Friday, August 3, 2018

Ready to Save the World Again: Heroes, Guardians or Spies?

Something got me thinking after my latest view of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which made me relate it to the whole James Bond and the many heroes of the fictional spy world. It deals with the very last scene of the recent Christopher McQuarrie film, so I should advise to stop reading now if you don’t like to be spoiled.


Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is convalescing from his body wounds after the death-defying chase and fight he had with his enemies in order to avert a nuclear bomb going off. His former wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), is happy with her new husband and she thanks him for letting her be where she belongs and for the fact that, thanks to his work, they’re all safe and sound.

Remember that in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, we know that Julia had to break up with Ethan and became a “ghost” in order to preserve her life. In this new film, thanks to Luther (Ving Rhames), we know they were happy for a while until they realised they belonged to different worlds and that their marriage was avoiding Ethan to “save the world”.
In a similar way, we understand that a man like James Bond (despite being much more a loner than what Ethan Hunt is) can’t engage into serious relationships or think of a family because of his dangerous life. The two times he tried, the girl died, either gunned down by the villain (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) or committing suicide after revealing herself as a double agent (Casino Royale).

So, the question to debate is: what kind of heroes are Ethan Hunt and James Bond?
There’s often a mediatic manoeuvre or a popular culture feeling of placing spies, detectives, policemen, and any other kind of action heroes in the place of Batman, Superman or even Zorro. But at what point operatives belonging to government intelligence (or branches of it) take the place of justice seekers that are many steps above security forces or the army? Or even these agencies as a team?

Even tough Alec Trevelyan asks Bond if he’s “ready to save the world again” in GoldenEye, that doesn’t give him superhero qualities. While 007 is a successful professional and one has the feeling the world depends on him, he could perfectly retire one day and let someone else to do the job. The same goes to Hunt and he did it at the end of Mission: Impossible – III. The only reason he left Julia was, essentially, because audiences wanted a new M:I movie just like audiences wanted a new James Bond movie after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Are we really assuming that these men didn’t have a normal childhood and teenage years and were adrenaline addicted since they were born, as the Young Bond novels often makes us believe? Of course, they’re not per se Bond adventures but we have a 13-year-old boy escaping captivity, getting tortured and averting a villainous scheme against the world, something highly trained operatives in their 30s or 40s failed to achieve just because of bad luck.

It’s not that I dislike –from a marketing point of view- the heroic qualities one gives to the big screen and literary secret agents, and that in the fiction it looks like they’re the only ones who can beat a lunatic man after an army has failed. But when that involves fiction, it all feels a bit cheesy.

Batman, Superman and Zorro have double lives, they have an inner feeling to save the world they live in and the whole nation or town depends on them, which makes the idea of the initial Alejandro-Elena break up in The Legend of Zorro, where he wanted to go back in action again because he seemed to be one step above the militia and the only one for the job.

But what’s the case of MI6 and the Impossible Mission Force? The British Intelligence Service has many operatives, some bearing the 00 number just like James Bond to perform an assassination in the course of the mission. This way, 009 was sent by M to kill Renard in The World Is Not Enough, 003 to recover a microchip from Zorin Industries’ plant in Siberia in A View to A Kill, and there are two occasions where M threatens Bond to have him replaced by 008: Goldfinger and The Living Daylights. That should leave the door open for James Bond (as a human being) to retire one day.

Likewise, the IMF is formed by a group of five or six operatives with a team leader: Jim Phelps in 1996’s Mission: Impossible and Ethan Hunt in the other five adventures, taking the place of Phelps when he was revealed as a traitor and killed in action.

His marriage with Julia Meade in the third film of the saga meant us believe he was leaving the field. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol let us know that she had disappeared of Hunt’s side to find a new life and in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, it looks like it’s thanks to that break up that the world is in safe hands because Ethan was doing the role of a guardian.

In the case of James Bond, the girls he loved turned up dead, so he came back to his life as a “hero”. In the case of Ethan Hunt, Julia was still alive, far from him and the safety of the world was bigger than the love he felt for her. The point is: if Ethan retired and stayed next to her, is there something that any of the other IMF team operatives couldn’t do? As spectators, we know that Hunt is the hero and is more capable than all of the others and has the role of a leader, but does that reasoning extends to each of the characters of the fictional world?

