Film Review: The Man From U.n.c.l.e.

‘60S Spy Saga Retuns With Style

Devin D. O'Leary
5 min read
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
“Well ... it’s not that big a gun.”
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If Paramount can make a successful franchise out of the long-gone TV spy series “Mission: Impossible,” there’s no reason why Warner Bros. can’t do the exact same thing to the long-gone TV spy series “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Tapping seasoned writer-director Guy Ritchie and recruiting up-and-comers Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer to do the hero thing, producers have created a sexy, spirited, consistently enjoyable late summer love letter to spy-fi fiction.

Ritchie—who made his bones on cockneyfied crime sagas like
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, RocknRolla and Snatch—knows a thing or two about reboots. The man transformed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective Sherlock Holmes into a pair of high-adrenaline action flicks starring Robert Downey Jr. He does much the same here, only with less of an eye toward reinvention. Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. sticks with the early-’60s time period and keeps the spirit of the characters intact. (No major deviations, like Downey’s MMA-fighting Holmes.) In today’s remake-mad movie era, audiences really should concentrate on avoiding unnecessary reboots (like Fantastic Four, maybe) and spend their money on things that might actually work. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (like “Mission: Impossible” before it) was a decades-old series, fondly remembered, but far chintzier than you recall. It is, simply put, ripe for the remaking.

Henry Cavill (Superman in WB’s grimdark reboot of
Man of Steel) is buttoned-down, straight arrow former-art-thief-turned-CIA-agent Napoleon Solo. Of impeccable dress, perfect diction and deadly aim, Solo is sent to East Germany, circa 1962, to liberate the daughter of an ex-Nazi scientist. There he crosses paths with a hulking, loose-cannon KGB agent with anger management issues named Illya Kuryakin. As luck (and the plot) would have it, Solo is soon teamed up with his Soviet Bloc rival when the two world powers decide a cabal of former Nazis working on an atomic bomb is a big enough threat for them to cooperate (for a little while anyway).

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. digs right into time and place, having fun with the red-hot Cold War atmosphere of the 1960s. Solo and Kuryakin have good reason to squabble over their forced partnership, and there’s plenty of friction along the way. It’s your typical mismatched buddy cop dynamic, but the characters are well-written and Cavill and Hammer are clearly having a blast. Cavill, in fact, has rarely been looser and does a fine job twisting his (British) Jersey accent into the same sort of high-tone knickerbocker bemusement Robert Vaughn brought to the original character. Cavill and Hammer are matched in the charisma department by Alicia Vikander (the Swedish actress most recently seen in Ex Machina and Testament of Youth). Vikander plays Gaby, the tag-along German girl looking for her long-lost father. She’s given commendable mechanical skills and adds a spark of sexual tension to the proceedings.

In fact the whole of
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a seriously sexy affair. The people are good looking, the settings are gorgeous and the clothes are to die for. Ritchie wallows in the style of the period (from soundtrack to editing techniques) without ever descending into camp recreation. This is no Austin Powers parody. There’s plenty of laugh-out-loud comedy to be gleaned. (Ritchie has nothing if not a sense of timing.) But the film never sacrifices reality for the sake of a joke. It’s not a comedy. It’s just a very funny action film. When it’s firing on all six cylinders—as is does during a boat-chase sequence that perfectly balances humor, panache and unexpected thrills—The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is smashingly entertaining.

Personally, I could could go for another one of these right away. The film sets itself up perfectly for an endless string of sequels. Whether that happens depends on audiences and box office, of course.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. deals in a sort of quite cool. It’s hard to say if it has enough flash and sizzle to capture massive audience attention. Coming a mere two weeks after its crosstown rival Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can’t help but look and feel like a lower-ley, lower-budget affair. And with it hitting theaters a week before the stoner spy saga American Ultra, moviegoers may have had their fill of superspies this summer. Hopefully, though, this one will find its audience. It may not be the summer’s biggest ticket, but it’s a sexy, witty, stylish, retro-cool trip down memory lane.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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