Director: Simon West
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Austin Stowell, Gemma Chan, Connie Nielsen, Thomas Kretschmann, Tom Felton, Jake Fairbrother, Tyler Hoechlin, Derek Jacobi
MPAA Rating: (for strong violence, and language)
Running Time: 1:35
Release Date: 1/5/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 4, 2018
John Stratton (Dominic Cooper) isn't exactly a spy in the vein of—oh, say—James Bond, but it's pretty clear that Stratton is gunning for the character to become something of a Bond-like figure. He's British. He's part of a special force, overseen by MI6, which—not coincidentally, we have to assume—is the same agency that employs Bond. Stratton's first adventure takes him to exotic locations, such as Iran and Rome, and obviously, he doesn't have any qualms with firing a gun to kill a bunch of anonymous henchmen.
The thing that separates Stratton from the more famous character whom this one is somewhat imitating is a personality. We know Bond's ways and manner by this point, and pretty much any upstart imitator is going to copy those things or come up with a new angle. The screenplay by Duncan Falconer (who wrote the book series that originated this character) and Warren Davis II goes for a new angle, and it's a curious one, to say the least.
Basically, Stratton doesn't exactly have a personality. He's presented more as a man of action, but even then, the movie doesn't convince us of that concept. Stratton is essentially a jack of all trades, doing what the plot requires him to do but leaving a fairly significant portion of the work to his teammates. He excels at shooting and driving, and we know this because the screenplay gives him plenty of opportunities to do both.
There's a lot of shooting and a lot of driving here, and the first is always followed by the second (save for the climax, when the two actions are combined). We know this is basically requirement of the genre, but director Simon West doesn't want to do anything of note with these action sequences. Indeed, they're pretty bland even by the standards of Bond imitators.
The plot is mostly an excuse to put Stratton and his team of MI6 and Special Boat Service operatives into a series of shootouts and car chases. To sum it up, a former FSB operative, who was believed to be dead for two decades, named Grigory Barovsky (Thomas Kretchmann) has obtain a biological weapon nicknamed "Satan's Snow" (The name here is helpful, since it's never entirely clear what the weapon will actually do, other than kill or infect a lot of people). Stratton figures out that the weapon was stolen during an opening sequence of underwater derring-do at a facility off the coast of Iran, where his partner is killed by Barovsky during the first of the movie's many firefights.
The gimmick with the character is that he's part of the SBS, a maritime counter-terrorism organization that—from an American's perspective—served as a model for the Navy SEALs. Stratton's affinity for water-based espionage and action is used exactly twice in the movie: during the opening, as he and his partner make their way into the facility through a water-filled tube system, and during a boat chase, which provides a change of scenery to the shootout-chase routine but not much else. The little of Stratton's background that we learn is that he basically was raised on a boat by Ross (Derek Jacobi) after the deaths of his parents (yet another connection to that other British spy, for those keeping track).
The threadbare plot has Stratton, his new American partner Hank (Austin Stowell), and his team of MI6 reconnaissance agents (played, in part, by Gemma Chan and Tom Felton) track Barovsky's movements in order to figure out where he's going to use the biological weapon. The head of MI6 (played without much conviction by Connie Nielsen) knows Barovsky, since she led an effort to frame his as a double agent to the Russian government, leading to his supposed execution.
This about covers it in terms of the plot and characterizations. It's a light bag, devoid of any substance or surprise (There's a mole in the agency, of course, because what spy movie doesn't have that old trick up its sleeve?). It's here solely for the action, which quickly becomes repetitive and never possesses any genuine stakes. The reasons for the latter include the fact that West and company clearly put together the sequence piecemeal. They're edited to within an inch of their quickly fading lives, perhaps to cover up the fact that the cars are obviously driving the speed limit in a life-or-death situation.
What we can tell is that Cooper might have made a good action hero in material like this, if only because he shows sparks of intelligence and quick-wittedness in a few moments. Maybe he'll have the chance if Stratton follows the path of its more famous forbear with a sequel or two or more.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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