Directed by: Guy Ritchie.
Written by: Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram and Jeff Kleeman & David C. Wilson based on the television series by Sam Rolfe.
Starring: Henry Cavill (Solo), Armie Hammer (Illya), Alicia Vikander (Gaby), Elizabeth Debicki (Victoria), Luca Calvani (Alexander), Sylvester Groth (Uncle Rudi), Hugh Grant (Waverly), Jared Harris (Sanders), Christian Berkel (Udo), Misha Kuznetsov (Oleg), Guy Williams (Captain Smith).
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the type of action movie you expect to be released in August – the dog days of summer, when studios are releasing movies they don’t have enough faith in to release earlier in the summer. It’s based on a TV show from 50 years ago, which is probably vaguely familiar with most audiences now (my mother remembers it well), and has two fairly generic male leads – who are famous, but not really movie stars. It has been directed by Guy Ritchie with his usual energy and breakneck pacing, which can either be effective or headache inducing depending on the movie. The end result certainly isn’t bad – it’s kind of fun – but it’s a parking lot movie – as in you have completely forgotten about it by the time you reach the parking lot after leaving the theater. In a summer that has given us an excellent spy movie – and 1960s TV adaptation – in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation there really is no real reason to see The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The story takes place just after the Cuban Missile Crisis in the mid-1960s. The opening sequence has CIA Agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB Agent Illya Kurykin (Armie Hamer) competing against each other to see who can get Gaby (Alicia Virkander) out of East Berlin, in the hopes that she can help them track down her former-Nazi rocket scientist, who has gone missing, and everyone worries is working for an international terrorist organization developing more advanced nuclear weapons. It turns out, it doesn’t really matter which agent wins – their organizations have already decided that this is such a huge problem that they are going to team up to take down the organization – with Gaby’s help. So, it’s off to Rome, where the trio go under cover – and try and figure out if they can trust each other.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a fun little movie in some ways. Henry Cavill is amusing and charming in the role of Solo – which is surprising considering how bland a Superman he made (admittedly, Superman is kind of bland) – and shows that perhaps he could be good in these types of roles, if only they give him a little more to work with than this movie does. Likewise, Armie Hamer is amusing as Illya, but he’s given even less to do. The highlight of the trio is the immensely talented Virkander, who looks great in the exaggerated 1960s fashion the movie drapes her in, and is effortlessly enjoyable to watch. Elizabeth Debicki is also a joy to watch, as an over the top, aristocratic bad girl. And Hugh Grant gives the movie an dose of humor when it needs it most.
The movie is directed by Ritchie with constant energy, which gets tiring after a while, especially since he doesn’t really seem to know how to direct action sequences very well. The best one in the movie happens in the background while Solo stops to eat a sandwich. The nadir of the action sequences is a late movie which is chaotic and confusing. The movie is at its best when its at its most relaxed – sequences between Illya and Gaby in their hotel room for example - and since Ritchie is not a director who likes to relax, those moments don’t come often enough. Then there is a bizarre sequence late in the film that uses the horrors of WWII in a way that made me quite uncomfortable.
For the most part though, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is just an amusing, low stakes films – the type of late summer movie you see because its too damn hot to do anything else, and its starting soon. It’s not bad for a time waster – but its not something you really need to see.