The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

It’s always a shame when an ambitious and well-crafted movie hits The Silver Screen…and pretty much sinks without a trace. Writer / Director Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the Cold War era espionage series is one such film. Costing roughly $75 million, it only recouped about $45 million in overall box office receipts, and that sent any hopes of a new ‘spy vs spy’ movie franchise swirling. When my girlfriend and I fired it up on a quiet Friday night, given the advanced knowledge of it’s lack-lustre performance, I was expecting something on par with Ritchie’s 2005 Jason Statham vehicle ‘Revolver’; a confused mess of potentially good ideas that just falls flat on it’s stupid face. Happily, THIS flick is FAR better than THAT flick (‘Revolver’ is a serious dud…be warned). I had enough fun with this movie that I felt bad for everyone involved, given how poorly it was received, despite their best intentions. There may be many factors contributing to its failure, but in my opinion, it certainly wasn’t due to a lazy production or lame characters.
Set in 1963, we’re quickly introduced to the dashing and charismatic ‘Napoleon Solo’ (Henry Cavill) as he slips into East Berlin to rescue ‘Gaby’ (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a former Nazi rocket scientist who can lead the CIA to the location of an errant nuclear bomb. The escape is nearly thwarted when a towering monster of a KGB agent named ‘Illya Kuryakin’ (Armie Hammer) arrives on the scene and proceeds to prove to be nearly unstoppable. After narrowly escaping this beast of a human, ‘Solo’ abruptly finds himself partnered with the intimidating Soviet agent as the CIA and the KGB determine that teaming up to stop the bomb, and the culprits responsible for it’s potential use, is to their mutual benefit. So, despite clashing methods, ideologies and personalities, ‘Solo’, ‘Kuryakin’ and ‘Gaby’ launch into their perilous undercover mission, intent on stopping WW3 with hefty doses of action, comedy, awesome early 60’s fashions and sexiness.
This movie was a fun, borderline campy espionage thriller that had a sense of humor and a solid injection of Guy Ritchie’s cinematic ‘flavor’ ie split screen action sequences, funky flute music score, punchy dialogue etc. The stars all seemed to be having fun with the story and the characters and the pace often moves along at an exhilarating clip.
Both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer seemed tailor-made for their roles, Cavill especially. Now I’m a full-on 100% heterosexual man…but he’s a handsome muthafucka! He pretty much has it all, and given a quote from Armie Hammer I read, about him finding Cavill intimidating due to his sexy sexiness, it seems others feel the same way. But Hammer’s no slouch either…especially according to my girlfriend, who LOVES Cavill, but also found Hammer to be easy on the eyes. It was a win / win situation for the women and gay dudes out there with this one. On the other side, we also get relative newcomer Alicia Vikander, who I was just recently introduced to via the surprisingly effective sci-fi thriller ‘Ex Machina’, which I also just reviewed (see it!). She worked for me as a new born A.I. entity in that superb film and here she also worked as a sexy car mechanic-with-a-secret caught between the two strapping spies. Supporting these three leads, we’re also treated to Jared Harris (‘Fringe’), doing an odd American accent, and Hugh Grant (‘Extreme Measures’), stepping in as the ‘M’ for the trio of operatives.
Similar to what he did with his two Robert Downey Jr.-starring ‘Sherlock Holmes’ flicks, Ritchie has taken his bag of cinematic tricks (the split screens, slow-mo etc) and thrown them into the ring, and I think that the result was perfectly appropriate for the story. I’ve always seen Guy Ritchie as the ‘Quentin Tarantino of the UK’, with his penchant for ‘hip n quick’ dialogue and wacky, interesting characters who often find themselves in outlandish and violent situations. I still feel that ‘Snatch’ (2000) is his most ‘Guy Ritchie’ film and is probably still my favorite of his movies, but it’s nice to see that his talent continues to grow with every film and I admit to being curious to see what he does with his next flick, the told-to-death story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Coming back to my Tarantino / Ritchie comparison, another area where the two directors are similar is their tendency to use cool music to help bolster the story and key scenes in it. As he’s done before, Ritchie’s obvious love of the flute shines through and lent a somehow period-fitting and fun tone to the story as well as a playfulness that I feel was a large part of why I found the movie as entertaining as I did.
On the negative side of the fence, the story was about as standard as you can get with a tale of this nature: ‘Mismatched spies team up to combat a sinister organization bent of causing death and destruction for their own nefarious ends’. That’s about it…and with the exception of a couple small twists, that’s exactly what the story is. Nothing more…nothing less. It’s in the characters and their interactions (plus the charming early 60’s trappings) that the movie rises above the pedestrian concept. It would’ve been nice to get something a little more inspired…but the movie isn’t a loss as a result. The flick also felt a little long (a couple ‘natural’ endings came and went), and some of the narrative connections felt a little clunky or under-cooked, but again…these aren’t deal-breakers for me, with this particular movie.
All in all, ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ was a fun, charming spy movie that didn’t deserve to go down in flames at the box office the way that it did. It boasts a good-looking cast who seem to be having fun with the admittedly one-note story and many of the action scenes are legitimately exciting, while others are definitely chuckle-worthy and clever. Guy Ritchie gives the flick a stylish energy with his use of inventive and fun camera / editing tricks, along with a kick-ass soundtrack. If you’re looking for a movie whose sole purpose is to entertain you with a lively and charming blend of action and comedy for 116 minutes, without taxing your mental faculties too badly, then this flick should work nicely for you. It just sucks that it ends with the expected lead-in to another grand adventure for the new team of spies…when we all know now that it ain’t gonna happen. ‘World’…you let this movie down. Now is your chance to make it up. Give it a shot!

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