Back at the tail-end of cold war, a TV show appeared on the scene where an American spy and a Russian KGB agent had to work together in order to solve mysteries and stop the end of the world. It achieved moderate fame and success, but remained a staple of the pop culture consciousness. And what good is the pop culture consciousness if you can’t mine it for reboot material?
Let’s take a look at The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The film follows American spy Napoleon Solo and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin as they attempt to reach Gabby Teller, mechanic and daughter of a Nazi scientist, first. However, their agencies deem it necessary for them to work together and with Teller, to keep a nuclear warhead out of the wrong hands. And, as you can guess, humor ensues (some excellent humor, at that). As you might be able to ascertain, there’s not much of a plot to speak of. It’s not so much that the pacing is off, but rather than the film is more interested in interactions between characters than actual events. This is, in part, due to the fact that this is an origin story, a necessary evil we as movie goers must be subjected to in order to get a franchise started.
While the plot itself is disappointing, the film still holds together thanks to the chemistry between its three leads and the villain. Henry Cavill shines as the devilishly cool and handsome Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer’s aloof and rage-suppressed Illya Kuryakin make for magnetic pair, now that never of them is trying to play weirdly Christ-like nostalgic figures. In fact, both Cavill and Hammer feel more at home in these flawed borderline-cliche anti-heroes than in any other role I’ve seen them in. Alicia Vikander played Gabby Teller, the last of the trio and a dry but charming East German mechanic whose family connections put her life in danger and love interest of Kuryakin. Together, they must take down the deliciously evil and definitely not-utilized-enough Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria Vinciguerra. The acting in this film is top-notch and the chemistry literally pours from every scene, to the point where the plot mostly just got in the way. Also points for not creating a love triangle!
The film is also visually stunning. Drenched in the style of the 1960s, the wardrobe is a perfect match for the time as are the vehicles, hair styles, decor, rooms and buildings. Even the camera filters scream retro at the top of their lungs. The soundtrack is an excellent addition to the 1960s atmosphere, and gives the movie an addition layer of suaveness to every scene. Guy Ritchie, the director of this film, knows how to film flowing and detailed action scenes, allowing the characters to be as charismatic and engaging in their actions as they are in their dialogue. While it doesn’t have quite the same punch as Sherlock Holmes, it does manage to retain the same potential.
Humor, rather than drama, seems to be The Man from U.N.C.L.E.‘s forte. Because Cavill and Hammer have the rapport that casting directors dream of, every joke is able to hit its mark. For example, at one point in the movie Teller needs to dress like the wife of a Russian architect, so the suave and stylish Solo interjects with his style tips. However, Kuryakin disagrees, but rather than playing to the stereotype of Russian drab utilitarianism, he instead argues about what designer accessories to combine with the outfit. The jokes range from light-hearted banter to dark situational humor, and each are memorable and highly quotable.
I really wanted to like the movie more than I did, but I do have to say that based solely on the amazing chemistry between the three main actors, I would go out and watch a second one, and maybe even a third. Ritchie shows that he has a clear understanding of how characters but his plot just didn’t stick the landing in quite the same way. Still, this movie has received mostly positive reviews and has made decent domestic box office numbers, so there’s hope to see Cavill and Hammer in some good roles for once.
– Excellent acting and chemistry.
– Strong soundtrack.
– Strong cinematography.
– Weak plot.