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

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Contains spoilers.

Guy Ritchie has a fantastic track record. From Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels to Sherlock Holmes, he's adept at creating a slick and stylish, often deceptively realistic, atmosphere. His characters are sometimes too witty for their own good, but their dialogue is natural, with Ritchie bringing out the best from his actors.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., based on the 1960s spy show on NBC, tells the unification of two, opposing special agents. Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) work for the CIA and KGB, respectively. Each with a checkered past, their solo careers come to a head when Napoleon is sent into East Berlin to help Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) escape from Russia's hold. Illya tries to stop the two, but they manage to get away after an intense chase. Gabby's father, an accomplished scientist who could build an atom bomb and even develop a means to simplify the process, has disappeared, and helping Gabby escape from East Berlin hasn't provided the necessary information to track him down. In order to find him, and prevent nuclear bombs from falling into the hands of any nefarious group, CIA and KGB officials have decided to team up, partnering two of their best agents. Joining them, by necessity of the mission, is Gabby.

The three of them, with Illya and Gaby in a mock engagement, head to Italy to meet Gabby's uncle, a noted fascist they believe is hiding her father. They're almost immediately found out after each agent's specific weakness gives them away. The acting shines, showing us Illya's anger problems and Napoleon's conceited nature.

The acting is a testament to their ability, because despite a lackluster script they still try their best to make a great movie. That's saying something, because it doesn't seem like Ritchie and co. tried as hard on their ends. The story is boring, predictable, and unoriginal. Dialogue, while witty and mostly natural, is also campy and expected. Despite good dialogue, the story is entirely plot-driven while trying hard not to be. The meagre chemistry between characters, despite good performances from the whole cast (and Cavill's deep voice and Hammer's strong accent), destroys any chance at The Man from U.N.C.L.E. being character-driven or anything other than simple or derivative. Without even mentioning the awful and unbelievable love story between Illya and Gabby (oops?), Ritchie's notable flashbacks and style of editing, used extensively in previous films, feels almost patronizing in such a straight forward story, regardless of any attempts at slyness or twists.

That being said, the movie is pretty. John Mathieson's expert cinematography and the overall production design, including the set and costume design, culminate in overflowing style; the main characters are so stylish they literally argue about how stylish they are. There is endless eye candy here, from expertly framed shots to window-reflections and expert lighting to just the right amount of CG.

Probably the best thing about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the pacing. Modern Hollywood consists of fast and unfitting exposition followed by extended climaxes. Conversely, Ritchie starts his newest movie with explosive, tense exposition, and slows everything down from there. That slowed plot and more focused story, as opposed to explosions and fast combat and going from country to country and landmark to landmark, is a fantastic touch from the cold war era and more subtle, nuanced spy material. In that respect, being different from Mission Impossible and the James Bond franchise, the movie is quite good, throwing us into a different kind of movie that doesn't rely on hand-to-hand combat and coolly walking away from explosions.

Despite some huge clichés, like the perfect pursuit vehicle sitting in the villainous lair, ready for a car chase and a bog-standard story involving Nazis and nukes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. carries enormous potential. The story may not be memorable (it's actually fairly boring) and there's a few things that are downright unbelievable (love story much?) but at the very least it's an interesting and entertaining origin story for fun, strong characters with fairly good development. And, with all of the potential, I find myself hoping for something unusual... I hope the sequel (duh, there's gonna be a follow up) is better than this set-up. Also, I hope there's a sequel.

 

TL;DR: Guy Ritchie brings his signature style and flair to the spy genre in splendid fashion. Unfortunately, his storytelling skills seem a bit lost, even if the humor fills all of that space. The result is a slick and funny throwback to 1960s, campy spies with a modern mentality. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has all the nuanced humor, flashback explanations, quick cuts, and natural dialogue that's to be expected from Ritchie, but lacks the intricate and interesting story and even the smart style of action.

  • Acting – 16 / 20
  • Story – 10 / 20
  • Cinematography – 15 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 6 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 7 / 10
  • Action/Comedy – 6 / 10
  • Other – 10 / 10
 

Grade C = 70 / 100