August 16, 2015

Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

If you are looking for someone writing about how this modern cinematic reboot of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. relates to the original 1960's series, you've come to the wrong place. Frankly, the only thing I know about the original is the title, that it was an east meets west spy series, and it starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. I am also fairly certain the two relate in only the broadest of terms. With that being said, this new take is actually better than I was expecting. It is not a great film, mind you, but it is a fun stylish modern take on an old formula. Simply put, this was an entertaining two hours in a movie theater.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was directed by Guy Ritchie, a man known for films that value style over substance. It is not that his movies lack substance, but they do have a certain style to them, and this is no exception. This is Ritchie's first film in four years, the last being 2011's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. He teamed with Lionel Wigram on the screenplay. The two previously teamed up for 2009's Sherlock Holmes. The story was also collaborated on with Jeff Kleeman and David Campbell Wilson (Supernova, The Perfect Weapon).

The film opens with a very nicely staged action sequence. We follow Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) as he locates a mechanic in East Germany (Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina) and whisks her away to the West, all while being pursued by Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a Russian spy with some anger issues. It is a fun sequence that blends car and foot chases, with some fisticuffs, along with some nicely straitlaced humor.

After this opening sequence we get down to what the movie is about, and, surprisingly, unlike other action films, this opening sequence does more than just introduce our characters. You see, the mechanic, Gaby Teller, is an integral part of the plot, and quickly becomes a part of the mismatched team. Solo and Kuryakin must now team up to prevent our villains from using Gaby's scientist father to make it easier to make a nuclear bomb. Something like that. They have to find the dad and his research before things go boom. The more interesting part of the movie is the odd couple pairing of heroes.

What makes the whole thing work is how stylized it is. It is not just Ritchie's visual flourishes, montages, split screen editing, or generally upbeat pace, it is also in the dialogue, performance and delivery. One scene that had me cracking up is when Solo and Kuryakin are arguing over the clothing choices for Gaby. They know all of these things about types of clothes, designers, matching things, and it is pretty funny watching these '60s alpha-male types arguing over women's clothing. To top it off, it is not done with a wink to the camera, or even acknowledgement of how they have said knowledge.

I think these may be my favorite performances from Cavill and Hammer. They are almost enough to make me forget about The Cold Light of Day and Lone Ranger (although, to be honest, the latter has an amazing and lengthy action sequence that almost redeems the movie). Cavill brings this great cool as a cucumber, above it all, nonchalant charisma that permeates the performance. His line delivery is fantastic. As for Hammer, he is the lesser of the two, but his “I am not amused” Russian is quite good in his own right. One of his better scenes is when Gaby is trying to get him to loosen up and it ends up in a fight, albeit not a serious one.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a movie of moments. Different combinations of characters trading barbs and whatnot. But it is also an entertaining spy movie, with the bonus of being set in the '60s, making it nicely devoid of the uber-tech we get in films like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (itself tracing lineage back to an old spy show). The plot works, it builds on its odd couple pairing by making sense for a Russian and an American spy to team up for the betterment of the world, but each still having their own endgame in place.

The bottom line is that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a fun, well made movie that is easy to enjoy. It never takes itself too seriously, and is injected with fun from top to bottom. I would welcome another go around with this team of super-spies.


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