It feels a bit far-fetched to have supporting characters also believing the marketing propaganda of the movie they belong to.

Nicolás Suszczyk

Friday, July 6, 2018

There Is No Substitute: Martin Campbell's Unique Approach to James Bond

Martin Campbell with Famke Janssen and Pierce Brosnan on the set of GoldenEye

The choice of Martin Campbell as the director of two James Bond films was much more than the assured success of in the return of a very popular fictional character. GoldenEye and Casino Royale are not just the introduction of two different actors in the leading role, but very good films and classic on their own. The quality of these two movies has rarely been surpassed in the series and the visual impact of these productions gives the audience the feeling of being blended into the plot. The luxury world that Ian Fleming utterly described on his books is thoroughly adapted in both Campbell movies and, thanks to many cinematic resorts, it feels as equally rich as the one Fleming described.

When James Bond returned after a six year and a half hiatus to the theaters in 1995, he had to prove he was there to stay. GoldenEye had to be much more than a very good action/adventure film to ensure audiences that Bond was still relevant for the new millennium and to establish Pierce Brosnan as a strong leading actor in the role.

EON Productions took notice of Martin Campbell's talents as a director after the success of 
the ecological thriller Edge of Darkness in 1985 and the sci-fi adventure No Escape in 1994, which proved that Campbell was not only the right man for the job, but that he could deliver an artistic tour de force for the much awaited return of 007.

While John Glen brought solidity on the previous five Bond films starring Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, Campbell and his crew delivered a unique, rich and dramatic take on Pierce Brosnan’s first 007 outing, taking every possible advantage of the cinematic experience a Bond film could offer.

GoldenEye: the leader of Janus reveals surfaces from the shadows to reveal his true identity -Alec Trevelyan, former 006- to a shocked Bond. Supreme quality chiaroscuro techniques by DP Phil Méheux.

GoldenEye: breathtaking opening shot of the movie showing the Verzasca Dam in Lugano, Switzerland. It doubled for a part of a Chemical Weapon laboratory in Archangel, USSR. 

Trough behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, it’s easy to notice how the New Zealand-born director has taken the job very personally and put all of his energy and mind on the film, with seven days schedules that went from four in the morning to late in night. He has also been supervising every little detail that would go unnoticed to any other filmmaker.

 Overall, the Martin Campbell movies are all about the details. While the text, the dialogues of his films are outstanding, the first notion Campbell transmits on his films is that the action speaks a lot: it takes a single blow with a towel and another quick judo jab to establish Brosnan’s Bond as a trained, professional government agent who leaves an attacking assailant unconscious (or most likely dead) as he tries to attack him from behind on the Manticore yacht. "When Brosnan kills, he kills very hard and fast. I made all his actions very economic. One punch does it. It's just very simple and economic, no fussiness. I made him stand still a lot,” he commented.

GoldenEye brought back well-choreographed fighting scenes into the series that harkened back to that memorable Orient Express fight between Bond and Grant in 1963’s From Russia With Love, something he wanted to deliver to the character with Sean Connery’s Bond on mind. Take the 007 vs 006 scene in the antenna in Cuba, where you have the feeling that both men want to see each other dead in the most brutal way. Of course, this effect was achieved also by the sharp editing of Terry Rawlings, very reminiscent to John Glen’s fast-paced editing of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

When Bond isn’t fighting, he’s living by the highest possible standards. Campbell knew it was hard to bring back the apparently outdated James Bond in a world and a time where action heroes were the Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger types. Instead of adapting Bond to this kind of heroes and their stories, Campbell noted that one thing those screen action supermen lacked the sophistication of 007 and that precisely was the key of his success, offering GoldenEye “as a window for that kind of hero.”

GoldenEye: Bond reflects on his future confrontation with his former friend, Alec Trevelyan, on a Cuban beach as Natalya approaches him.
GoldenEye: Bond kisses Natalya in a cuban beach. Courtesy of editor Terry Rawlings, the image cleverly fades into the burning fire of a hearth showing the passion between the two.

