If there were 13 symbols in the Lunar New Year calendar then 2015 would not be the Year of the Sheep, but, rather, the Year of the Spy. Sam Mendes’ “Spectre” has been recently released this week along with a flood of spy films this year such as Kingsman, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., and another Mission Impossible flick. (We didn’t make it to “Hitman: Agent 47.” Any good?) Don’t get us wrong here, we enjoy high-octane espionage flicks as much as the next guy, if not more, but with so many of them out we needed to compare them into a Battle Royale type-situation, to see which franchise is truly the best.
A spy’s repertoire is made up of skills. What can he do, what can’t he do?
Spectre: The man, the myth, the legend. James Bond is unstoppable force of destruction. Everywhere he goes destruction follows and people die [Notice: For a better reading experience, click the hyperlinks.] Bond’s results speak for themselves. If you need something done with tact, or if you need a death machine, Bond is your man.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: Back by popular demand and brought back to life by Guy Ritchie, this spy series from the ’60s did a great job of plowing its way through a horde of Nazi extremists and thugs. With the combo of Naploeon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, a smooth talking American and a no-nonsense Russian, the world is almost certainly safe. By themselves they are mere mortals, but combined they are a super unit. Each of these cool characters is basically one-half of a James Bond.
Kingsman: I’m not sure how much skill an organization has if its been decimated to three people. Sure, they’ve stopped an egotistical psychotic billionaire (hasn’t everybody), but their best agent(s) are two youths who have very little field experience. On the bright side, their tech guy is Archie from RocknRolla. Anyone can save the world once, but can they do it twice? *hint hint
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: They say luck is real, and that phrase is never truer than with Ethan Hunt. We’re not doubting any of his skills here, he has been alive for five movies after all, but if you’ve seen the last few Mission Impossible films you’ve noticed that he survives these excursions through luck, not skill. Take this insane car chase, for instance, or this, or the bumbling motorcyclist pursuing him above.
Spies can’t do everything on their own, even though it looks like they do. Without a good team, none of these guys would’ve made it past the first act.
Spectre: Always carefully picked and star studded, the cast of James Bond is always on top of the mission and ready to back him up, but at the end of the day the Qs, the Ms, and the Moneypennys are just pawns to the game that is James Bond.
UNCLE: From America to Russia to Germany, this international patchwork crew squeaked out a victory for the good guys even with little experience working as a unit. It’s almost an entirely new crew from the TV show, so while we can’t say much based on this being their first adventure, it looks promising.
Kingsman: While Kingsman is new to the cinematic universe, the actors in this film are definitely not. These are savvy vets and legends, such as Michael Caine (Alfie and Charlie Croker), Colin Firth (King Henry VI), and Mark Strong (“badass in a Guy Richie film”), playing super spies. Besides all being great actors, these guys all have a swagger to them. They are 3 of the most badass British men on the earth and three of the suavest men on Earth. Oh, and a big thumbs up for the surprise Mark Hamill cameo.
MI: With a brain trust consisting of Simon Pegg (the comic relief/tech guy), Jeremy Renner (the level-headed and rational one), and Ving Rhames (the back-up/muscle type of character), you’re definitely not lacking in the character department (Pictured above with Cruise). They bring a perfect mix of humor, skills, and experience. None of the actors/characters take themselves too seriously and each is a crucial part to the team. This is a perfect squad when things get heavy in the trenches.
WINNER: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Any agent worth his salt has a tailored wardrobe in his arsenal. How can anyone be expected to save the world if they dress like a heathen?
Spectre: A style savant since his first step into the limelight, Bond has never shied away from being too formal or too casual. A man of many talents, his sartorial skills are second to none. Plus, Tom Ford’s fits are back, so you know Bond and co. are going to be kitted out. The white tux in “Spectre” is a throwback to Connery’s Bond garb almost verbatim. The tactleneck and holster look is a throwback to Roger Moore’s Bond, as well as Steve Mcqueen. In fact all the looks in “Spectre,” while modern, are throwbacks to classic British style and Bonds of the past, including the tab collared shirts, the collar bar, the one-vent suit jacket, and the cuffed trousers.
UNCLE: Though hugely influential and iconic in menswear, the styles of the late 60s used in the Man from U.N.CL.E. are a little too period accurate for our taste. If you’re rocking a 3-button coat, it better roll.
Kingsman: Fashioned and inspired by the Saville Row haberdashery Huntsman, the wardrobe in this film is completely top notch (See above). With a bounty of double-breasted suits and high-end accessories, there’s nothing better than a nice mix of elegance, class, and GTH when saving the world.
