The Price of Our Vitality

The Sum of All Fears is a victim of bad timing. Though Tom Clancy’s fifth book was written in 1991, the movie was released in summer 2002. Which makes The Sum of All Fears the first major release about terrorism since 9/11. There were multiple changes that may or may not have been affected by the tragic event. In the book, the villains are Arabian terrorists, but the movie changes them to Neo-Nazis. The only surviving element is the war in Israel. The Sum of All Fears was a bit confusing at the beginning, but it all made sense as the conflict developed. The plot is a little derivative of The Hunt for Red October.

Unlike the previous films, the recasting of Jack Ryan is an excuse to reboot the entire franchise. Along with Phil Alden Robinson as the latest replacement director. Ben Affleck is another young CIA analyst version of Ryan who doesn’t see much combat. Bridget Moynahan is the new Cathy who hasn’t married Ryan yet. The cast is still very respectable with Morgan Freeman taking over as CIA director Bill Cabot who takes interest in Ryan’s personal life. Together they try to locate a missing nuclear bomb that could lead to war between Russia and the United States.

James Cromwell and Ciarán Hinds play the morally questionable President of the United States and Russia respectively. Meanwhile, Colm Feore orchestrates events as the only notable Neo-Nazi. Although Affleck can do action just fine, it’s mostly Liev Schreiber as a more level headed John Clark who pushes him into battle. The most shocking incident is a bomb that detonates in a populated area. Aside from that, The Sum of All Fears tries to make the fight as smart as its predecessors, and mostly succeeds.

4. The Sum of All Fears

Jack Ryan works alongside Bill Cabot

The Hunt is On

The Hunt for Red October did for the Navy what Top Gun did for the Air Force. Tom Clancy was an author known for his Cold War themes and respect for the Military. The Hunt for Red October was his first book that earned him admiration from the United States Navy despite his lack of service. My only knowledge of the film came from The Simpsons and SpongeBob of all places. I’ve never been that interested in movies set on a submarine, but I knew The Hunt for Red October was a modern classic that I had to see. It helps that John McTiernan directed it after Predator and Die Hard. The movie takes place in 1984 since the Cold War ended by 1990.

The Hunt for Red October is the first movie with CIA analyst Jack Ryan. Alec Baldwin was the first actor cast, but he wasn’t a big name just yet. Sean Connery gets prominent top-billing as Soviet Red October Captain Marko Ramius. He’s Russian, but Connery continues to use his trademark Scottish accent. I can’t pretend I fully understand the plot, but I know Ramius may or may not be a threat to the Navy. Ramius is joined by a crew that includes Sam Neill and Tim Curry. Scott Glenn and Courtney B. Vance lead the USS Dallas in an effort to track the sub.

The Hunt for Red October is about Military strategy more than conventional action. Jack Ryan isn’t as hands on as I thought he was. He spends more time studying his enemy and trying to convince superiors like James Earl Jones as Admiral James Greer. Ryan is also a family man married to Gates McFadden who makes a rare non-Star Trek movie appearance. Only in the climax does Ryan meet Ramius and the action ramps up. Torpedoes are launched and bullets start flying with Ryan taking a more active role. The Hunt for Red October is an intelligent techno thriller.

The Hunt for Red October

Captain Ramius talks Jack Ryan through Red October controls

Followed by: Patriot Games

Agents of Old

The King’s Man is the prequel to Kingsman that doesn’t need to exist. Since The Secret Service was such a big hit, it was quickly followed by the disappointing The Golden Circle. I thought it would end there, but franchise director Matthew Vaughn had other plans. Rather than continue Eggy’s spy adventures, The King’s Man goes all the way back to World War I when the Kingsman organization was first formed. I don’t think I was ever interested in the concept. Trailers and promotional campaigns tried to capture the feel of the previous movies, but they’re all false advertising. The King’s Man feels more like a serious WWI historical epic that happens to have Kingsman in it. When it tries to be funny, it feels out of place.