With his longtime collaborator cinematographer Phil Méheux, Campbell gave the film a unique look, much more atmospheric and dramatic than ever before. This was very important to differentiate Bond’s style from the blue collar heroes around. While these men’s scenarios are the dark alleys and urbane settings, Bond’s playground is on a luxurious hotel and in exotic spots such as Monte Carlo or the Caribbean. Following the orders of Campbell, Méheux offered eye-popping visuals of the Manatí beaches in Puerto Rico (you’d never think there was a dumpster there behind the lens of the camera!) or the Principality of Monaco at night, where a tuxedoed Bond parks his Aston Martin DB5 before some gambling in the famous casino, brilliantly replicated by Peter Lamont on the Leavesden studios.

The color palette of GoldenEye was rarely surpassed in future Bond films. Bond’s encounters with Trevelyan are a good example of that as the ally-turned-enemy emerges from the shadows twice: when he first meets his friend at the Archangel facility he’s covered by the dark until a shade of light reveals him as a good guy, Bond’s ally and teammate. Later, in the statue park, he comes out of the shadows again until the light reveals him as Janus, the treacherous crime syndicate leader holding a grudge to Bond and England. These brilliant chiaroscuro techniques of Phil Méheux helped to bring a special mood to the tone of the story and the meaning of each location. The facility, the statue park and the interrogation cell of the Russian military archives have this treatment.
GoldenEye: Bond and Natalya are interrogated by Mishkin at the Military Archives. Once again, the chiaroscuro techniques help to create the appropiate effect.

GoldenEye: Bond meets Xenia at the Casino de Monte Carlo, whose interior was recreated at Leavesden Studios. Notice the blend between the gold and red hues on the background to emphasize luxury.

In contrast, the casino scenes are “painted” with gold, red and brown gammas and the Monte Carlo harbor scenes in blue tones so we can get the sense of being in a coastal and vocational region of the world. For the scenes in Cuba, where Bond and Natalya seal their love, warm orange tones with deep green flora and black shadows helped to create the feeling of the hot Caribbean and to spread into the screen the “warmth” between the leading couple. It was not a coincidence that their kiss fades into the burning fire of a hearth, courtesy of the creativity of Terry Rawlings.

This attention for the details, as important as the dialogues and portrayal of the actors, makes GoldenEye a very visually strong movie where even the unbelievable is believable.
In 2006, the reboot of the franchise called for the introduction of a new actor in the role of James Bond and Martin Campbell was asked to helm the first official cinematic adaptation of Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig in the leading role.

Being the genesis of the character, the James Bond introduced here would be different from Brosnan’s style and much closer to the humorless Bond of the Ian Fleming’s novels. Casino Royale’s Bond had to be much darker and psychologically complex than his self-assured predecessor, and the overall tone of the film also had to be that way.

Casino Royale: a pre-00 Bond meets Dryden, the corrupt Head of Section M marked for death. This scene was shot in black and white film by Phil Méheux to take an unique approach to reintroduce a rebooted 007.

Casino Royale: a pastel palette is prominent as Bond arrives to Nassau to follow the lead left by a bomber he eliminated in Madagascar.

In contrast with GoldenEye, Casino Royale is not escapist at all. The story is crude and realistic and the new rebooted Bond has to play with all his wits, get hurt both physically and emotionally before achieving his objective. We see our hero bleeding and getting bruised much more than before, and one scene particularly stands out where 007 looks at him in the mirror as he drinks a glass of whisky minutes after strangling a man to death with his biceps.

The preceding scene, where Bond and lord of war Obanno have a cruel fistfight on a hotel stairwell, has the same intensity as the Bond vs Trevelyan fight at the end of GoldenEye, where the audience can feel they’re both facing dangers and could die at any moment. The scene looks expensive and –once again- the frenetic close shot editing –this time by Stuart Baird, from The Legend of Zorro- brings back vibes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  

Casino Royale: A helpless Bond is about to be tortured by Le Chiffre. The obscure setting with a few shades of light is what the scene needs to build fight and tension to the viewer, sympathising for Bond.

Casino Royale: James Bond finds out his Vodka Martini has been poisoned. A close up to  Daniel Craig looking at his drink achieves the desired effect. The casino atmosphere is still mantained with the gold background.

In the same way that GoldenEye reinvigorated the series after five somewhat repetitive Bond films in terms of style, Casino Royale brought fresh air after the three last action-hero type films of Brosnan in the role. Ian Fleming’s 1953 character was now adapted to a world surrounded by technology and with the international terrorism hanging like a shadow after the 9-11 attacks.

