Rogue Nation and U.N.C.L.E. (I will not be typing all those full stops again) may both be reboots of cult 60s spy tv series with dubious punctuation, but the differences between the two movies outnumber the similarities by some distance.
For a start, Rogue Nation is set in the here and now, with all the shiny modern gadgets and shadowy global conspiracies you can imagine; while UNCLE is a period piece, all 60s clunky cars and old-fashioned Cold War politics. More fundamentally however, Rogue Nation is great – fast, exciting and funny – and UNCLE is not.
Say what you will about Tom Cruise (everybody on the Internet does) but he knows how to knock out a big, bold, properly thrilling, top-quality action film and he and director Christopher McQuarrie have done exactly that with Rogue Nation, as well as continuing Tom’s mini-run of action movies with genuinely kick-ass female leads (see also Edge of Tomorrow). Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa in Rogue Nation is stronger, sharper, faster than the boys, but, more than that, she’s not a love interest or a sex object, she’s a fully-realised person; a proper professional with values and doubts and skills and a real personality, who just happens to be a woman. And who is completely fantastic. Word is Marvel might have their sights set on Ferguson for Captain Marvel, and so they should. She is superb in this, and, significantly, she has the space and the screen time to be, because, again, say what you will about Tom Cruise, he’s not afraid to stand back and let his co-stars shine.
Tom’s Ethan Hunt is almost super-human, obviously, but in an entirely likeabl way, his chemistry with Ilsa is lovely and the action is so fast and fun, and the stunts so completely bonkers that there’s never time to get bored.
Would that I could say any of that about UNCLE.
On the positive front, Henry Cavill is surprisingly charming and amusing as Napoleon Solo – without him the film would be intolerable – and Hugh Grant is good value in the 10 minutes or so of screen time he has. There are some nicely-staged, retro action sequences (if nothing that comes close to Rogue Nation) and everything looks beautiful, too. But Armie Hammer is woefully miscast as Ilya Kuriakin, he and underwritten “asset” Gaby (played by Alicia Vikander, a terrific actress who could have been a lot better utilised) have no chemistry at all and, rather than it being exciting or funny, the film is too long and often a bit boring. It’s not awful, it’s just arch and dull and ever so slightly annoying. Shame.