skorpion and Cold Warriors, we'd finally be pretty well appointed for serious Eighties UK spy series on DVD... (We've already got Smiley's People from BBC and Acorn, Mr. Palfrey of Westminster from Network and Acorn, Harry's Game from Network, and Glory Boys and The Contract from Acorn.)

Thanks to Jack for the exciting alert!

Oct 8, 2018

Trailer for Park Chan-Wook's John le Carré Miniseries THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL

AMC has released the first full trailer for their latest BBC co-production, a follow-up to the hugely successful 2016 John le Carré adaptation The Night Manager. This time the same producers at The Ink Factory (including le Carré and his sons Simon and Stephen Cornwell) chose to tackle the author's 1983 tome The Little Drummer Girl, and they brought on the great Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) to direct. The imagery in this trailer is as haunting and awesome as I expected from him! The Little Drummer Girl follows Charlie, a naive young English actress recruited by Israeli Intelligence into the "theater of the real"– to infiltrate a Palestinian terror organization. She soon finds herself seduced by both sides and caught in the middle. Florence Pugh (King Lear) stars as Charlie, Alexander Skarsgård (Big Little Lies) plays Becker, the enigmatic stranger who seduces, recruits, and eventually handles her, and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water) plays a ruthlessly clever, masterfully manipulative, somewhat Smiley-like Mossad spymaster, Kurtz. The miniseries will air on AMC over three consecutive nights in two-hour episodes, premiering November 19 at 9 PM ET/PT. Additional episodes will air at 9 ET/PT on November 20 and November 21. It's expected to play on BBC in the UK around the same time.

Oct 7, 2018

Tradecraft: Movie About Castro's Florida Sleepers "The Cuban Five" in Development

According to The Hollywod Reporter, there's a feature spy thriller in the works about the real-life Cuban spy ring known as "The Cuban Five." Based on Stephen Kimber’s book What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of The Cuban Five, The Cuban Five will tell the story of a cell of spies sent by the Castro government to spy on the Cuban exile community in Miami in the 1990s. They were arrested and convicted on espionage charges in 1998, and eventually exchanged in a spy swap in 2014. Clement Virgo (Rogue, Greenleaf) will direct, and Barrie Dunn wrote the screenplay. He and Kimber met with the actual agents in Cuba, and they have agreed to cooperate with the filmmakers. According to the trade, "Canadian indie producers Pictou Twist Pictures, Picture Plant and Conquering Lions Production have partnered with the ICAIC, Cuba's film institute, to co-produce [the film]."

Sep 9, 2018

Tradecraft: Sony Brings Teenage Superspy Alex Rider to Television

Teenage superspy Alex Rider is plotting a return to the screen. But it will be the small screen this time. Deadline reports that Sony has boarded Eleventh Hour Films' 8-episode miniseries adaptation of Anthony Horowitz's second Alex Rider novel, Point Blanc. (In America it was published as Point Blank, effectively crushing Horowitz's titular pun... probably on the same insulting assumption that Americans can't pronounce French words that led to Casino Royale initially being published in paperback here as You Asked For It.) The first Rider novel, Stormbreaker, was adapted into the 2006 feature film Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker (review here), starring Alex Pettyfer, which fizzled at the U.S. box office after being terminally mishandled by The Weinstein Company. Eleventh Hour (Foyle's War) is Horowitz's wife's production company, and they've been trying to jumpstart new screen adventures for the hero of Horowitz's immensely popular YA spy series for a while now. Last year, ITV (home of wildly successful Horowitz-created dramas like Foyle's War and Midsummer Murders) had been in talks to produce an Alex Rider TV series, but they are no longer involved. According to the trade,  Eleventh Hour developed the new project on spec, and Sony will fully fund and look for broadcast or platform partners. Guy Burt (The Bletchley Circle) will pen the adaptation. Horowitz, who adapted Stormbreaker himself for the 2006 film, will executive produce.

Anthony Horowitz is one of Britain's most prolific and successful writers, straddling multiple mediums and somehow always hitting a home run. He created the excellent wartime mystery drama Foyle's War (starring GoldenEye's Michael Kitchen), which frequently featured espionage plots before morphing into a full-fledged spy drama as WWII ended in its timeline and the Cold War dawned. In a stroke of genius, Horowitz had the bright idea to combine James Bond with Harry Potter to create a YA sensation in the Alex Rider series, often turning to Ian Fleming for inspiration. Stormbreaker was largely modeled on Fleming's Moonraker plot (a wise idea, since kids were unlikely to be familiar with that since the movie was so different), and Point Blanc was a loose reworking of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (another safe bet since it's the film kids would be least likely to have seen). This approach evidently caught the eye of Ian Fleming Publications, who not only sought to create their own YA series with Charlie Higson's Young Bond books, but also eventually hired Horowitz to pen two official, adult James Bond continuation novels, Trigger Mortis and Forever And a Day. (I hope there will be more!) Horowitz has also produced bestselling Sherlock Holmes continuation novels as well as original adult mystery novels like Magpie Murders and The Word is Murder.

I really hope this new television take on Alex Rider proves successful and leads to adaptations of all the books!

