Two spy flicks, now in theaters, Mile 22 and The Spy Who Dumped Me, take different and visually modern approaches to this classic genre. Both were exciting. Both had totally different feels, and they revealed something about martial arts cinematography I had not noticed before.
Bond, Nerd Bond
Mile 22 stars Mark Wahlberg as perhaps the most obnoxious leading-man spy in cinema history. His off-and-on-again foil is played by Lauren Cohan.
Wahlberg’s character has a difficult childhood, yet somehow ends up in a CIA elite action force. He is as obnoxious as James Bond is charming. His extremely high intelligence, perceptive abilities, and, perhaps, borderline autism contribute to and compensate for the fact that most of his co-workers hate him.
Lauren Cohan recently demonstrated her spy chops in Whiskey Cavalier, but most people will recognize her as Maggie from The Walking Dead. She rocks it as an espionage agent. I never want to see James Bond played by a woman. But, if this current Hollywood trend of messing with the gender of classic characters bites the Bond franchise, Cohan should get the role.
Wahlberg’s unit is tasked with smuggling a high-value target out of a country. Ultimately, they only need to move him twenty-two miles to an airport. That last mile is a killer.
The story moves so rapidly, with so many twists and surprises, you may need to see it multiple times to catch all the nuances. I’m still not sure that I completely grasped the significance of the major twist at the end.
It is dark, intense, and hard to understand, but not a bad film.
And if you are into martial arts, you’ll be delighted to find Ronda Rousey in Mile 22.
Laugh Spy, Laugh
At the opposite end of approachability, we find The Spy Who Dumped Me. Finding said spy is what the plot revolves around for Audrey, played by Mila Kunis, and Morgan, played by Kate McKinnon. Given these ladies comedy backgrounds, I was expecting total satire of the genre. That was not the case.
There are lots of laughs, but they grow out of the predicaments in which these two friends find themselves, rather than from fun being poked at the genre. Audrey’s problems begin when she lets herself be charmed by a gentleman in a bar, played by Justin Theroux (The Leftovers ), who turns out to be a spy.
Who knew not getting a text returned could endanger your life? Audrey and her BFF, Morgan, end up involved in a globe-spanning international conspiracy.
Not as violent or bloody as Mile 22, The Spy Who Dumped Me is an entertaining, fun, addition to the spy genre. Kunis and McKinnon do an admirable job of keeping the drama going while working in the laughs. (DISCLAIMER: I have a major crush on both these ladies, but that did not influence my review. Really.)
And for those of you who still have a crush on Agent Scully from The X-Files, you’ll be delighted to discover that Gillian Anderson plays an important part in The Spy Who Dumped Me.
From the drama aspect, the big reveal toward the end of this film surprised me more than the one at the end of Mile 22.
The cinematography revelation came because I watched both films the same afternoon and saw the first one at an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
The Alamo chain, primarily found in Texas, adds to your movie going experience in multiple ways. Foremost, they will unobtrusively serve you drinks and food while you watch the movie. (I had the Carnivore Pizza). From a cinephile aspect they provide delightful treats on screen before the features.
Before Mile 22, they showed a series of trailers and clips from campy 1980s kung-fu movies like Steele Justice and Gymkata. The kung-fu fighting seemed exaggerated and unrealistic. Ten kicks to the head resulting in no blood and no loss of focus, but plenty of sound effects. Running up and along the side of a wall for forty feet then down to attack an opponent. Jumping way too far and high.
When I watched Mile 22 and The Spy Who Dumped Me, I was surprised to see many of the exact same martial-arts moves in both movies as in the 1980s films, but slightly different. The shots of flying fists were done much closer up, in faster cuts, and there was blood and reactions to being hit. There was even a running along the side of the wall move, but only for about four feet instead of forty.
The photography and editing made the difference between camp and engaging hand-to-hand battle.