While Bond wouldn’t directly fight these fundamentalists, Le Chiffre, the Soviet Union treasurer in the original novel, became a banker for worldwide terrorists and African warlords whom Bond would have to face in the poker tournament the man is hosting to recover the clients’ funds he spent speculating in the stock market.

As much darker this James Bond had to be, the film isn’t without humor and style. If in 1995 Bond had to be an alternative for the blue-collar heroes like Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis, in 2006 he had to be an alternative for the likes of Jason Bourne or Chirstopher Nolan’s Batman version. And the alternative was based, once again, in the style of Bond – a very different style from the other heroes. Campbell insisted that not everything had to be changed and, while Daniel Craig’s portrayal was offering a much more grittier and muscular Bond than before, he would still move in the same exotic world, wear the same elegant suits and live in the same world of luxury everyone would desire to be.

Casino Royale: Bond tries a home-made emetic recipe to counteract the effects of the poison. The white, blurry lighting Dutch-Tilt shot by Phil Méheux and Stuart Baird's dynamic editing make the scene believable.
Casino Royale: After his ordeal in the hands of Le Chiffre, Bond is being taken care by Vesper Lynd. Green, a color associated to peace and hope, is prominent in this shot.

Casino Royale starts with a grainy black and white introductory scene, but as Bond accomplishes his two assassination missions and is promoted to 00 status, Phil Méheux uses every possible resort to give the film an unique glossy quality where the palette of colors give the scenes their proper mood: the freerunning chase in Madagascar is given an orange filter to give the sensation of hotness, the confrontation between Bond and a bomber in the Miami Airport is given a static blue gamma to make it look colder and darker and, once again, the casino scene is a mixture of black, gold, brown and green to emphasize the richness of the place Bond is playing, which is not any casino but a high stakes gambling spot where few people can be. For the ending scenes in Venice, the screen is filled with green, blue and white in the scenario, giving it a sort of Renaissance sculpture feeling. It is noticeable how James Bond recognizes Vesper Lynd for her distinctive red dress, different to what everyone else was wearing in that scene.

The highest point of creativity would probably be the scene where the secret agent is poisoned by Le Chiffre during the card game. As Bond goes to the bathroom, a bright and somewhat blurry white filter makes the audience feel the same dizziness Bond is feeling. Martin Campbell made sure this scene feels as realistic as possible with the artistic view of Méheux and the sharp techniques of Stuart Baird to create a unique and substantial effect.

Between the 11 years that separate GoldenEye from Casino Royale, Martin Campbell has refused to direct any other Bond film even after being asked to return. He claimed he didn’t want to repeat himself, and looks like a very conscious decision on his behalf considering his return was very welcome in 2006 and helped to calm –or silence– those who were with doubts about the success of Casino Royale. Both films occupy the number one place on many fan lists and are regarded as generational classics for many moviegoers.

Unlike the Archangel mission from GoldenEye, where half of everything was luck and the other half was fate, when it comes to a Martin Campbell movie nothing comes out of luck or fate. It’s a matter of talent, passion and experience. 

Nicolás Suszczyk

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Je t'aime, mon Québécois: Revisiting 'Allied'

There are no doubts that Robert Zemeckis is one of the most talented filmmakers ever. In more than one film he manages to touch the most unreachable strings of anyone's soul, giving the audiences the lowest emotional blows that no emotionally strong alpha male could ever resist. 2016's Allied is certainly not an exception as the story revolves in one of the world's darkest hours: World War II, when Europe was cornered by the deadly Nazi forces and the Luftwaffe dropped bombs all over England.

Theatrical poster for Allied.
It all began with a screenwriter Steven Knight remembering a story he heard when he was 21 years old, about an Allied officer marrying the female agent he had to work with. A time after their son was born, his superiors ordered him to kill her with concrete evidence that she was a German double agent.

This was the basis of Allied, where Canadian RAF commander Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is sent on an assasination mission in the French Morocco, where he meets his liason Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), posing as his wife until the mission is accomplished. At first, they'll resist falling for each other, but the physical and emotional connection between the two will grow significantly after they get the job done and miraculously escape alive.

