Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Action Violence, some Suggestive Content, and partial Nudity
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram
(based on the TV series THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.)
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris & Hugh Grant
2015’s summer movie season is officially coming to a close and the last big blockbuster is THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. With the last few months being populated by Pixar, superheroes, dinosaurs, and post-apocalyptic warriors, I have to admit that MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. wasn’t exactly high on my list of must-see summer movies. However, Guy Ritchie hasn’t really let me down before and U.N.C.L.E. did look like an enjoyable spy adventure. This film wound up being precisely the latter. This is simple, stylish, big popcorn fun that serves as a nice closeout to a pretty great cinematic summer. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (based on the 1960’s TV series of the same name) may be a straight-forward spy thriller that hits all the expected notes, but it hits them in fun ways that are sure to thoroughly entertained.
The time is the early 1960’s and the Cold War is in full force. Napoleon Solo is a CIA agent working on one side of the Berlin wall and Illya Kuryakin is a KGB agent working on the other side. When Napoleon is tasked with a basic extraction mission that is hindered by Kuryakin, it seems that a simple operation is actually a cover for something far bigger. International criminal Victoria Vinciguerra is hellbent on selling a nuclear bomb to some very bad people. In an effort to stop her plan from proceeding, Solo and Kuryakin are partnered up. While Solo is a suave ladies’ man with a big ego, Kuryakin is a hard-headed borderline-psychotic who likes to shoot first and ask questions later. The two are a mismatched pair and must look after Gaby Teller, a Russian woman with possible way into Victoria’s secret lair.
Truth be told, MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.’s plot doesn’t exactly sound revolutionary or particularly special. You’ve seen this story play out many times before whether it’s with Ethan Hunt in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE or any one of James Bond’s adventures. I’m not going to lie and say that there are big twists afoot, because there aren’t. This is a standard spy story. You can predict where everything will go and how most of the film will play out. That really doesn’t matter, because U.N.C.L.E. executes its fairly standard script with a big sense of humor and (mostly) impeccable style. This film looks fantastic. The locations are beautiful. The costumes are gorgeous. There is a definite period-piece sensibility that hearkens back to the original Bond movies of old. While too much style (involving split screens) does slightly ruin a potentially cool sequence in the latter half of the film, U.N.C.L.E. is a great-looking movie and almost won me over on that part of its execution alone. However, the sense of humor also is great. There are many very funny scenes throughout the film and it never seems to be taking itself too seriously. One sequence in particular (you’ll know it when you see it) milks a joke for longer than you’d believe possible and manages to remain funny for that entire scene.
Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer might initially seem like an odd pair of spies, but they play off of each other very well. I appreciated that both of their characters had unique quirks (which make for plenty of comedic moments), but also had personalities behind them too. An introduction between the two of them weaves some of the best exposition into a casual conversation that I’ve seen in quite a while. Alicia Vikander (who was dull in SEVENTH SON and fantastic in EX MACHINA) disappears into the role of Gaby, who serves as the level-headed member of the group…even if she’s also the bait/damsel-in-distress. Jared Harris and Hugh Grant make brief, but notable, appearances. The real scene-stealer comes in Elizabeth Debicki’s villainess. She’s just as cruel as she is beautiful and I wish more screen time had been spent with her…as opposed to her many underlings.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is a genuine surprise of the summer for me. This film turns a rather unremarkable spy plot into something remarkable and entertaining thanks to sheer style, lots of well-executed comedy, and solid chemistry between the leads. Glamour and humor make a rather mediocre-sounding spy movie into something that’s worth watching. MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is far from the best spy movie you’ll see this year (ROGUE NATION, KINGSMAN, and SPY are all superior), but it’s an entertaining blast from start to finish!