Sep 5, 2018


I've participated in another episode of Shane Whaley's excellent spy-themed podcast Spybrary, one that went live last week. (We recorded it in the spring, shortly after the release of the Red Sparrow film.) In it, Spy Write blogger Jeff Quest and I discuss Jason Matthews' Red Sparrow trilogy, and the Jennifer Lawrence film adaptation. Matthews' Red Sparrow is one of my favorite spy novels of this century, but my feelings about the sequels are more complex, as are Jeff's. Listen to the podcast to hear them!

Also be sure to check out all the previous episodes of Spybrary that I've been on:

Episode 6: John le Carré's Call for the Dead
Episode 18: John le Carré's A Legacy of Spies
Episode 19: Desmond Bagley's Running Blind
Episode 49: Donald Hamilton's The Interlopers

From those links, you'll find all episodes available on iTunes, Google Play, and all your favorite Podcast listening apps. You can also download them. And if you really like Spybrary, consider backing it on Patreon!

Tradecraft: KINGSMAN Actress to Play Christine Keeler in New BBC Profumo Miniseries

Keeler photographed by Lewis Morley
Deadline reports that Kingsman actress Sophie Cookson (who was sadly underused in Matthew Vaughn's sequel) will play Christine Keeler in a new BBC drama about the infamous Profumo Affair, the Cold War scandal that involved sex and security implications, and ultimately brought down a British government in the early 1960s. No doubt that means we'll be seeing Cookson recreate the famous Lewis Morley portrait of Keeler before too long. The production has a spy-rich pedigree, coming from Fleming producers Ecosse Films and Apple Tree Yard writer Amanda Coe. Joanne Whalley previously portrayed Keeler in the 1989 feature film Scandal, opposite Ian McKellen as Profumo.

Aug 28, 2018


Man, I am looking forward to this one so much! Universal has dropped another trailer for the upcoming Rowan Atkinson threequel Johnny English Strikes Again (a title that aptly references the slapstick spy parody series' debt to Blake Edwards Pink Panther movies). As in prior English movies (albeit disparate ones), a former Bond Girl (Quantum of Solace's Olga Kurylenko) and former Bond car (The Living Daylights' Aston Martin V8 Vantage) co-star.

Aug 22, 2018

Tradecraft: Boyle Leaves Bond

Deadline and other trade outlets reported today that director Danny Boyle has exited Bond 25, according to an announcement made on the official James Bond Twitter feed credited to producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, and star Daniel Craig. The typical "creative differences" were cited as Boyle's reason for leaving what is slated to be Craig's final appearance as Agent 007. That's somewhat surprising, since the original (somewhat unusual) agreement as reported in the trades was that Boyle would only be hired if the producers were happy with John Hodge's script based on his specific idea. When they were happy with it, they jettisoned a previous version drafted by regular Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and proceeded with Boyle and Hodge. It seemed like that would have been the time to iron out any creative differences. Now, with Boyle's departure, it's unclear what script EON, MGM, and domestic and international distributors Annapurna and Universal will move forward with. If they still hope to make their December production start, presumably it would make sense to proceed with the Hodge script that Boyle instigated, based on which pre-production was already underway. If that script is so personally tailored to Boyle that there's no point continuing with it with another director, they still have that Purvis and Wade Bond 25 script to fall back on. But presumably that would mean starting from scratch in pre-production, which could delay the start of the shoot, which could in turn delay the previously established fall 2019 release dates. I wouldn't be surprised if we ended up with some hybrid of the two scripts. Personally, I'm quite disappointed by this turn of events. I was really looking forward to seeing what Boyle brought to Bond... and what his supposedly unique idea for the character turned out to be.

Aug 19, 2018

Final Trailer for Amazon Prime Series TOM CLANCY'S JACK RYAN

Amazon Prime has dropped the final trailer for their long-awaited, eagerly anticipated TV series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. John Krasinski (13 Hours) follows in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine, starring as Clancy's famous CIA analyst hero in an original storyline not based on one of the books. Like the last two theatrical attempts at re-launching this franchise, the events of the show take place prior to The Hunt for Red October, yet in the present-day. Carlton Cuse (The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.) and Graham Roland (Mile 22) run the show and executive produce. Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan (which has already been renewed for a second season) premieres on the streaming service August 31.

Aug 17, 2018

Tradecraft: Bourne Spinoff TV Series TREADSTONE Gets Series Order from USA

USA has given a straight to series pickup to the TV show spun off from the Bourne films, Treadstone, Deadline reports. (This move comes hot on the heels of cancelling another TV series based on a movie based on a popular novel about an assassin, Shooter.) The cable network will bypass a pilot (first announced in April) and go directly to a series in part because of an international deal with Amazon Prime, the trade speculates. 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). According to the trade, "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. (These parts could even, theoretically, feature a younger Jason Bourne.)

This incarnation of Treadstone was created and written by Heroes showrunner Tim Kring. Keepers of the Ludlum flame Captivate Entertainment are also involved, of course, with Ben Smith and Jeffrey Weiner executive producing on their behalf. (The same role they fill on the Bourne films.) Ramin Bahrani (Fahrenheit 451, 99 Homes) will direct the first episode. I say "this incarnation," because 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.

Aug 16, 2018

Teaser: Disney's New KIM POSSIBLE Live Action Remake

© Disney Channel
Disney Channel has released a first teaser trailer for their upcoming live action reimagining of the groundbreaking early 21st Century animated spy send-up Kim Possible.