Years later, after Max and Marianne marry and have a daughter, he is summoned by Section V of the Secret Intelligence Service and told that Marianne Beausejour was dead and replaced by a woman looking very much alike, and that their target in Morocco was actually a Hitler dissident. Max is ordered to run a "blue dye" on her: leave a fake important message to see if she reports it to Germany. If she does, he'll have to kill her or they'll be both executed for treason.

The story is also very reminiscent to the very las pages of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, where Bond discovers his very much beloved Vesper was a double agent after she commits suicide not bearing with the guilt and the posibility they could both be hunted down. In comparison, Allied extends that premise by having Max presented with the facts and having to act, standing on a crossroad between the flag and the woman he loves.

While Brad Pitt feels a bit unemotional on his performance as Max, Marion Cotillard makes an exceptional role. Perhaps one of the best of her career. The French actress is incredibly convincing as both a cold and self-reliant agent of the French Ressistance and as the caring and loving wife every man would dream of. Despite the cloud of doubt floating avobe the loyalties of her character, it's hard not to fall for her and not to feel her every time as much as his husband does. She was, without a shadow of doubt, the right actress for the role.
Marianne (Marion Cotillard) and Max (Brad Pitt) in a scene set in Casablanca in the fiction.
The detail of the production design by Gary Freeman and the costumes by Joanna Johnston is outstanding.

"C'est moi. This is the real me," she tells Max as she hugs him in tears, while she's giving birth to their daughter Anna in the middle of an air-raided London.

Robert Zemeckis brings back the glory of his Forrest Gump days with this movie: the soundtrack -also by Alan Silvestri- has the same emotional charge as the one of the highly acclaimed 1994 film. A good mixture between the soft wind instruments underlining the ill-fated romance between Max and Marianne and the intense and fast percussion cues of the war scenes. The setting of the movie in the 1940s was also very detailed: Marion Cotillard's costumes designed by Joanna Johnston resembled the times with very chic designs, so was Brad Pitt's black tuxedo and cream three-piece suits, very suitable for the hot climate of Morocco.

"The movie is a romance at its core, so the production design was always done with an eye towards being romantic", commented Zemeckis. "When we start the film in Casablanca we wanted it to evoke the Casablanca that we know from the movie Casablanca".

The happy days of Max and Marianne.

Production designer Gary Freeman took attention to every detail to turn the Moroccan city into a North African version of the French Riviera as it was during the days where Morocco belonged to France. It is with the great team work made by Freeman, Silvestri and Johnston that we fall in love with an exotic and romantic story right from the very beginning: the people in charge of the set design, the soundtrack and the costume design succeed in making the film beliavable, sexy and intense.

As the story moves to London, the costumes and sets change to provide a darker related to the days of Wartime. The Special Operations Executive office were based on Winston Churchill's claustrophobic offices inside a bunker and the cottage where Max and Marianne live has small rooms as it was fashionable back then. Gary Freeman often used the same location or building to prepare three different sets, and the changes went unnoticed.

The same happened with Marianne's clothing, which are much opaque incomparison to her colorful costumes from the Moroccan scenes. And the cinematographic palette offers an abrupt change between the gold and red hues of the desert and nightclubs to the desaturated colours of the Wartime London, showcasing Max's inner feelings as he is facing the posibility that his wife may be betraying him and his country.

Allied is a masterpiece, a movie that seduces and makes you cry. It can be defined as a war film, a drama or a romance, with the balance inclined much more towards the latter. A story on how could true love prevail over war. On how true love could prevail over masquerades, betrayals, deceit and even death.

Nicolás Suszczyk

Saturday, June 23, 2018

'I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike': An Overlooked Masterpiece

A long time ago when video games were gaining newer grounds among worldwide entertainment mediums, they were becoming less arcade-oriented and more cinematic-inspired in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before the Call of Duty franchise came to exist. One of these video game franchises was the Project I.G.I. series that only spawned two video games, both developed by the Norwegian-based late Innerloop Studios.

The first video game itself was described by the developers as "GoldenEye 007 on Windows PC," bearing the difficulties of a hard-edged first-person shooter (minus the blood and gore a la Wolfenstein and Doom, for instance) while involving a plot centering around military espionage. It challenges the player to move quick, think strategically, and fire the weapon accurately without being reckless as the enemies are themselves quite the marksmen. Each level has to be completed in one go where mid-game saves do not exist. Although, it did garner a lot of fans back in the day, the game received mixed reviews from the critics for a number shortcomings including the aforementioned lack of save option and a multiplayer mode that is demanded by the general audience of the video gaming world. Project I.G.I.: I'm Going In was published 15 December 2000 by the late Eidos Interactive, whose current parent company, Square Enix, hold the rights to this particular title.

