Filmsy Reviews: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Director: Guy Ritchie.
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris.
Quick Summary: American and Soviet agents during the cold war are forced to work together against a common foe. Hijinks ensue.
Last time I reviewed Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, a movie based on an old TV show about spies from the sixties that dealt with cold war themes. So the fact that I'm now reviewing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. seems kind of redundant, since this is also a movie based on a TV show from the sixties about spies, not only set right around the time of the Cuban missile crisis, when the cold war got closest to heating up, but it actually deals with agents from the USA and the USSR joining forces to combat a common threat. But hey, it's not like Hollywood is known for their originality.
Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible also share a ridiculous punctuation trend that had gone out of style when M*A*S*H went off the air, but recently came back with things like Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel's Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and Marvel's Agent C.A.R.T.E.R. featuring J.A.R.V.I.S.
M.A.R.V.E.L. really loves ridiculous punctuation is what I'm saying.
Unlike some other remakes, revivals, reboots and adaptations from recent times, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. does not shy away from its origins. Quite the opposite, Guy Ritchie embraces the retro look and feel of the sixties, and runs with it to create something that seems like it had been hidden in a vault for five decades, but in a good way.
Henry Cavill plays the role of international thief turned CIA operative Napoleon Solo (a character conceived by Ian Fleming), while Armie Hammer is KGB agent Illya Kuryakin, initially a minor role who became a fan favorite, to the point that they made him the co-lead of the original show. In this movie, which serves as a prequel to the series, we get to see the first time these two agents work together, before the titular U.N.C.L.E. organization even exists. Naturally, when their paths initially cross, during a mission in (communist) East Germany, Solo and Kuryakin clash and face each other until they realize they share a common goal, which is to help civilian Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) to rescue her father, a brilliant scientist who was kidnapped by Nazi sympathizers to build a doomsday device.
Nazis are evil enough to make communists, capitalists, and even Scientologists join forces.
Now, I will admit I never actually watched this show. It came way before my time, and they never aired any re-runs when I was growing up, so I am not very familiar with this franchise. But from what I gather, Ritchie (who's not a stranger to period pieces, having made two Sherlock Holmes movies) managed to remain very faithful to the spirit of the original series, as well as the visual style of the time. Also, the dynamic between the main characters works pretty well, with Cavill and Hammer trying to outstage each other while their characters are doing the same. Vikander and Hammer also have great chemistry as the reluctant couple who initially hate each other and inevitably end up together, while Cavill perfectly fills the role of the suave playboy, who short of ordering a shaken martini (not stirred), constantly reminds us of Fleming's other, more famous character.
I must say, probably the best surprise I got from watching this movie was that both Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill were actually more than capable of acting, which I frankly wasn't expecting. I mean, none of them are likely to get Oscar nods from this, but after their robotic performances in their most famous roles (Facebook's jock twins and Superhobo McNeckbreaker, respectively) I didn't think either of them had the capacity. Ironically, their co-star Alicia Vikander had a superb performance in this year's Ex-Machina, playing a robot who displays more emotion than these two combined in all their previous roles.
Check it out if you haven't. It's a small sci-fi movie with an intriguing premise.
Other than that, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. doesn't really have much in the way of surprises. It's pretty much what you would expect from a movie of this genre. And I gotta say, that's probably their strongest selling point, because it sticks to its roots and delivers everything you need, nothing less, and nothing more. You won't find any risky stunts, or impressive CGI, a compelling drama, romance, a social critique to the madness that was the arms race between the dominant powers, satire, or really anything other than a solid spy movie with great action sequences and lighthearted moments that looks fantastic. Much like this year's Ant-Man, it is refreshing to see a film without any other pretensions than to entertain.
Final note apropos of superheroes: Armie Hammer (who also played a pretty unremarkable Lone Ranger) was originally cast as Batman in George Miller's Justice League, a project that ultimately fell through. So this movie totally counts as the first on-screen team up of Batman and Superman.
What to watch instead:
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is definitely worth watching, but just in case, here are a few other recommendations.
Out of all the spy movies to come out this year, this one is the best by far... so far. (Still waiting for SPECTRE)
Starsky & Hutch (2004)
More on the side of parody, this remake retains the same vibe and visual style of the original show, and it's also pretty funny.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
Same retro style, same era. Except with mutants, and it saved the X franchise from ruin.
Deutschland 83 (TV, 2015)
Slightly different era, same theme. An East German soldier works as a double agent in the West.
First season is only 8 episodes, definitely worth it, even with subtitles.
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