Original series creators Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley penned the script for the remake, along with Josh Cagan. Newcomer Sadie Stanley has the unenviable task of bringing a beloved animated character to life as Kim Possible while Sean Giambrone takes on the role of loyal sidekick Ron Stoppable. Alyson Hannigan, Todd Stashwick, Taylor Ortega, Ciara Wilson, Erika Tham, Issac Ryan Brown, and Connie Ray also star. Last week it was announced that two voice actors from the original cast would also be joining the telefilm. Patton Oswalt will reprise his series role as the villainous Professor Dementor (sort of a poor man's Dr. Drakken, despite Oswalt's considerable talent), and the voice of Kim, Christy Carlson Romano, will have a cameo.

Many adult spy fans may be asking themselves, why does this matter? Why do I bother covering a Disney Channel kids' spy movie? In short, because the original series was brilliant. Kim Possible was one of the sharpest, smartest James Bond parodies ever. It often dealt with the myriad problems of being a Bond-type villain, from the overhead costs of maintaining elaborate underground or underwater bases, to the perfect real estate for said lairs, to the difficulty in finding good help. (Turns out that standard-issue henchmen are provided by an entrepreneur named Jack Hench who runs a large staffing agency.) And it did so even better than the Austin Powers movies ever did, calling out the genre's cliches and turning them over on themselves. At the same time, the love and reverence for the material they spoofed was evident everywhere, from the truly impressive Ken Adam-influenced designs to Adam Berry's music to the Bond-inspired title sequence of the original, animated Kim Possible movie, So the Drama.

In the original show, which was sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets James Bond (with all the high such a comparison implies), Kim was an ordinary teenage girl dealing with ordinary teenage problems like crushes, dating, acne, social hierarchy, cheerleading, and homework... along with less average ones like supervillains, monkeys, ninjas, and monkey ninjas. Because in addition to being a regular full-time high school student, she was also a freelance superspy and crime fighter. (Her genes were in her favor, being the daughter of a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon.) With her best friend and sidekick, the clumsy but utterly loyal Ron Stoppable, his pet naked mole rat Rufus, and 10-year old Q-type gadget genius Wade, she took on the likes of the nefarious Dr. Drakken and his henchwoman Shego (who will both be in the live action movie), Lord Monkey Fist, Señor Senior, Sr. and Señor Senior, Jr--not to mention her cheerleading rival, Mean Girl Bonnie Rockwaller. The series never condescended to its young audience and featured razor-sharp scripts sure to entertain any adult spy fan with humorous send-ups of 007, Mission: Impossible, S.H.I.E.L.D., Alias, and countless more spy standards. Hopefully the live action version will maintain those loving references, and the witty and intelligent scripting fans came to expect. It's honestly hard to tell from this incredibly brief teaser, but this is our first (not entirely inspiring) look at the new, flesh and blood Kim Possible. The telefilm is expected to premiere early next year.

Tradecraft: Lee Daniels Developing TV Remake of 1973 Cult Classic THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR

Deadline reports that Lee Daniels (Empire, Lee Daniels' The Butler) has optioned the rights to Sam Greenlee's revolutionary 1969 spy novel The Spook Who Sat By the Door with the intention of turning it into a TV series for Fox 21 Television Studios. The book was previously, brilliantly filmed as a feature by Ivan Dixon in 1973 (with music by Herbie Hancock). While some are quick to lump it in with the blaxpoitation wave of that era, The Spook Who Sat By the Door was really something much more than that. It's truly revolutionary cinema, and riper than ever for a remake in today's tense racial climate in America. The story follows Dan Freeman, the CIA's first black officer in an affirmative action hiring initiative. After rigorous training in all manner of weapons, unarmed combat, sabotage, and counterinsurgency, Freeman is made "top secret reproduction center section chief..." a task that involves running a photocopier. Fed up, he eventually returns to his hometown of Chicago where he uses his training to militarize a local black street gang and create genuine insurgency in the streets of Nixon's America, figuring the country can't fight wars on two fronts (overseas and at home) simultaneously. Based on the highly effective techniques used on the streets of Chicago, the Intelligence Community (still underestimating Freeman) assumes that it must be Russian agents fomenting discord. (The antihero's backstory and motivation were recently borrowed for the villain in this year's blockbuster Black Panther.) The original film, long suppressed, is a genuine classic deserving of rediscovery, and Daniels is a talented storyteller. I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes of this!

Trailer: Netflix's THE ANGEL

Netflix has unveiled the trailer for their real-life 1970s period spy drama The Angel. Israeli helmer Ariel Vroman (Criminal) directs from a script by David Arata (Children of Men), based on the book by Uri Bar-Joseph, The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel. Marwan Kenzari, Toby Kebbell, Hannah Ware, Waleed Farouq Zuaiter, Maisa Abd Elhadi and Sasson Gabai star in the Middle East-set story of Ashraf Marwan, a spy whose actions demonstrably shaped history. The Angel debuts September 16 on the streaming service.

Aug 10, 2018

Tradecraft: Dave Bautista to Star in Spy Comedy from GET SMART Director

The Hollywood Reporter reports that SPECTRE's Mr. Hinx himself, Dave Bautista (Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy) will star in his own spy movie for STXfilms. Get Smart director Peter Segal will helm the action-comedy, entitled My Spy. Prolific spy writers Jon and Erich Hoeber (RED) penned the script. According to the trade, "My Spy will tell the story of a hardened CIA operative (Bautista) who finds himself at the mercy of a precocious 9-year-old girl, having been sent undercover to surveil her family."