MI: Able to blend in like any good agent, Ethan Hunt generally opts for the black crew with the black pants. While we have nothing against casual wear, you’re just one duster and leather bag away from the Matrix.
TIE: Spectre and Kingsman
Because it’s tough stopping international super-villains with a bus pass.
Spectre: Bond is the pound-for-pound undisputed champion when it comes to spy cars (See above). This time around, Bond wasn’t the only one to get top notch vehicles. Mr. Hinx (Bautista) chases Bond through the narrow streets of Rome with the never-released Jaguar C-X75 (production was cancelled for the machine, but they decided to make a couple for the film). While the makes and models have changed over the years, the things that stays consistent are the cool upgrades, sleek styles, and raw power.
UNCLE: The guys drive a The Vespa 150 VBB, the bad guys utilize Jags such as Jaguar MK9 and the 1963 Jaguar E Type. The big car chase in the beginning of the film features a Wartburg 353 and a Trabant. As much as we love nostalgia, we’ll leave these old school vehicles to their respective time periods.
MI: BMW makes a sweet ride, and for that reason the 7-series is no joke. Ethan Hunt pushes his to the limit and looks pretty good doing it, but, come on, James Bond rocked a 7-series back in ’97.
The dame, the love-interest, or just the outright badass. Every spy movie has one and every spy movie needs one.
Spectre: The term Bond Girls is synonymous with elegance, timelessness, and sophistication (See Bond woo his latest squeeze, Lea Seydoux, above). Spawning decades of history, Bond girls are as important to the Bond franchise as the martinis he drinks. Female icons have spawned from this long running franchises such as Octopussy, Jill Masterson, Jinx Johnson, and even M*. Being a Bond girl isn’t just another acting role, but rather a chance to join an exclusive club. (*Not a Bond Girl, but rather a Bond Woman.)
UNCLE: Both female leads carried their own in this flick. With the Easter-European ruggedness of Alicia Vikander’s Gabby Teller and the elegant etiquette of Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria Vinciguerra, our guys from U.N.C.L.E. had a real run for their money. It’s really easy to see why these women were able to put em’ on their back.
Kingsman: Looks can kill. Especially when you have knives attached to your Oscar Pistorious-like legs and you move like a rabid wolverine.
Any good protagonist needs a bad antagonist.
Spectre: In “Spectre,” Christoph Waltz reprises his role as a creepy-yet-eerie villain with a great vocabulary, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. We also got Dave Bautista playing henchman Mr. Hinx, so you know there will definitely be some intense throw downs. Sharp tongues and sharp knives are a perfect formula for villainy.
UNCLE: While not the most menacing or scary, the Vinciguerras were definitely the most lavish. From racetracks to private islands, this Nazi-sympathizing husband and wife duo really knew how to wreak villainy in style (see above).
Kingsman: Facing off against one of the most badass men on the history of Earth would generally make you quake in your loafers. Fortunately for this rag-tag group, Sam “Ezekiel 25:17” Jackson is playing a tech tycoon with a blood phobia. Yes, billionaires are badasses too.
MI: Hardened and cold, the Solomon Lane, leader of the Syndicate Solomon Lane seemed more of a villain-of-the-week baddie rather than an actual nemesis. You don’t really see much of him until the third act of the flick and honestly, you won’t really miss him.
Spectre: While “Skyfall” won the Academy Award for Best Song, Sam Smith’s original tune “Writing’s on the Wall,” despite production from Disclosure, is a little flat and soft for our taste.
UNCLE: A great ode to the times, the soundtrack put together by BAFTA nominee Daniel Pemberton (pictured in the studio above) is a compilation of his own jet-setting spy score and carefully-curated tracks, like “Renda se” (Tom Zé and Valdez) and “Compared To What” (Roberta Flack). You’ll think you’re in the 60s and feel like you’re in the modern day.
Kingsman: Plus one for Sting, minus 10 for Iggy Azalea.
MI: Pieced together to coordinate with the film, this soundtrack helps the movie transition from scene to scene. The only problem is that, beside the regular theme song, the music is kind of forgettable.
WINNER: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Spy Among Spies
By Her Majesty’s Secret Service, we gotta give it to the Bond franchise. Some of these franchises, while they’re rivaling Bond in certain categories, haven’t put together the whole package yet. Bond still stands out as the quintessential hero when it comes to spy films. Hey, they never said it was easy to throw a coup d’etat against the King, but when you’re number one, you’ll always have a target on your back.