The Man from U.N.C.L.E
Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. offers audiences a slick reinvention of the 60s spy series for the big screen.
I’ll start by saying that I have no familiarity with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series so I can only really look at this as a spy movie. I’m aware that the show existed but have no idea what it was really known for beyond being a spy series so I can’t critique whether fans of the show will find any enjoyment out of this.
As a spy movie I would say it works pretty well. It’s a noticeably different vibe from the recent Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation or the earlier Kingsman: The Secret Service in that it focuses more on the spy aspects rather than the action. In that regard it feels really refreshing when surrounded by a number of summer tent poles focused on large scale destruction and epic action.
Since the structure of the film is far more low key than your typical summer film the cast has to be able to carry things really well and they absolutely succeed. Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo exudes charisma and charm as he effortlessly walks through deadly situations with a suave grace. His counterpart Russian spy Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) provides a suitable foil for him to bounce off as a man with a temper that he constantly fights to control. Both actors ease into the parts well and scenes between them are an absolute treat to behold. Some of their exchanges are incredibly funny and it’s a partnership that just works.
Setting up both characters as being the most skilled agent that either country has works really well as it creates a constant game of one-upmanship between the two men. Watching them constantly better each other is a lot of fun and it’s a dynamic that should continue to be fun should the film become a lucrative franchise.
Alicia Vikander’s Gaby is a solid addition to the cast with her character managing to elevate above standard love interest or damsel in distress. She has plenty of agency within the story and Vikander does an excellent job portraying her. She’s definitely having a good year and with her talent, long may her success continue.
Hugh Grant’s Waverly has so little to do that I wonder why he was there at all. He turns up at key points to force the plot to lurch itself forward but his overall contribution to the film is very superficial. He doesn’t have any meaningful scenes with the rest of the cast and vanishes for long stretches of the film.
The biggest flaws in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. come from the story and the villains. I found the story to meander along with no real urgency to it. Things often grind to a halt so that the audience can be reminded just how suave and cool Solo is. It could all be called meaningful character development but we rarely learn anything new about the characters beyond what we have already been shown. I never got the impression the Solo or Kuryakin were in any real danger or that there was any doubt as to their success. The film constantly repeats the spy trope of being in mortal danger but revealing that there was a way out all along among others. It matches up with the common criticism of Guy Ritchie’s work being prone to style over substance. This certainly rings true here as the film looks great but seems mostly designed to hide the overall lack of story. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does become noticeable after a while.
Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) serves as the criminal mastermind behind the whole thing but she comes across as a bit thinly written. Some scenes suggest that there’s some depth bubbling just beneath the surface but a lack of screen time makes it impossible for her to come across as much more than a mustache -if she had one- twirling villain. Her performance is appropriately dialed up to fit the period but I would have liked a little more depth as well as a more urgent feeling plot.
The whole thing feels very 1960s in a good way and the unique style of the period is taken full advantage of. I like that the spy world is depicted as being a very sophisticated one full of cat and mouse games and stylishly dressed people calmly doing what they do best. It’s a fun time period to play around in and Guy Ritchie’s directorial style lends itself wonderfully to it.
If you like spy movies then I’m inclined to recommend this. There’s something old school about the whole thing that makes it feel like a romp that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Enough depth exists under the surface to make it work but on the whole it’s more about having fun with the genre. It’s a nice alternative to the Mission: Impossible franchise without pretending to be any better. Definitely worth a look as a diversion.
An entertaining if superficial adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series that provides a solid alternative to the action packed Mission:Impossible series.
The three leads Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander carry the film wonderfully with Cavill providing a standout performance as Napoleon Solo. He is appropriately charismatic throughout and has a great partnership with Armie Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin. The two actors bounce off each other wonderfully and Alicia Vikander provides a perfect counter to both of them without coming across as the token female love interest or damsel in distress.
My main criticisms come from the villain and the story. It never feels as if Solo or Kuryakin are in any real danger or that there is any doubt as to their success and the plot lacks a sense of urgency.. The repetition of tired spy tropes such as revealing that there was a planned way out all along becomes a bit tiresome after a while. Guy Ritchie is commonly criticised for favouring style over substance and that certainly rings true here. It’s not overly detrimental to the whole film but it is certainly noticeable.
I would say it’s definitely worth a look as an alternative to the Mission:Impossible franchise. Both have very different styles but there is room before. It’s refreshing to see an old school spy movie like this and I hope that we see more films in this franchise.