Aug 9, 2018

James Bond Movies on the Big Screen in Los Angeles; George Lazenby Q&A Tonight

Bond fans in Los Angeles have the opportunity to see 007 on the big screen this month on Thursday nights at Laemmle North Hollywood. Throughout August, their "Throwback Thursdays" series will screen 007 movies. My post comes too late, sadly, to alert readers about Goldfinger, which kicked the series off last week. But On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) will screen tonight... and Mr. Bond himself, George Lazenby, will participate in a Q&A following the feature! Tickets are available through Laemmle's website.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) starring Roger Moore follows next week on Thursday, August 16; Timothy Dalton stars in Licence to Kill (1989), screening on August 23; and Pierce Brosnan's Bond debut, GoldenEye (1995), screens on August 30. While Connery Bond movies play fairly frequently in L.A., films starring the other actors are much rarer, and thus worth seeking out if possible!

All screenings begin at 7:30pm. I presume the format will be DCP.

Aug 7, 2018


Warning: This review does contain some minor spoilers... though not really anything not already spoiled by the trailers. The really fun reveals I try to keep mum on, though I assume most spy fans have had the chance to see the movie by now. 

Christopher McQuarrie’s second Mission movie, Fallout, is the third stellar entry in a row in the Mission: Impossible series... but not quite as stellar as the previous two. Fallout feels a tad overlong, and the score isn't up to par with the best Missions, but it offers more of the excellent action we've come to expect from this series, more of the banter from supporting characters we've come to love, and some unexpected resolution to dangling plot threads from previous entries.

John Woo’s mandate on M:I-2 may have been that he didn’t have to reference events of the first picture, but McQuarrie seems determined to do just the opposite. While Fallout definitely feels most of a piece with its two immediate predecessors, it references events from all of the previous films (well, except M:I-2, whose only legacy on display here is the continued use of the voice strips it introduced as mask accessories), neatly tying together a series that started out deliberately haphazard. In fact, Mission: Impossible – Fallout nicely concludes one particular arc that began over a decade ago in J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III, while leaving the door open on another thread that began in McQuarrie’s own Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Sam Mendes attempted a similar feat in the last Bond movie, SPECTRE (2015), trying to sew together events from the previous Daniel Craig films after the fact, but McQuarrie succeeds much more deftly on that front. Still, this franchise wouldn’t even be here without James Bond. While it’s inevitable that every screen spy since Sean Connery lit that first cigarette at the gaming table in Dr. No (1962) has owed something to 007, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is particularly full of bits borrowed from the longer running franchise. (Indeed, it reminds me of the classic South Park episode “Simpsons Already Did It,” in which the South Park writers vent their frustration at following a longer running series that has literally done everything... in a very meta way.) From an early throwaway bit with a BMW controlled remotely by a phone right out of Tomorrow Never Dies (down to the same brand of car!) to a HALO jump into Paris (Tomorrow Never Dies again, mixed with A View to a Kill) to a prisoner escape from a submerged armored truck from Licence to Kill, a variation on a classic villain line from GoldenEye (“Why can’t you just die?!”), a helicopter dogfight filled with improbable aerobatics (SPECTRE), and even a famously deleted scene from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (a chase across London rooftops near St. Paul’s Cathedral), Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt relives a lot of classic Bond moments in Fallout… and frequently manages to improve on them. 

Even the best stuntmen and greenscreens can’t compete with an actor who’s willing to actually perform the HALO jump himself… including midair stuntwork on the way down. In other cases, simply the benefit of modern filmmaking techniques gives McQuarrie’s film an edge on the classics. When his transport van plunged off a bridge in Licence to Kill, Sanchez didn’t face the jaw-dropping onslaught of a massive wave flooding the cabin and pouring over him like Sean Harris’s villainous Solomon Lane does in this movie. And even if George Lazenby did insist on performing a lot of his own stunts in OHMSS, he wasn’t insane enough to attempt the sort of leap in which Cruise famously broke his ankle as he fell just short of a rooftop and smashed into the side of a building instead. 

But the Bond movies that McQuarrie clearly has in his head more than any others are Skyfall and SPECTRE. And not their stunts, but the emotional wringer they put James Bond through. Fallout is the Daniel Craig Bond movie of the Mission: Impossible series. This is an emotional journey for Ethan Hunt—more so, even, than when Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian kidnapped his wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), in Mission: Impossible III. On this front, McQuarrie’s film doesn’t manage to outdo 007, but the effort is appreciated. (I also liked McQuarrie's use of dream sequences to grant us access to Ethan's thoughts and fears. I think that's a first for the series.) While James Bond is a rich character with literary origins dating back more than six decades, Ethan Hunt is more of a deliberate cipher. We’re just not as invested in his psyche; instead of dwelling there, we want to him push the limits of human endurance in his next feat of incredible daring. Still, it’s rewarding to see McQuarrie and Cruise push in this direction, attempting to inject more humanity into a character after five outings. And Cruise deserves credit for his acting as well as his astonishing physical stamina (at 56, no less—the same age Roger Moore was in A View to a Kill, if you can believe it!). He is really excellent in Fallout, from his reaction to seeing Rogue Nation’s Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) again in… surprising circumstances, to his delivery of the line, "Power!" as he formulates a plan on the move, quickly figuring out how to fly a helicopter in order to save the world.

