Does anyone below the age of 60 have super fond memories of the original TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? I’m sure they’re out there, but the new movie remake can’t really be hitting on the nostalgia gas that hard when half the audience of the television show is dead. I open this way to say that I never watched the show and know little about it, but I think that’s OK because neither does the majority of the population. You can’t even stream it easily!
If you’re looking for a comparison to the original keep on walking, but if you’re wondering if you can watch this movie without it then the answer is a resounding yes. In fact being attached to an old TV show might be the film’s biggest flaw since it can’t stretch it legs like an original.
Also, Henry Cavill is a really, really, really attractive human being.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Release Date: August 14, 2015
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is an old school, James Bond, spy thriller. Quite literally, really. Instead of updating the premise of the show — an American and Russian spy team up to fight world threats — to meet modern times they simply went back to the cold war setting of the show. Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is an American spy and master thief and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is basically his Russian counterpart, but he’s better at beating people up. They’re teamed up to rescue a nuclear scientist from the hands of an evil Italian fascist named Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki). The plot involves his daughter Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and more fashion, travel and quick one-liners than three Bond films put together.
Of course the basis for a film like this has to be the chemistry between its leads. Hammer and Cavill can both easily handle sharp dialog and dressing well, but can they do it together? The answer turns out to be: if they work on it. The chemistry is a little rocky at first, especially since everyone in the film has clearly been told to overplay their adopted accents. The two seem wary of each other for the first half of the film until they fall into a solid patter. Maybe that was intentional, but it makes for a first half that feels a bit awkward, especially with Vikander thrown into the mix as Hammer’s love interest.
What helps it along is Guy Ritchie’s direction (some words I never thought I’d be saying). The film is free over his usual over indulgences or maybe they just fit into the glamorous setting better. The movie feels smooth and stylish throughout and almost has a rhythmic flow to it that ramps up the feeling of a classic 60s spy film. He paces his action surprisingly well and often completely ignores it in favor of a solid gag or split screen montage. It’s quite an adept piece of work that feels unique in a summer of action blockbuster that stood out for great stunts, but not so creative direction.
The screenplay isn’t quite as suave, though Ritchie tries to imbue it with a little more tension than it deserves. It features twists and turns aplenty, but they don’t always pay off as they should. The movie attempts to do what I’m going to call micro-twists. Instead of one big twist (there is one of those too) a scene will be a twist in itself. Multiple times we’re shown only half of a sequence only to be filled in minutes later on the rest of what happened. It’s an interesting execution and definitely works sometimes. Other times it feels forced, as if Ritchie were trying to add drama to a scene that wasn’t working. As a film reviewer it was just interesting to watch it being executed, as a basic audience member I could see it getting annoying.
What isn’t annoying is that when the movie is clicking it’s just plain fun. Once you realize that Cavill’s pin-point perfect American accent and Hammer’s resoundingly stereotypical Russian are indications that this film is as much a send up of 60s spy thrillers as it is an homage things start working really well. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi to the Connery Bonds and their likes from the time period that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. actually grasps at every so often. Considering that most films can’t even come close every so often is pretty damn good.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. concludes in such a way that it’s pretty obvious that they want another franchise (where this leaves Ritchie for directing another Sherlock Holmes movie is anyone’s guess), but I think it’s just a little too quirky to get the audience to come. That might be a good thing in the end. The movie feels like something from out of the past, especially with its lackluster plotting. It’s smooth and crammed with tight dialog. It forgoes big action for clever direction. It focuses on the spies and not the toys, even if it isn’t so good at the spy thing. It isn’t always successful, but when it works The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a film out of its time.