Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Luca Calvani
Runtime: 1 hr 57 mins
Rating: PG 13 (Brief Nudity and Some Violence)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: http://manfromuncle.com
Opening Day: 3 September 2015
Synopsis: A fresh take on the hugely popular 1960s television series,“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is set against the backdrop of the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” centers on CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Forced to put aside longstanding hostilities, the two team up on a joint mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization, which is bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. The duo’s only lead is the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is the key to infiltrating the criminal organization, and they must race against time to find him and prevent a worldwide catastrophe.
It is clear that The Man from U.N.C.L.E is another attempt by Hollywood to clean the dust off a television series of yore and spawn another movie franchise that would (hopefully) replicate the success of the Mission Impossible series.
Knowing that doesn’t make the movie less enjoyable though. While not as polished as the Mission Impossible series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E is delightfully fun in its own way.
Unlike the James Bond and Mission Impossible series which are now set in modern times, Lionel Wigam and Guy Ritchie chose to pay homage to the original series by having the movie stay firmly in the 1960s. The movie opens with a sequence set to 1960s jazz, evoking memories of spies of that decade, most notably James Bond (it so happens that Napoleon Solo, the American spy featured in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, was created by James Bond creator Ian Fleming). Given that 50 years have lapsed since then, Ritchie very wisely chose to have a opening sequence which highlights the Cold War and divided state of Germany rather than assume audiences all either lived through the issues or studied about them in history classes (and remembered those history lessons).
The plot is paper-thin. You get the feeling that Ritchie is setting this movie to be the first in a series and is using this to set the background and origins of the characters from The Man from U.N.C.L.E before the audience gets to ride along the protagonists for their first actual caper. Those hoping for an intelligent caper such as in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean Eleven will be sorely disappointed as they sit through lots of background stuff that explains how American secret agent Napoleon Solo and his Russian counterpart, Ilya Kurakin, gets teamed together and have to work together with East German mechanic Gaby Teller. Teller also happens to be the daughter of a Nazi nuclear scientist believed to be in the clutches of Italian fascists. Expectedly, it’s frenemies Solo and Kurakin who comes to the rescue of the world from Nazis and nuclear warheads.
Despite the lack of plot, the movie is entertaining as audiences get transported back to an era when spies/secret agents save the world from some villain threatening to destroy it due to some misguided notion and looks really good and have plenty of fun while doing it. The sequences are fun and well-paced complemented by a skilful and appropriate soundtrack. Watch out for the quasi-erotic) sequence between Gaby and Kurakin which is heightened by an ironically romantic number as they literally trash things out. Another sequence worth keeping an eye out is when Solo decides to have a picnic in a truck as Kurakin does his best to avoid falling into the clutches of the villains as an Italian ballad plays in the background.
The actors are decent in their roles. Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill could do with better chemistry but the way they play off each other is promising and you look forward to seeing them grow in sequels (of course there will be sequels). Alicia Vikander is passable as Gaby Teller although Gaby’s personality seems to be confused and her motivation uncertain. One moment she’s angry with Solo and Kurakin for putting her in a dangerous situation, the next she’s making eyes at Kurakin. One moment she’s all hung up over her father and in next moment, she is unaffected by whether he’s dead or alive. Sadly, the other main actress, Elizabeth Debecki, is also stuck with a forgettable role as the one-dimensional villainess. The strongest impression she made on me was how thick her makeup was. Amongst the three leads, Hammer does the best job. He puts on a decent Russian accent and he convinces you of his earnestness as a Russian spy who truly buys into the Soviet ideology. While Cavill manages to ooze just enough suaveness to not overstep the boundary into smarminess, I couldn’t help but be distracted by how he really reminds me of Clark Kent. The most delightful actor in this whole movie would have to be Hugh Grant, who, for once, doesn’t play a bumbling man-boy trying to figure out his way in life. Grant’s unassuming delivery of Waverly shows just how much can be achieved with subtle yet fine acting and is a much-need relief from the flashiness of the other actors.
Unlike the recent spy/secret agent movies which attempts to be clever by poking fun at spy movie clichés (as seen in Kingsman: The Secret Service), Ritchie embraces these clichés. Solo is the suave, manipulative charmer who never passes up a chance to bed every single girl while Kurakin is the brooding and intense hunk who can run fast enough to catch up with a speeding car and yank off its bonnet with his bare hands. Lest you think the two men are only good at these stereotypically masculine things, they also are experts when it comes to fashion. Watch them discuss Rabanne belts and Dior dresses as they dress Teller for her cover as an architect’s fiancée for a trip to Rome. The two are simply too well-dressed, well-built and handsome for us to take them seriously but then again, it’s clear that this movie is meant to be a light fluffy action movie.
(What The Man from U.N.C.L.E lacks in substance, it makes up in style, making this slick production one which you would enjoy)
Review by Katrina Tee