At the beginning of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, IMF team leader Ethan makes a call opting to save the one (longtime friend and teammate Luther Stickell, played once again by the ever reliable Ving Rhames) at the expense of the many (saving Luther requires letting three nuclear devices fall into the hands of terrorists). Not only does this decision set into motion the operational plot of the movie (recovering those nukes and preventing disaster), but it also sets up the character journey. Was that the right call? Would Ethan make it again in similar circumstances? As usual, there’s a bellicose superior who questions his call in the form of Angela Basset’s CIA Director Erica Sloan. Basset is essentially reprising her Alias role of CIA Director Hayden Chase, who had roughly the same relationship to Sidney Bristow that Sloan does to Ethan Hunt. (Interestingly, Basset’s most famous screen husband, Laurence Fishburne, played a variation on this role in Mission: Impossible III.) Former CIA Director, now IMF Secretary (“it was a lateral move”) Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) took a similar view of Ethan’s tactics in Rogue Nation, but has now come fully around to Team Ethan. It’s refreshing to see an IMF Secretary really have his back (like Tom Wilkinson in Ghost Protocol) instead of yelling at him over things beyond his control (like Fishburne), but that point of view is balanced out by Sloan’s blustery disapproval.

Sloan pulls rank on Hunley, and insists that her Special Activities Division blunt instrument (or “plumber,” to use Hunley’s Watergate vernacular) August Walker (Henry Cavill, who took the part of Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. after Cruise dropped out) accompany Ethan on his mission looking out for CIA interests—meaning, making sure that the job gets done, no matter who has to die. "You go rogue, he's authorized to hunt you down and kill you," Hunley points out to Ethan. 

Walker shrugs. "It's the job. No hard feelings."

Sloan is no fan of Ethan Hunt, but then she’s not totally without her reasons. Among other things, she cites his “long and incriminating history of rogue behavior.” You know, that’s fair. Seldom a company man, Ethan has gone rogue in all but one of the movies in this series—that outlier M:I-2. That history gives another character a good framework from which to try to set up Ethan as a traitor in Sloan’s eyes, asking her, “How many times has Hunt’s government betrayed him, disavowed him, cast him aside? And how long before a man like that has had enough?” Erica’s opinion of the IMF at large (later echoed by Walker) is equally withering. “The IMF is Halloween. Nothing but grown men wearing masks.”

And so the IMF have no choice but to reluctantly agree to let Walker tag along on their mission as a new member of the team, but one whom the others mistrust. It’s a good setup, because while there have been team members before who turn out to be surprise traitors, we haven’t previously seen a team member actively pursuing his own agenda not necessarily in keeping with that of the IMF—and the rest of the team knowing that. 

The mission on which Walker accompanies Ethan ties in directly with the previous film, Rogue Nation… and has roots going back even further to the end of the third film, in which the recorded voice warns Ethan of a new terrorist group calling itself “The Syndicate…” and even to the original 1966-73 TV series, in which The Syndicate (albeit one of organized crime rather than terrorism) served as a primary antagonist during the later seasons. At the end of Rogue Nation, Ethan and his team crippled The Syndicate by cutting off its head—capturing founder and former British agent Solomon Lane (Harris). Without Lane to direct them, the former members of The Syndicate (created, per Lane, “to tear [governments] down, brick by brick”), now calling themselves “The Apostles” (perhaps an oblique reference to the Cambridge Spies? Probably not…) have continued to wreak havoc around the world, and are now in possession of the nuclear devices Ethan let slip from his hands. Ethan’s mission (which, obviously, he has no choice but to accept) is to recover those devices, and keep them from getting into the hands of a dangerous anarchist known as John Lark. 

The mission, as always, is a somewhat tedious framework on which to hang lots of exhilarating action setpieces. To that end, Ethan and Walker first need to make a dangerous high altitude, low opening (HALO) parachute jump into Paris to infiltrate an elite gathering hosted by an arms dealer and information broker known as The White Widow. If that sentence rushed by you a bit, it does in the movie too. No, there’s no particularly good reason that the agents need to enter Paris by such a dangerous method, but McQuarrie expertly brushes past that with a single line of exposition you won’t stop to question until well after leaving the theater. And that’s a key function of a good Mission: Impossible director—making the audience overlook the ridiculous. Necessary or not, the HALO jump is a spectacular sequence, following Ethan in more or less real time as he free falls. Adding to that spectacle is the aforementioned fact that it’s very clearly Cruise himself performing the freefall. As spectacular as the freefall fight is at the beginning of Moonraker, it’s clear that the close-ups of Roger Moore are inserts. (Though, for me personally, that Moonraker scene will always be the benchmark for midair action.) It’s not just a fall either. After a lightning strike, Ethan needs to perform a sort of midair CPR on Walker as he plummets, meaning Cruise had to act and fall at the same time, and wasn’t merely pursuing an adrenaline-fueled hobby.