Despite the Fox/Disney merger, the movie at least maintains an R rating with moderately bloody violence and intermittent F bombs. Action scenes involving canes and sword pistols are probably when it most felt like the other movies. Otherwise, The King’s Man is most concerned with giving the audience a history lesson. Ralph Fiennes essentially fills Harry Hart’s role as Kingsman founder Orlando Oxford. Harris Dickinson sort of fills the role of Eggy as Conrad Oxford, but the trailers never indicated that they were father and son. Even though Orlando sets up a spy network, Conrad would rather join the war effort. Gemma Arterton and Djimon Hounsou do their best as a spy maid and butler, but it’s just not the same.

Tom Hollander plays all three leaders of Britain, Germany, and Russia trying to prevent the Great War. Like the rest of the movies, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson is made to look bad when he doesn’t join the fight. Actors like Daniel Brühl as Hanussen are part of an evil organization of tyrants, but it’s Rhys Ifans as Grigori Rasputin who was relentlessly marketed as the main villain. His performance is seriously over-the-top and doesn’t last the entire movie. Really it’s Matthew Goode as a shadowy Scottish war monger that’s technically the main villain. I wasn’t invested enough to care about the twist. Nor was I excited when Kingsman finally established its founding members. I’m not even sure a sequel set in World War II will ever happen. The King’s Man is better left untold.

The King's Man

Orlando hands his son Conrad a gun

Followed by: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Pigeon: Impossible

Spies in Disguise is the unceremonious final film from Blue Sky Animation. Despite already owning Pixar, Disney ended up obtaining the rights to Blue Sky with their 20th Century Fox acquisition. Only to shut the studio down a year later. My brother and I saw Spies in Disguise on Christmas blissfully unaware that it would be the last. Although it’s a strange way to end Blue Sky’s run, I’m glad I ended up enjoying their last movie. Spies in Disguise is surprisingly based on an ameteur computer animated short on YouTube called Pigeon: Impossible (watch the short here).

The movie is given high quality computer animation, but nothing fancy. The plot instead makes Agent Walter Beckett a super smart boy genius and turns the pesky pigeon into a spy in disguise. The always charismatic Will Smith essentially plays himself as the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Spy” Lance Sterling. He has a variety of gadgets, spy cars, and takes out the Yakuza with little effort. Since Tom Holland is literally everywhere, it was only a matter of time before he did animation. Walter works with Sterling at the agency H.T.U.V. hidden under the Washington Monument. The young scientist pushes for colorful non-lethal gadgets.

I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt about the movie until Walter transforms Sterling into a pigeon. The absurd situation is laugh out loud hilarious. Sterling blends in with a gang of comical pigeons and sticks with Walter until he gets his body back. All the while H.T.U.V. thinks he’s a traitor to the organization. Rashida Jones voices one of many semi-serious agents who hunts Sterling down. Ben Mendelsohn not so surprisingly voices the Bond-esque villain Killian who plans to conquer the world with era appropriate drones. Walter and pigeon Sterling end up bonding on their wacky spy adventure and learn to accept unique ways of solving their problems. Spies in Disguise flew in at just the right time.

14. Spies in Disguise

Agent Sterling (pigeon) and Walter (human)

007’s Legacy

No Time to Die is the most conclusive Bond film ever made. Since the Daniel Craig era has always attempted to maintain some form of continuity, his final outing was always going to feel like a swan song. No Time to Die is the twenty-fifth film in the long running franchise, and the first released in the turbulent 2020’s. Although the title sounds like an Ian Fleming novel, it’s just as original as the last 2 Bond films. Craig began his tenure as James Bond as far back as 2006.

Despite only making 5 movies, the frustratingly long time between movies made Craig the longest running Bond actor. I honestly didn’t think he would return with his advancing age and issues with the franchise. I was really worried when people started to question Bond’s relevance, dated methods, and other aspects of the character that shouldn’t be changed. No Time to Die started to make uncomfortable changes, but I had to wait awhile to see how much. Since it became the first major 2020 blockbuster pushed back by the Pandemic…

25. No Time to Die

James Bond drives

The Mission: Track kidnapped MI6 scientist and secure deadly bioweapon “Project Heracles”