Three years later, we've had a sequel to the millennium game, that is vastly updated from its previous effort, adding more agility, a lot of functionalities and further induced development and programming into the heart of the project. I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike arrived on the shelves on 3 March 2003 by the same development team, albeit with a different publisher - Codemasters. A game that was different yet the same, although better - a debatable matter among the fans - as it introduces new arrays of strategies that would lead the player to tackle each of the levels, objectives and given missions. But, of course, the game's military strategy and other set of technicalities were consulted by ex-SAS officer and Bravo Two Zero survivor turned author and novelist Chris Ryan. A fact that's very apparent in this game and why is it so great (perhaps even better) compared to many stealthy shooters that came before and after, hence the sub-title as it suggests "covert strike."

The story sees the return of I.G.I.'s most trustworthy agent, and ex-SAS operative, David Jones is sent to collect stolen modified EMP device smuggled from NATO by the Russian Mafia in and around the Carpathian mountains and Romanian borders, but overtime he discovers that things are not as they seem, having himself caught amidst the crossfire as he hovers around the globe, evading the dangers of betrayal in the process, and uncovers a plot by Chinese rogue military General to start World War III. And it's up to Jones to prevent the chaos.

The gameplay reflects on realism, albeit differently than the likes of Call of Duty gave birth to at the time. You, as the player character, are allowed to carry one primary weapon, one secondary weapon, a combat knife (always present by default), a hand grenade and sometimes other optional instruments of kill and first-aid kit rarely making appearances. Equipped with a GPS map tablet computer (called map computer, a product of its time), you can observe and decide where to make the attack or sneak in if you want it stealthy. Putting on the complete undetected stealth mode requires a lot of experience. But, if you're going to burst in with full attack mode, you are going to have to be very quick. Especially when confronting the Chinese troops face to face. Their level of accuracy in marksmanship is very high.

Now, what is my opinion of this video game? Let's see...

It is designed rather greatly, if I'm quite honest. Chris Ryan's influence on how to infiltrate a base, engage with the enemy (or disengage for the matter), balance your accuracy and learn to control your subtlety is evident throughout the experience. It is up to the player to dictate one's own movements and method in a sandbox map, allowing you to move around the area in your preferred order, delude the enemy, and pave the way in for your own advantage if you play your cards right. It's a lot more atmospheric, in my opinion, than the first installment, and draws the world around you as if it were real. Imagine the experience in virtual reality, it could be a commando's survival simulator, if you will, as opposed to its predecessor which relied on the player's accuracy and quickness of the hand - namely, a generic shooter (albeit a great one!). I could describe David Jones a more "hands-on and gloves-off Sam Fisher" minus the acrobatic agility and the nightvision goggles.

Each mission one tackles places the player in somewhat a huge responsibility, if one isn't an expert in the game. I myself am not an expert, despite my years of playing the game since it came out. A large part of what makes this game fun is that you are given the option to be rewardingly stealthy, but it would require a huge amount of patience, bravery and strategical thinking for you to go through with it. Otherwise, you could play the game just like Project I..G.I.: I'm Going In, blast the doors open, and leap in with guns blazing, provided you're as careful and quick as you were in the first game. As for me, I fall in the middle - Half stealthy, half confrontational, depending on my situation.

What also makes the game outstanding in its tone is Kim Jensen's music as I stated above who has upped his game and gave every level its own specific track which could get to your nerves and spawn anxiety if you will - the fear of getting caught. That is, of course, if you are to take the game seriously, which I do. Without the soundtrack, half the game's fun would be taken away, truthfully speaking. For a spy experience, you need quite the ambiance to keep you away from the fourth wall and treat the missions accordingly, it's supposed to be haunting even for someone as professional as David Jones. Then, there's also one element in each of the levels (well, most of them, anyway) I rather like - in each of their beginnings, the first thing the player sees is the landscape overview of the map from afar, and the world around it is silent, thus paving you the way in for an atmospheric infiltration.