Hot on the heels of the jump, we get another terrific action scene, and once again it’s a variation on a tried and true trope of the spy genre—the bathroom fight. (It’s Cavill’s second, in fact, following The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) But McQuarrie manages to make his own mark on that old familiar standard. As so often happens, Ethan’s plans of drugging their mark with a syringe go quickly out the door, and Walker improvises by whacking the man in the face with the laptop they need to generate a mask for Ethan to impersonate him. They haul him into a stall to attempt that nonetheless (leading to some comedic tension when a group of French ravers notice the multiple sets of feet under the door of the stall and jump to their own conclusions), but he revives and proves quite a formidable opponent. Liang Yang (Skyfall) is a standout, in fact, in this scene. He’s more than a match for both agents, let alone either one, and they take turns fighting him individually and together. They’re only able to win, however, with the unexpected intervention of Ilsa Faust. Rebecca Ferguson proved a terrific addition to the team in Rogue Nation, and it’s wonderful to see her back—the first female team member (well, in an unofficial capacity, anyway) to return. (Which kind of echoes the show, where after Barbara Bain departed, female leads didn’t tend to last more than a season—if that.) Ferguson is a great beauty and a great actress, and Ilsa remains the series’ best female character to date. But she’s hardly alone. 

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is packed with good roles for women, all populated by impressive actresses. During production, McQuarrie posted a photograph of them all together looking so formidable, in fact, that I mused this might be a spy movie that actually passes the Bechdel Test. Alas, it isn’t, even despite all these great female roles. But I still think the number of strong, interesting female characters with agency (or running agencies!) in this movie is perhaps a high water mark for female representation in any theatrical spy series. Amid all of these enormously talented actresses, though (including two veterans of the series), newcomer Vanessa Kirby (The Crown) manages to steal the show in a relatively small role. She is terrific as the enigmatic White Widow in her own right, but even more terrific when (or if) you realize that she’s playing the daughter of a fan-favorite character from an earlier film in the series. That revelation is subtle, and easy to miss if you haven’t re-watched the other movies recently or don’t know them by heart. But it’s a rewarding one if you have, or if you do. And Kirby does such a great job channeling the inflections and mannerisms of the renowned thespian who played her parent that she’s entirely convincing as their daughter! (Her eyes are also a perfect genetic match for that star's.) Furthermore, if that Black & Dekker reboot of The Avengers ends up happening, Kirby has secured my vote for the new Emma Peel!

Ethan's meeting with the White Widow starts out with that great sort of probing banter you get in good spy movies as they size each other up, then turns into one of the film's lower key action sequences that still manages to be a highlight. Ethan needs to get her safely out of a black tie party filled with assassins, and he starts off taking them out surreptitiously, then loses the option of discretion. Eventually Walker and Ilsa are both aiding him with impressive moves of their own, and even the Widow herself joins in, producing a stiletto from her garter. There are no freefalls or crashing aircraft in this encounter, but it remains one of the film's most memorable scenes—and wonderfully emblematic of everything I love about the spy genre at large.

The next big setpiece is the movie's major setpiece. It's a 17-minute long chase across Paris comprised of several interlocking action scenes involving all sorts of different vehicles (boats to bikes to trucks to drones) and four (or possibly five) competing parties: Ethan's team (which includes Walker, who obviously has his own agenda to consider as well), the White Widow's team, Ilsa (it's unclear who she's working for at this point), and the Parisian police. The entire sequence, beginning with the armored car breakout, is a masterpiece of a action filmmaking, and accomplished largely without dialogue. It's also composer Lorne Balfe's finest (if most bombastic) moment amidst an otherwise disappointingly generic score. McQuarrie knows not only how to keep the action moving (including the aforementioned, Licence to Kill-inspired underwater springing of Solomon Lane from the transport van, a truck chase, two separate motorcycle chases, a brief, Sergio Leone-style standoff and gundown, and a car chase), but also when to pause a moment and let the film breathe. There are several breathing moments amidst the otherwise relentless action during this 17-minute stretch. In one such moment, a little dramatic scenario plays out involving a brave French policewoman (Alix Bénézech, an actress to keep an eye on) caught in the crossfire. In another, McQuarrie just slows things down for one of those whole-team-on-a-motorboat moments like in Mission: Impossible 3, while Lalo Schifrin’s iconic “The Plot” plays, and the camera lingers on the (relatively) slow Zodiac moving through the Paris sewers. And when the whole epic setpiece is over, he lets the movie breathe for even longer as Ilsa follows Ethan (both exercising good tradecraft) through some columns (maybe the same ones from Charade) and then has a lengthy conversation with him as notable for the feelings not spoken as the exposition that is.

Unlike a lot of modern filmmakers (including the whole Imitation Greengrass contingent), McQuarrie isn’t afraid to let his camera linger. He puts you in the middle of the action, as does Bourne director Paul Greengrass, but in a totally different way. Instead of quick cuts and a camera spinning chaotically out of control, McQuarrie’s action shots are very controlled. He uses plenty of long takes, like when the camera stays on Cruise as he powers his motorcycle through (and against) block after block of Paris traffic. (Again, it helps that it’s clearly really Cruise, even if some of the traffic is probably CGI.) You’re never unsure of the space in any of McQuarrie’s action scenes, which is refreshing in an age when other directors seem to revel in depriving the viewer of spatial relationships (often in an attempt to mask illogical physics).

