Dir: Guy Ritchie
Writer(s): Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Misha Kuznetsov, Jared Harris and Hugh Grant
Synopsis: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
2015 really does seem to be the year of the spy genre. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation came out a couple weeks ago and the next James Bond film, Spectre is coming out in November. Both films are totally different so it’s nice to see something a little more loose and fun with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. coming out his past weekend. Not to say the film doesn’t have its moments of seriousness, but The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a nice alterative to some of the other films out there.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, the film is based on the old 60s shows of the same name, is set in the early 1960s at the height of the Cold War, and follows CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) having to team up with and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) to work with an East German mechanic Gaby Teller (Vikander), whose father – a known scientist and ability to make a nuclear bomb – has been kidnapped by Victoria Vinciguerra (Debicki) to build a bomb. The plan is for Illya to pose as Gaby’s fiancés in hopes that Gaby’s Uncle Rudi (Groth) can arrange an introduction, as Solo tries to charm Victoria so they can get the Intel they need to rescue Gaby’s father and stop the bomb from being sold and used.
The film works as a pseudo-prequel to the TV show, as it shows how the group came to be. Solo is one of the CIA’s best agents, like Kuryakin is the best the KGB has to offer and are focused to work together in order to, for all intent-and-purposes, save the world. The two aren’t on the best terms since the film opens with an impressive chase scene – that also involves Gaby – and right before they team up, they beat the crap out of each other. They also have their own ways of going about a mission and it also doesn’t help that their respected agencies have their own agenda. However, despite being on different sides of the war, the two form a weird and competitive friendship and mutual respect for each other.
In fact, one of the best aspects of the film is the relationship and chemistry between Cavill and Hammer. The banter they exchange with and about each other is funny and brings another layer to them. Cavill – who actually replaced Tom Cruise after he left the project – brings a great dose of charisma and is heavily suave when need be. Cavill is easily enjoying himself here and loves chewing up some of the scene. Hammer, goes against the usual stereotypes of Russians as bad guys, and makes Illya more of earnest character that balances his anger than the other way around. Hammer also seems to be having fun playing the character and putting on the Russian accent.
Alicia Vikander, thankfully, isn’t a female character that is put off to the side and actually gets to be involved in the mission, for the most part. Vikander is becoming one of my early favorite actresses after seeing her in Ex Machina, and she doesn’t disappoint here. She stands out in her bigger scenes, especially one that involves her and Hammer in a hotel room. By the end, she does get a bit lost in the background.
The rest of the supporting cast really doesn’t work out that well, unfortunately. Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria and Luca Calvani are supposedly to the villains of the movie, but they don’t essentially earn that title. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by good spy film villains with the James Bond and Mission: Impossible films, but The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is its own thing in being a bit looser, but still no excuse for not having a good villain. Sylvester Groth’s Uncle Rudi does okay, but by the time we know more about his character and is finally growing, the film is done with the character. Jared Harris plays Solo’s CIA contact and boss, but it really is nothing more than an extended cameo for Harris, and the same goes for Misha Kuznetsov who plays Illya’s KGB boss. Finally, Hugh Grant’s Waverly character pops in around the middle of the film and disappears until the final act, and I have to say, I wish he was in it just a tad bit more. The character feels more like he was a character they were building up for potential sequels, but I wish they gave him a little more to do in the actual film beforehand.
Guy Ritchie is sometimes known for choosing style over substance in his films, and while that rings true here in some areas, the other areas he find a nice balance in some of the scenes. But, the film almost lends itself in some areas to choose style of substance, especially in the beginning action sequence – which is a hell of a lot of fun – and in some instances during the final action sequence. Speaking of the final action sequence, it almost saves the film, in the sense that the final act makes up for some of the slow pace during the second act. The final action sequence is also elevated a bit more because of the score. The score adds another great layer to the scene that makes it even more fun to watch.
All in all, The Man from U.N.C.L.E is a ton of fun. Cavill and Hammer bring a lot of the fun and humor to the film that sets it apart from the other spy genres that are coming out this year.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
4 out of 5