Gadgets & Vehicles: Aston Martin DB5 (equipped with machine guns, bullet-proof windscreen, explosive jacks, and smoke screen), Folding Glider, EMP Omega Watch

Bond Girls: Madeleine Swann, Nomi, Paloma

Bond Villains: Lyutsifer Safin, Primo, Logan Ash, Valdo Obruchev

Analysis: After 15 years, No Time to Die concludes everything that was established in Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre. At least I think it does. I’ve only seen every Bond film once, so there’s no way I’ll remember every little detail in the franchise. Which is why I prefer each Bond film to have their own self-contained narrative. No Time to Die became the second Bond film I saw in theaters after skipping Spectre. Even though it breaks the record for longest Bond film ever made. At a staggering 2 hours & 43 minutes, No Time to Die leaves no stone unturned. I guess it comes with hiring a director like Cary Joji Fukunaga. The movie returns to the basics by placing the classic gun barrel sequence at the beginning, but changes the cold open by not making it about Bond. One of many reasons the film is so long. Along with very lengthy conversations between characters.

It’s great that classic characters like M, Q, or Moneypenny are present, but we don’t need to spend so much time behind the scenes at MI6. I never think about Bill Tanner, but it is neat to see Jeffrey Wright return as Bond’s best friend Felix Leiter. The opening introduces the latest Bond villain Lyutsifer Safin. Oscar winner Rami Malek checks all the boxes as a terrorist with a creepy voice, facial scars hidden beneath a white mask, vague world conquering motivations, and he even compares himself to Bond. His henchman Primo also stands out with a comically large bionic eye. Safin mostly wants revenge on Mr. White for killing his family. That means the return of White’s daughter Dr. Madeleine Swann from Spectre. Léa Seydoux is the only lead Bond girl to appear in successive films. Although I prefer one and done Bond girls, Madeleine is meant to be the one woman Bond falls in love with. Even though he’s still hung up on Vesper Lynd after all these years. Their trust is broken after an awesome car chase in the gadget equipped Aston Martin DB5.

Followed by an opening credits sequence that seems to blend almost every Bond style together. There are colorful dots seen in the Dr. No opening, statues, silhouettes, close up shots of a naked woman, abstract patterns, and even a double helix made of guns. I’m not a big fan of her music, but the 18 year old Billie Eilish does fit the melancholy tone with the song “No Time to Die.” Despite Bond’s obvious depression, Craig does seem to be having fun with more jokes and one-liners. Gadgets are still sparse, but Q does give him an EMP watch. 007 now lives in Fleming’s home country of Jamaica where he’s once again pulled out of retirement. Probably my biggest annoyance is Bond’s almost complete lack of sexual activity. One of his most defining character traits. Ana de Armas is one of the hottest actresses working in Hollywood, but Paloma is only around as a contact.

At least she feels like a classic Bond girl with a sexy dress, foreign accent, CIA combat training, and bubbly personality. Which is more than I can say for Nomi. Lashana Lynch could’ve been a great Bond girl, but everything about the character feels designed to tick off diehard fans. Not because she’s a black woman, but because she’s an agent who takes the 007 code name and taunts Bond with it every chance she gets. I’m sorry, 007 is more than just a number. More time is spent on action that constantly puts Bond in harm’s way. No Time to Die has chilling parallels to 2020 by making a nanobot virus Safin’s master plan. Bond thinks Blofeld is behind everything, but Spectre is wiped out in a matter of minutes. In fact, death is a common theme in the movie. Any line you think the franchise would never cross could happen at any moment. Leaving me with very mixed emotions by the end. I don’t know what the future holds for James Bond, but I hope they respect the fans enough not to change everything that makes the spy endearing. No Time to Die goes out with a bang.

25. No Time to Die

James Bond meets Paloma in a bar

James Bond will return

A Spy without Form

Invisible Agent is a mandatory war picture that Universal monster movies couldn’t ignore. Much like the presumably non-canon The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent also experiments with genres. It’s the standard invisible man formula given to an agent in World War II. I never knew the film existed since it’s so far removed from the rest of the franchise. Even though it follows Frank Griffin Jr. under the assumed name Frank Raymond. His father’s invisibility serum is sought by both the Allied Forces and the Axis Powers.

Since an invisible agent spying on enemies could be enough to win the war. Jon Hall is a relatively charismatic invisible lead. Frank only agrees to help the Allies under the condition that he carries out the mission himself. The special effects will always be impressive no matter how repetitive they get. Frank’s visible look uses cold cream instead of bandages. Cedric Hardwicke and the always creepy Peter Lorre elevate their standard roles as Nazi general Conrad Stauffer and Japanese Baron Ikito respectively.

Other Nazis like J. Edward Bromberg’s Karl Heiser are appropriately made to look like fools. Though the wartime action doesn’t always blend with the humorous tone. Although she hated the part, Ilona Massey isn’t the usual screaming damsel. Maria Sorenson is a German double agent that Frank falls for. Actual German Albert Bassermann is another ally who assists Frank in his mission. Frank never goes insane and saves the American people without being seen. Invisible Agent delivers what it promises.

19. Invisible Agent

The Invisible Agent battles the Nazis

Preceded by: The Invisible Woman & Followed by: The Invisible Man’s Revenge

Cute and Cuddly

Penguins of Madagascar is the cute & cuddly spin-off of DreamWorks Animation’s premiere penguin posse. Since Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted was the natural conclusion to Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria’s adventure, it only made sense to focus on the biggest scene stealers. I just wasn’t crazy about the idea for a theatrical computer animated movie, because I thought it was a direct continuation of the Nickelodeon series of the same name. I watched The Penguins of Madagascar for a while, but I lost interest. The movie is completely separate and follows the continuity of the movies. It begins with the penguin’s in Antarctica where film crews are always filming them. Penguins of Madagascar may have come out long after the 2000’s penguin craze, but jokes like that are still pretty funny. Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico are chicks who discover the joys of slapping and rescue an egg containing the adorable Private.

Years later we pick up with the penguins in the circus immediately after Europe’s Most Wanted. We only see the gang in silhouettes accompanied by the “Afro Circus/I Like to Move It” mashup. They leave to celebrate Private’s birthday at Fort Knox where they obtain a bag of Cheesy Dibbles. An entire movie dedicated to the penguins gives them much more depth than they ever had before. Skipper is still the determined leader and Kowalski is the much more matter of fact brains. Rico retains some of his Nickelodeon attributes with more of a crazy streak. Private is sort of the main character since he wants to be viewed as a meaningful and valued member of the team. Instead of just the cute one with nothing to offer. Penguins of Madagascar is very much a kids movie with a silly villain at the center. Dr. Octavius Brine is a mad scientist who’s secretly a revenge hungry octopus named Dave. Skipper constantly messes up his name, but the funniest running gag are Dave’s celebrity named octopus minions.

Dave was once a zoo octopus constantly shunned thanks to adorable penguins. His diabolical plan is to use a serum to turn every penguin into an ugly monster. Since the penguins have always been voiced by crew members, celebrities like John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch had to pick up the slack. Malkovich voices Dave and Cumberbatch voices the leader of an elite squad of technologically advanced animals. The North Wind constantly overshadow the penguins on their mission. The team consists of Classified the Eurasian wolf, Short Fuse the harp seal, Eva the snowy owl, and Corporal the polar bear. Skipper deliberately competes with the team and Kowalski has a crush on Eva. The spy action is just as fun as ever and the climax is the craziest thing I’ve seen in a Madagascar film. In the end, there’s a kid friendly lesson about what’s inside that counts. Mort and King Julien even get a cameo at the end. Julien being voiced by his Nickelodeon voice actor is probably the closest connection to the show. Penguins of Madagascar is simply an enjoyable adventure for the action-packed penguins.