A sample of the soundtrack by Kim Jensen - I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike main theme

...And then, there's the spooky level at the Romanian borders where you are to evade hordes of hostile border patrols with Dragunov sniper rifles. Good Heavens! That's one level where you can't simply barge in full action commando with your gunbarrel flashing the muzzle. It's even more petrifying than the first game's level of the same name (both called "Border Crossing") where you start off with no weapon but your combat knife.

Overall, while the first game is a tactical shooter, this one is a strategically stealthy shooter. Personally, I prefer the latter. The storyline for Covert Strike is also more appealing to my tastes, as I could see it easily being a James Bond thriller, something that is indeed noticeable this time around in the characterization of David Jones who differs quite than that of his previous incarnation. No disrespect to the great Philip Morris (Jones's voiceover in the first) in the slightest, but I do like Boris Sosna better as I find him more suited to the veteran ex-SAS turned IGI covert operative character with his deep voice and the confidence that oozes in the lines he delivers without overdoing it. Then again, being a lifelong Bond fan myself, I do like Jones better as a Bond-like rather than something akin to a young and yet-inexperienced Jason Statham type. While I love Project I.G.I.: I'm Going In very dearly, the second game is by far higher in my book as it is in my top five spy video games list (all of them being shooters, mind?) that I yearly revisit, at least once.

Is there a future for this series? Luckily, yes. Sometimes, good things come to those who wait, as they say. Video games developer studios named Artplant purchased the intellectual property regarding Project I.G.I. as well as the character of David Jones and others in January, last year. Artplant is in itself founded by former employees of the now-defunct Innerloop Studios, who officially announced a third game in the series, named Project I.G.I.: We're Going In is in development by May 2017. While the general fans of the franchise prefer the first game by a wide margin over the second, I personally hope the third installment is akin to I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike which is more atmospheric, in my opinion. We're yet to get a first look at the third game or any reports for the matter, but Artplant revealed that it will continue building up on the feature of "the freedom the series has become known for." Well, I can hardly wait!

Thank you for reading! Feel free to discuss the topic below!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Going Back In Time: Dynamite Entertainment Presents James Bond Origin

Ever since assuming the license from Ian Fleming Publications back in 2014, eligible for twenty years to use and produce comic books centering on the character as well as the universe that surrounds him, we've had twelve installments from Dynamite Entertainment based on Ian Fleming's intellectual property, three of them being spinoffs, while the rest are original stories by various artists and a faithful graphic novel adaptation of Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale that came out only a couple of months ago to positive reviews.

But, that isn't all. Dynamite made a whole new revelation today that they've announced back in 2017 during the Diamond Summit event, originally scheduled for Fall 2017, only to be pushed back to Spring 2018, which didn't materialize but now.

The original announcement image by Ian Fleming Publications
James Bond Origin is the title unveiled today, depicted as a whole new series that takes the readers back to March 1941 where James Bond is a 17 year old boy making the decision that will change his life forever. But, before I further come to discussing the details, I'd like to mention that despite Fleming's given birth of year of Bond's, novelist Charlie Higson settled on 11 November 1920 as the character's date of birth while writing the Young Bond novels, which would make him over 20 years old by then. Anachronistic, sure. But, it's all in a minor factor that changes over the years with fictional characters. Writer and comics veteran Jeff Parker reflects on the experience:

“It’s a weighty challenge to reverse-engineer this icon into a young man on a life’s journey of danger, but Nate Cosby paired me up with Bob Q, who not only brings the gravitas of war in 1941 Europe, but nails the promising hero in his youth,” Parker said in a statement. “James doesn’t have the vast experience of a double-O agent yet, but he’s tenacious and a lightning-quick study. Bob and I work to show the full force of Bond’s spirit.”

James Bond Origins #1 F-Retailer Exclusive cover by artist Bob Q

The official blurb proposes this:

Introducing a 17 year James Bond, a restless student in Scotland, who is eager to leave his mark on the world, a sudden but unfortunate series of events coincides the visit by an old family friend with devastating Clydebank Blitz, thus forcing a young Bond to fight to survive.

Written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Bob Q, the first issue is set to come out sometime in September, later this year, resulting in the debut of a new series in the franchise. The first issue - of course - will come in various selection of covers illustrated by several artists, a treat that VARGR had seen back in November 2015. It's worth to mention that one of the covers is brought by Kev Walker, who himself worked on various artworks for the Young Bond novel series as well as the graphic novel adaptation of Silverfin, the first book in the aforementioned sub-franchise within the main franchise.

Variant covers for James Bond Origin feature materials delivered by
(left to right) John Cassaday, David Mack, Kev Walker
Gene Ha, Ibrahim Moustafa, and Bob Q in collaboration with Jordan Boyd.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to discuss the topic below!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Agent 47 Returns In 'Hitman 2'

With E3 2018 at the doorstep, IO Interactive announced the upcoming installment in the globally renowned video game franchise, Hitman in a new title, conveniently called Hitman 2, taking after the sixth entry in the series which was simply named after the franchise's label, thus serving as a continuation of its predecessor and bearing a very similar gameplay style.

Hitman 2 (not to be confused with the actual second game, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin that came out in 2002) puts the world's deadliest assassin, Agent 47 against the shadowy backdrop of conspiratorial conflicts as he pursues the mysterious figure only referred to as 'The Shadow Client' who has ties to his past while also looking into the organization known as Providence who meddle with world affairs without anyone in the know.

When IO Interactive bought themselves out of the holdings of Square Enix as well as purchasing the rights to the Hitman franchise last year, what was supposed to be an episodic release in the form of Season 2 in the title that made its debut in March 2016 was canned in favor of a complete retailer release only unveiled a few days ago. Only this time, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment will be publishing and distributing the title rather than Square Enix that has cut ties with the intellectual property regarding Hitman. It is scheduled for release on 13 November 2018 on Microsoft Windows PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in various editions.

Aside from the six-level official missions narrating the plot, the concept of weekly Elusive Targets will return, downloadable contents will be available in each of their respective schedules, features from the fourth installment in the series, Hitman: Blood Money, will also be making comebacks, including the briefcase to hide a carbine rifle in, and the Sniper Assassin mode is available to those who pre-order the game, added by the cooperative multiplayer feature in it, as well. There will be further two expansion packs in the future, that include new sniper maps, locations, weapons, outfits and side missions unrelated to the plot of the game.

On side notes, after two unsuccessful efforts to bring Hitman to the big screen with an established film franchise, a television series commissioned by Hulu is in the pipeline, with the pilot episode being written by Derek Kolstad, the famous creator of another assassin franchise, John Wick, announced back in November 2017. Although, it is not yet known when it will be airing as production on the episodes is yet to commence.

Friday, May 25, 2018

BOND 25 - OFFICIAL NEWS: directed by Danny Boyle, written by John Hodge, distributed by MGM and Universal


Production on Bond 25 will begin in December with Danny Boyle directing Daniel Craig’s 5th outing as Bond. EON Productions and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios (MGM) have reached an agreement with Universal Pictures to partner on the worldwide release of the 25th James Bond film.

Daniel Craig returns as 007 and Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Steve Jobs) will direct from an original screenplay by Academy Award nominee John Hodge (Trainspotting) with production set to begin on 3 December 2018. Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release the film theatrically in the US on 8 November 2019 through its new joint venture for domestic theatrical distribution with Annapurna Pictures, and Universal Pictures will release internationally commencing with the traditional earlier release in the UK on 25 October 2019.

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli commented, “We are delighted to announce that the exceptionally talented Danny Boyle will be directing Daniel Craig in his fifth outing as James Bond in the 25th instalment of the franchise. We will begin shooting Bond 25 at Pinewood Studios in December with our partners at MGM and thrilled that Universal Pictures will be our international distributor.”

“Under the leadership of Michael and Barbara, we couldn’t be more thrilled than to bring the next 007 adventure to the big screen uniting the incomparable Daniel Craig with the extraordinary vision of Danny Boyle,” said MGM’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, Kevin Ulrich. MGM’s President, Motion Picture Group Jonathan Glickman added, “It has been 16 years since Die Another Day was distributed by MGM and it’s incredibly gratifying to be releasing this film alongside the powerhouse team at Universal.”

“Universal is extremely proud to collaborate with Michael, Barbara and MGM on the international marketing and distribution of Bond 25,” said Chairman of Universal Pictures Donna Langley. “The unparalleled combination of Danny’s innovative filmmaking and Daniel’s embodiment of 007 ensured we simply had to be partners in the next chapter of this iconic series.”