Speaking of motorcycle chases, yes, there’s another one in this movie. Even though we just had one in the last movie. And that famous (if laughable) one in the second film. But… so what? How many variations have we seen on the car chase? Motorcycles are clearly Ethan Hunt’s favorite mode of transportation, so it seems fitting that he ride them whenever possible. And the bike  chases in Rogue Nation and Fallout are distinct from one another. So are the car chases (even if the BMW brand is feeling a tad over familiar thanks to product placement). There was a BMW chase in the last movie, and there’s a BMW chase in this one, and in both of them the Beamer goes down some stairs… but they’re still each unique! The BMW chase in Fallout is improved by what appears to be a late 1980s 5 Series rather than the latest model. (“Was the little car your idea?” Benji asks Walker as they all pile into it.) Not only does this model just feel appropriate for a Parisian street chase; it also feeds my nostalgia by triggering instant flashbacks to Eighties spy movies like Octopussy or The Holcroft Covenant… even if McQuarrie was obviously going for the more highly regarded touchstone of The French Connection with Ilsa piloting her motorcycle beneath an elevated track.

But this movie doesn't peak in the middle like Ghost Protocol. Even after the masterful Paris sequence, McQuarrie still delivers some more thrills along with cons and double-crosses. This movie's version of series staple The Long Run is a spectacular 7-minute foot chase across the streets, roofs, and interiors of London that once again has Benji in Ethan's ear, directing him as he sprints flat-out. Though Ethan doesn't stay on the ground this time. His dash takes him into a service at St. Paul's Cathedral, up a spiral staircase (prompting Benji, following Ethan's tracker on a 2D display, to ask "Why is he running in circles?"), and onto (and off of!) a progression of rooftops of varying heights. This, of course, is the sequence in which Cruise famously broke his ankle, causing production to shut down for six months while the star recovered. The side-on shot from the trailers where you can clearly see his foot impacting the wall of the building isn't actually in the movie, but the stunt is certainly there (from an overhead angle), as is the shot where Cruise completed it, clearly running on a broken ankle. You've got to give the guy credit for his utter dedication to his craft.

The third act, inevitably, finds the team going rogue, once again, without support. When Luther asks,"Shall we inform the CIA?" (I don't know why he bothers!), Ethan replies, "The CIA's been infiltrated. I don't trust anybody outside this room. We'll have to go it alone." Going it alone takes them to Kashmir, where Ethan will have to play "demolition derby" in helicopters, and the rest of the team will have to defuse two strategically placed nuclear bombs. It also takes them, per Solomon Lane's plan, to Ethan's ex-wife, Julia, whom he still loves. But now she's married to someone else—happily, and making a difference in the world as a doctor without borders. It's a reverse Casablanca situation, where we're emotionally connected to her freedom fighter husband (Ethan as Paul Henreid), rather than her Bogie (Wes Bentley). But making matters murkier, there's another woman in Ethan's life now—Ilsa! (Uh-oh! Better forget the Casablanca analogies, because that name really confuses things.) In a stroke of brilliance, McQuarrie has Julia be the one to spot Ethan when they come together this time, not the other way around. Going in from her perspective gives a different slant on ensuing events than a meeting from his perspective would have.

Luther once again gets to play his role as Ethan's romantic conscience, like he did in Mission: Impossible 3 when he warned Ethan not to get married. He fills in Ilsa (and the audience, who may not recall the relevant tag scene at the end of Ghost Protocol) on Ethan's status with Julia, saying that in all the years he's known Ethan, he's only been serious about two women. (Sorry, Nyah!) One was his wife. (The other, implicitly, is her... which is kind of a new development.) "They were happy for a while, but every time something bad would happen in the world, Ethan would think, 'I should have been there.'" He explains that Julia's a ghost now ("Good at it, too."), occasionally sending up a signal to let Ethan know she's alright... "and that keeps him going." This is a bit of a retcon, but it clarifies the somewhat confusing ending to Brad Bird's movie, in which it appeared that Ethan was creepily stalking his ghost ex. Personally, I appreciate the clarification!

There's a really great dynamic between Ethan and all of the women in this movie. It isn't a Bond thing, where they all fall at his feet, but unique connections with each one. With Julia, the shared connections between two exes who still care about one another is clear. With Ilsa, as he explains it to the inquisitive White Widow, "We have a past. Let's just say it's complicated." To which Kirby's character replies, "Well, I'm going to make it more complicated. The price just went up. Bring her to me... I'd hate for her to come between us." She punctuates this demand with an impulsive, unsolicited kiss. Not because she can't resist him, but because Kirby pulses with the Widow's curiosity and thirst for knowledge. She's testing.

But if these relationships aren't enough of a powderkeg, McQuarrie has concocted an excellent impossible puzzle bomb for the characters to unlock. It consists of two plutonium cores connected to two bombs, in separate locations. "Any attempt to defuse one bomb automatically triggers the other," Luther explains.

Benji even admits at one point, "If there's a way to defuse these bombs, I can't find it." Of course he does find it, but it involves another great little MacGuffin. Not only do he, Luther, Ilsa, and Julia have to locate and defuse both bombs after the countdown has started (a complicated task that involves cutting wires in a certain order and unscrewing things at the same time)... but Ethan needs to deactivate a trigger mechanism before they can do so. This gimmick sets a great clock for the final act, where the characters are out of communication but must rely on one another to do their respective jobs, or else any action they take will result in catastrophe. Of course it's a 15-minute ticking clock that plays out over 23 minutes... but that's easily chalked up to us seeing action that's unfolding simultaneously separately. 