28. Penguins of Madagascar

Skipper, Private, Kowalski, and Rico make a plan

Spin-Off of: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Statesman

Kingsman: The Golden Circle was a disappointment in an otherwise well established spy setting. Kingsman: The Secret Service became an instant favorite, so my entire family decided to see the sequel in theaters. Although my parents were on the opposite side of the theater since the R rating was still unpredictable. The Golden Circle is just as profane and bloody violent, but apart from a sexual innuendo, there’s no nudity. Since the original surpassed the Mark Millar comic it was based on, Matthew Vaughn came up with an original sequel. One that feels like a major betrayal. The Golden Circle begins exciting enough with a cool spy car chase. Taron Egerton brings a more gentleman quality to Eggsy, occasionally dressed in an orange suit. Unless you closely followed the betrayal of potential Kingsman recruit Charlie, now he’s an obvious substitute for Gazelle. Complete with villainous robotic slingshot arm.

Charlie serves as henchman for the next Bond villain type antagonist Poppy Adams. Julianne Moore does her best, but the 50’s obsessed, people cooking, drug lord feels a little too random. Poppy hides out in a 50’s town called Poppy Land where she plans to unleash paralyzing drugs on the world. Promising an antidote to the President in exchange for immunity. The commentary is obvious, but the drugs are alright message is too messy for an action comedy. The biggest mistake is that the entire Kingsman organization is destroyed in order to raise the stakes. The tailor shop, the Kingsman estate, Roxy, and even Eggsy’s pug are all destroyed like they meant nothing. Eggsy survived since he’s surprisingly in a relationship with the Swedish Princess Tilde from The Secret Service. Merlin survives too since Mark Strong is just as important as the next problem arises. While I commend the world building of revealing an American equivalent of Kingsman called Statesman, that’s not why people enjoyed the first film.

The Golden Circle is just too Americanized with its intense focus on the organization across the pond. The Kentucky based Statesman front as an alcohol distillery, so they’re each named after drinks. Channing Tatum is barely present as Tequila, Halle Berry handles tech as Ginger Ale, and a shaved Jeff Bridges runs things as Champagne. Pedro Pascal joins Eggsy & Merlin as expert lasso slinging Statesman Whiskey. They also discover Harry Hart is alive. Colin Firth was too good just to leave dead, so they came up with a way to magically cheat death. He has an eyepatch and amnesia, but he joins the fight too. Except for when they tarnish his “Manners maketh man” moment just to make a point. The stylish action is still plenty fun, especially in the duel Galahad shoot out. Some twists are unexpected, but the most unexpected edition is an ironic Elton John joke that may have been taken too far. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an overly long collection of ideas that occasionally workout.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Harry, Eggsy, and Merlin together again

Preceded by: The King’s Man & Kingsman: The Secret Service

Manners Maketh Man

Kingsman: The Secret Service is the deconstruction of spy movies I never knew I needed. I thought Kingsman was just another random secret agent flick. Little did I know it would end up being one of the most enjoyable, stylish, hilarious, and awesome spy films released in a long time. Upstaging James Bond himself with its respectable jabs and willingness to embrace Bond’s more outlandish motifs. Like most people, I’ll bet you didn’t know Kingsman was based on a comic. A very lesser known Mark Millar comic. Usually I stay away from his depraved graphic novels, but The Secret Service doesn’t seem too bad. Unlike Wanted or Kick-Ass, Kingsman really took on a life of its own as a movie. It brings back the dapper gentleman spy complete with cool gadgets like specialized glasses or a weaponized umbrella, spiffy suits, and the help of a secret organization.

Kingsman embraces its very British setting by following street tough Eggsy. Someone with the potential to follow in his deceased spy father’s footsteps. Kingsman agent Harry Hart takes him under his wing after teaching some hooligans that “Manners maketh man.” Kingsman is modeled after King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. So each agent is named after an Arthurian figure. There’s the head Arthur (played by British standby Michael Caine), gadgets expert Merlin (played by the usually villainous Mark Strong), and Hart is Galahad. When a new Lancelot is needed, Eggsy enters rigorous training alongside other potential candidates. Including Roxy, who proves to be a worthy ally and fierce competition. The unorthodox training is edge of your seat fun as they escape a flooding room, jump out a plane with a missing parachute, prove their loyalty with an oncoming train, and even care for a puppy. Eggsy is shown the sleek golden armory, but he fails to pass the final test.

