The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Review
SLEEK, SEXY, AND FUN
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” was a television show that debuted back in the heyday of the 60s spy genre, where the super slick James Bond style was at the forefront of pop culture. Running for five seasons (from 1964 to 1968) followed a troublesome pair of spy super sleuths, American spy Napoleon Solo and Russian spy Illya Kuryakin, as they worked together for U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) and their battle against global crises. Acting as a somewhat prequel to the original television show (or origin story), Warner Bros. Pictures and director Guy Ritchie present a theatrical reimagining of Solo and Kuryakin’s first co-op mission in the movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Does the movie relive the spy glory days of old or is it just another meekly sleuth capper of a bygone age?
Set in the early 1960s, just as the Cold War heats up, the C.I.A. is fixed on retrieving Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) in East Berlin. Gaby is the daughter of a nuclear scientist, who disappeared from America awhile back and is now in league with the nefarious Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) and Alexander (Luca Calvani); the paring in possession of a nuclear warhead. Hunting for Gaby is Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), a rogue who is gone legit and working for the American government, while a Soviet spy named Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is also in pursuit of Ms. Teller. With global crisis looming, the two warring governments (America & Russia) decide to work together, pairing Solo and Kuryakin with Gaby and orchestrate a plan to infiltrate Victoria and Alexander’s inner circle and relinquish control over the nuclear bomb.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
2015 at the movies has been seeing a somewhat revival of the spy genre. February saw the uber violent graphic novel adaptation of Kingsman: Secret Service, which was then followed by the Melissa McCarthy’s comedy / action spoof Spy in early June. I remember seeing the trailer for The Man from U.N.C.L.E found it to be interesting, taking a somewhat different approach from Kingsman and Spy and harkening back to the “golden age” spy movies. The result is a movie that, while having a couple of problems, is still an enjoyable movie and a return to form of a good old fashioned spy feature romp.
Director Guy Ritchie, known for his action remake of Sherlock Holmes in 2009 and its follow-up 2011 sequel Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, helms this spy project. Rather than reinvention or modernizing the feature, Ritchie seems to harkening back to the throwback spy noire with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The movie’s overall look and feel seems to capture this cinematic espionage world of the 60s beautifully. From its visual style in cinematography to the lavishing set pieces, to the dramatics and elegant costume designs (designer Joanna Johnson must be mention), The Man from U.N.C.L.E has a sleek and sexy appeal and allusion to what they movie is based off of.
The screenplay (written by Ritchie and co-scripted with Lionel Wigram) borrows heavily from various spy / espionage iterations (film, TV, and novels). While the film’s narrative has a very nostalgia feel for this particular genre, the problem breeds story familiarity. There are few twists and turns in the movie, but majority of them an average moviegoer will be able to predict come ahead of the reveal. That’s one of the main problems with The Man from U.N.C.L.E., its story, while romancing the 60s spy thrills, feels like it could’ve been buffed up a little bit with a meatier and clever storyline. Additionally, the movie has a couple of pockets of pacing problems, slowing the feature down as excitement wanes slightly. In short, while the story is nothing new or original, The Man from U.N.C.L.E is packed full of action spy nuances and historical flair for the average moviegoer to overlook the movie’s shortcomings.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. primary cast consist of three main performances found in Solo, Kuryakin, and Gaby. These roles are instrumental to the movie and are pulled off greatly by the film’s selected two actors and actress. Henry Cavill, known for role in the television show The Tudors and, more recently, as Superman in Man of Steel and next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, plays Napoleon Solo as one who expect from a stylized 60s spy film; a square-jawed American that has sly wit and smooth charms, and arrogance bravado. In that regard, Cavill seems perfect for the role. Similarly, Armie Hammer, known for playing both Winklevoss twins in the movie Social Network, is fun to watch as the stern and rage-filled Soviet spy Illya Kuryakin. While many have pushed Hammer aside as a action (following the box office bomb of Disney’s Lone Ranger), Hammer does turn a fine performance as the gruff, mono syllabic Russian KGB soldier; perfectly pairing up against Cavill’s clean cut Solo for some great dynamics between the two. Lastly, Alicia Vikander’s Gaby Teller is an enjoyable and fun role for the actress to play. Vikander, playing smaller roles in films here and there before her breakout role earlier this year as Ava in Ex Machina, gives Gaby some comedy levity as well as being a capable female character amongst her two “Alpha male” co-stars, a thing that rarely exist in this familiar narrative setup.
The rest of the cast is a mixture of known and unknowns actors and actresses, but are a little less distinct than the movie’s main trio. Richie’s keeps up the 60s espionage thrills with these characters, but they aren’t as fleshed out as they could possibly be. Probably most prominent one, of the supporting roles, is the film’s antagonist Victoria Vinciguerra played by actress Elizabeth Debicki. Debicki, mostly known for playing Jordan Baker in the Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby, gets a tad more screen time than her supporting cast members (with more time develop her character), but comes off as a malicious stereotypical evildoer. At the very least, Debicki relishes her on-screen villainy and again looks stunning in her stylish wardrobe costumes. Alexander Vinciguerra, Victoria’s husband and played by Luca Calvani, is more of a physical appearance in the movie, having a couple of moments here and there, but is more of a main henchmen to Victoria than her lover. Respectfully, actor Jared Harris and Hugh Grant are thrown into the mix as Saunders and Waverly, but, again, are more side characters to the film, propelling the story forward with their involvement rather than playing central key parts. The same goes for Sylvester Groth as Gaby’s uncle Rudi and Christian Berkel as Udo, Gaby’s missing father.
As a final note, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is being shown in IMAX. While the IMAX upgrade helps you (the viewer) immerse yourself in the feature, I personally didn’t see the need to see in this format. Sure, it adds to the experience, but, unless you have excess cash, its best to see the movie in regular 2D format.
For all tense and purposes, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a cinematic love letter to spy genre of the 60s. Ritchie doesn’t reinvent the espionage wheel with this feature, but romances it, offering up familiar staples to the genre and plays with spy nostalgia. Yes, the story beats are familiar, some characters are stereotypical spy fill-ins, and the film’s pacing can be a problem, but Ritchie preserves the spy elements in the film’s visual flair, action, and the dynamics of its three leads, making an entertaining and enjoyable feature to watch. Personally, I like it as a tried-and-true spy movie, but others might have mixed feelings about the movie. If you like the old fashioned spy flicks of yesteryears, then The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the picture you’ve been waiting for. Here’s to hoping that the movie gets a franchise tag. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel.