There’s something awfully familiar about this…
Before we get into the review, allow us to acknowledge that we’ve never seen the 1960s television series that the film is based on, so any winks and nods to the original material will be lost on us. That being said, we are quite familiar with Guy Ritchie, who hasn’t directed a film since Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows back in 2011.
After four years away, is he rejuvenated to make The Man from U.N.C.L.E. the next great spy franchise or will it be another clandestine clunker in the vein of This Means War?
Set in the early 1960s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) looking to smuggle Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing Nazi scientist, out of East Germany to help the U.S. locate him. KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is tasked with stopping the escape, but after a prolonged chase he fails and Teller is able to reach West Germany.
That separation doesn’t last long, however, as Solo and Kuryakin are partnered together against their will by their respective agencies for an undercover assignment of the utmost importance. It seems that some Nazi sympathizers, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) and Alexander Vinciguerra, have linked up with Gaby’s Uncle Rudi and are trying to make a nuclear device.
While the mission dictates they put aside their differences and focus on their cover — Solo as a procurer of antiques and Kuryakin as an architect and Gaby’s fiancé — the hostilities and competitiveness simmers just below the surface. With the duo engaged in a constant dual of one upmanship, they still must be able to complete their mission, which is easier said than done.
Ritchie does a great job capturing the ’60s vibe, creating a very tailored but still old-fashioned feel to everything — the clothing, the cars, the tech, etc. Vikander looks amazing in the fashions of the time, as does Debicki as the wealthy heiress. There’s a very thorough approach to keeping you caught up in the period, and it helps make the film interesting.
All three of the main characters do well in their roles. Cavill stops short of doing a full-on James Bond impression, but his style and behaviour definitely feel grounded in 007. Hammer is believable as Cavill’s far more intense Soviet counterpart, and his almost romance with Vikander is a nice tease. She plays in the background relative to the male leads, but her progression from bystander to active participant is one of the film’s better arcs.
There’s always plenty of dry humour in Ritchie movies, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is no exception with lots of moments that draw a wry smile.
Stylized filmmaking is part and parcel to the Ritchie experience as well, and that aspect feels overdone after a while. He frequently brings up the music, drops the dialogue and lets scenes play out in that manner. It’s cool the first couple of times, but eventually it gets more of a “here we go again” vibe — something that’s a big part of my next issue.
Anything you can do, I can do better is the central theme of the relationship between Solo and Kuryakin, each trying to outsmart (or outfight, or out-cool) the other. Again, these moments start off clever in a tongue in cheek sort of way, but as the movie wears on they start to stack up. We get it, they’re trying to outdo one another.
Relative to a lot of modern similar-type movies, the action sequences in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. aren’t particularly memorable. During the bonus features they talk about choreographing more realistic fights, which is fine, but when those exist in a totally surreal world where no one ever seems flustered by their situation — whether they’re being tortured or trying to escape via a flaming speed boat — it doesn’t make a lot of sense as to why they went that direction.
THE BONUS FEATURES
A half-dozen extras are available on the Blu-ray, a couple of which are interesting. Spy Vision details how they went about creating the ’60s look, and as one of highlights of the film it makes for worthwhile viewing. A Higher Class of Hero is the only other featurette we’d say is definitely worth the time, as it talks about the two main actors. There’s not much to the remaining four unless you’re a motorcycle buff or a huge fan of Ritchie.
We largely enjoyed The Man from U.N.C.L.E., though its repetitious use of certain elements wore thin by the end. Still, if there’s a sequel, we’ll be there (as long as Vikander is).