Though the threat still looms in the background. Kingsman made stars out of mostly unknowns like Taron Egerton and Sofia Boutella, but also gave A-list stars like Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson a chance in an action packed spy setting. Firth should do way more action since he’s more than capable in the over-the-top fundamental church massacre. Jackson is essentially a Bond villain with a ridiculous lisp named Richmond Valentine. He’s an internet billionaire who plans to wipe out most of the population to save the climate. Using a sim card that makes people attack each other, but protecting some famous figures and the elite. Valentine is a mostly harmless hemophobe, so his awesomely gymnastic blade-legged henchwoman Gazelle does most of the fighting. The final fight is tense, profane, and just as bloody violent as the rest of the appropriately R rated hit. With some cheeky nudity added for good measure. Matthew Vaughn proves again that he’s a master of comic adaptations. Kingsman: The Secret Service ain’t that kind of spy movie indeed.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Harry Hart unlocks a path for Eggsy

Followed by: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

See Tom Run

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is what happens when a highly successful spy franchise has nowhere to go but up. Fallout is the highest grossing, best reviewed, and easily one of the greatest action movies in recent memory. Which is saying a lot for a 6th installment. Since my mom was the one who hyped up Mission: Impossible for my brother and I, we all went to the theater to see it. Fallout received more media coverage than usual. Making it more of a must watch than it already was. Now that we expect Tom Cruise to perform dangerous stunts, he just keeps pushing himself despite being 56 years old. The sixth director is Christopher McQuarrie. The only filmmaker to direct more than one Mission: Impossible. Although Rogue Nation worked 3 years ago, I still enjoy the different direction each movie gimmick. In fact, Fallout is the first sequel to actually feel like a seamless continuation. Since far less actors disappear without a trace (except for Jeremy Renner). Alec Baldwin is still head of IMF Hunley, Simon Pegg is still trusted technician Benji, and Ving Rhames always has to be around as trusted hacker Luther.

Even the beautiful woman doesn’t change this time around. Since Rebecca Ferguson was just that good as shady former agent Ilsa Faust. Even Michelle Monaghan returns for a third more prominent time as Ethan Hunt’s ex-wife Julia. Fallout indeed lives up to its title when a major fallout tests Ethan on a personal & professional level. The mission should the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) choose to accept it, is to secure three stolen plutonium cores before the newly formed Syndicate known as the Apostles take them. The plutonium cores are McGuffins intended to start a new world order. The new villain is code named John Lark, but an imprisoned Solomon Lane is also distinct for being a villain who returns. Hunt’s IMF team gains information using masks, but they fail when agents secure the Plutonium for an arms dealer. So Angela Bassett acting as head of the CIA has assassin August Walker keep an eye on IMF. Henry Cavill is the best new addition to the franchise due to his intimidating size, reloadable fists, and mustache that made Justice League a joke. In order to infiltrate a Paris nightclub, Hunt and Walker must HALO jump. One of many major stunts Cruise pulled off with ease.

Followed by an intense bathroom brawl with ridiculously awesome fist fighting. Faust makes a last minute rescue and Hunt meets the arms dealer without a mask. The only new beautiful woman is Vanessa Kirby as Alanna Mitsopolis aka White Widow. She lives up to her color swapped name when more enemies attack. Then things get complicated when she promises the plutonium in exchange for Lane. It’s a dramatic armed truck intercept, car chase, and motorcycle chase that sees Hunt and Faust on opposite sides again. The masks come in handy once more when Walker is not so surprisingly revealed as the manifesto writing John Lark. So Cruise runs his biggest run to date in London. It was so real that Cruise broke his ankle failing to clear a jump. I wince everytime I see it, but that makes the scene even better. It’s finally at the glaciers that two of the bombs will go off unless IMF stops them. Julia just so happens to be their with her new husband. Benji, Luther, Ilsa, and Julia take care of the detonators while Hunt unsurprisingly climbs up one of the helicopters. Another death defying stunt concluding in a gritty one on one brawl. With all the pieces coming together flawlessly, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is proof that like Tom Cruise, the franchise only gets better with age.

6. Mission Impossible Fallout

Ethan Hunt gives chase

Preceded by: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation