'Red 2,' spies and tourism - Grantland
In the same way that the detective movie is a fantasy about city life, the spy movie is a fantasy about tourism. No one is more beautifully adapted to the urban environment than the detective — he knows its secrets, speaks its language, moves freely between its penthouses and dives — and no one is better than the spy at being a tourist. If that sounds glib, think about how often the movie spy's intrigues revolve around sightseeing destinations: Roger Moore chasing Grace Jones through the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint dangling from Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest, Sean Connery dodging bullets on the Jamaican beach in Dr. No, Matt Damon hurtling over the balconies of Tangier in The Bourne Ultimatum, Norman Lloyd plummeting off the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur, Michael Caine brawling outside the Royal Albert Hall in The Ipcress File, Robert Powell hanging off Big Ben's minute hand in The Thirty-Nine Steps, Daniel Craig gliding through the canals of Venice in Casino Royale.1 The spy movie wants to thrill you by convincing you that tremendous adventure is happening right there in public, and not just in public but in the most public places on earth. Why, even you could find it, if you could only afford the ticket — and if you could somehow see through the eyes of the spy.
At its most basic, the spy movie2 reduces international conflict to the level of individual agency. It is decided not by armies or bureaucrats, but by the actions of one person, usually opposed by a tiny handful of enemies. So, if she's going to avert global catastrophe, of course the spy is going to have to travel. And if she's traveling anyway, why not have her swing past the Taj Mahal? Isn't it more fun for the audience to see inside the Monte Carlo Casino than some office block in Brussels? Even in spy movies that don't depict famous locations, screenwriters and directors go out of their way to concoct a romance of travel. For a large portion of the American/Western/advanced-industrial film audience, travel might be the activity in which geopolitics most noticeably intrudes on their lives — in the inconvenience of borders, passports, languages, currencies, customs. But none of that fazes the spy. He either circumvents restrictions entirely or he comes equipped with the tools he needs to pass through them. He doesn't wait in line unless he's in disguise.
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