Ethan's part requires him to shimmy up a rope and board a helicopter midair, and then figure out a way to get the trigger from the bad guy in another helicopter. This leads to the movie's final major stunt sequence, in which actor Cruise (of course!) pilots the chopper himself for real. The aerial battle runs a bit long, honestly, but it does showcase the extreme (even preposterous) lengths to which Ethan will go to accomplish the impossible. The villain in the other helicopter can't even believe it when he exclaims, "This crazy son of a bitch is trying to ram us!" Who would ever attempt to ram a helicopter from another helicopter—an action bound to result in both craft plummeting to the earth?? Ethan Hunt, that's who. 

As much as I liked how this stunt defines and serves the character (and vice-versa), it's sort of shame that McQuarrie couldn't leave it as the film's final stunt. Instead, we have to go through an even more preposterous sequence where the two wrecks fall off of cliff after cliff (three times!) with hero and villain trapped inside, and then an anticlimactic fist fight reminiscent of the one on the beach at the end of M:I-2. I wish they'd stop ending Mission: Impossible movies with fist fights. It's never satisfactory. I much preferred the sleight of hand trickery that unexpectedly concluded Rogue Nation, subverting expectations. Fallout, ultimately, plays into them instead.

It's also marred by a serious villain problem. The two best villains were Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible III, and Sean Harris, in Rogue Nation. (Hoffman featured in the one final fist fight that actually worked.) Harris, of course, is back for more in this movie, but he is seriously underserved. McQuarrie makes the same mistake that Mendes & Co. made in SPECTRE when they decided that Blofeld's motivations should be all about personal revenge rather than financial gain. So Solomon Lane is now so hung up on revenge against Ethan Hunt that he's incapable of the utterly emotionless, cold logic that drove him to frequently out-think Ethan in Rogue Nation. The other main villain, the inevitable turncoat who turns out to be John Lark, fails to convince in the latter role. I had trouble believing that that character had written the anarchic Lark manifesto so frequently quoted in the film. He comes off as a Jaws, not a Drax.

While the villains were ultimately unsatisfying, I did find the resolution of Ethan's marriage storyline fully satisfying. I hadn't really realized before what a burden J.J. Abrams had created for the series in saddling Ethan with a wife, but I appreciate how McQuarrie ultimately concludes it. (Though it does involve some more convenient retconning. I can't imagine the Julia of Mission: Impossible III, so happy among her large family and friend group, really being as happy as this one claims to be to live off the grid, presumably without access to her nieces and nephews. But that's all wisely ignored.) There is a scene between Julia and Ilsa where they share a whisper we're not privy to. But it's Ilsa who does the whispering, when it seems to me that it would have made more sense the other way around, as it's basically a "He likes his tea stirred anti-clockwise" moment, to use an Avengers reference.

For the most part, Mission: Impossible - Fallout is pretty great. But it's got some faults. Balfe's unimaginative score is a real liability, especially compared to Joe Kraemer's wonderfully inventive take on Mission music in the last film. (I sure hope Kraemer gets another shot at this series in the future!) The film, like this review, goes on a bit too long. And the script, in some ways, is actually too twisty—even for a franchise known for twists! This is the opposite script problem of M:I-2. Instead of not trying to con the audience, the filmmakers try to con the audience in essentially every scene. Which plays fine in the course of watching the film once. But as soon as you start to think about it, some things don't stand up to scrutiny. Like, for example, the supposed meeting the White Widow brokered in London where Ethan (believed to be Lark) and Walker were supposed to trade Lane to the Apostles for the nuclear devices. No party (not the IMF, the CIA, the Apostles, or the Widow) was going into that meeting in good faith. In fact, from the point of view of some of the groups, the very existence of the meeting was counterproductive. So why would they have even shown up? Well, that doesn't need to be addressed, because things don't go according to plan and the meeting doesn't happen. But what if it had? Nobody's plot would have worked out. It's a Schrödinger's Cat-like scenario. (And it would fascinate two characters in this series who are fascinated by paradoxes!) Yet it's crucial that all the parties do get themselves to London, behaving as if a meeting was going to occur. Why? The whole house of cards falls apart given too much thought, and hurts the brain. And that's only one example. This is one of those spy movies that tries to get too clever for its own good. But... thankfully, as with the unnecessary HALO jump, McQuarrie keeps the plot moving fast enough that we don't question anything in the course of the movie! Because despite being long, it's so fast-paced, and it's so damn fun. And the action is so damn good. The paradigm of this series may have shifted with a returning director, but Christopher McQuarrie has proven himself the ideal director to return.

Mission Report
TV Moments: A favorite TV con is used pretty much right off the bat.
Dangling: While Ethan does indeed dangle from a helicopter, it's all upright dangling, and there is no instance of his patented horizontal dangling. I think the series has realized it's moved beyond that, and that's a good thing.
Rogue Agents: Yep, there's definitely a rogue amidst the Good Guy intelligence apparatus.
Rogue Ethan: You bet! As usual, he's rogue through most of the second half of the film.
The Long Run: Through London, once again with Benji talking him through it, though McQuarrie adds some humorous twists to this scenario established in Mission: Impossible III.

Read my review of Mission: Impossible III (2006) here.
Read my review of M:I-2 (2000) here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible (1996) here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Seventh TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fourth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Third TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Second TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The First TV Season here.