In development for years, originally with Steven Soderbergh directing and George Clooney starring, The Man from UNCLE finally arrived this past weekend.
Directed by Guy Ritchie, The Man from UNCLE follows the CIA’s best agent (and former thief) Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) who is forced to team up with the KGB’s best agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) when a mysterious criminal organization seems to be on the verge of creating nuclear weapons to sell to the Nazis (at least the ones still around in the 60’s). One of the scientists working on the nukes is Dr. Teller and Solo and Kuryakin are tasked with protecting his daughter, Gabby (Alicia Vikander) and have her help them find him. The plot is a pretty standard Bondesque plot with some good twists and turns but the setting is what sets the movie apart from other spy movies we’ve gotten this year. The Man from UNCLE is almost literally oozing 60’s cool out of every frame, from the constant period music to the cars and clothes to setting the whole film in Rome, Italy. It’s what everyone loves about Mad Men without the crippling depression or social issues. Guy Ritchie throws in a lot of his trademark style but it’s almost too much at times. There are sequences where he applies split screens, like when Solo and Kuryakin are infiltrating a factory, and it’s cool to start but then more and more splits are thrown in and multiple copies of the same shot and it gets incredibly distracting. There’s also sort of a strange habit the movie gets into of hiding a key line or two of dialogue in a scene and then doing a flashback in the very next scene to show what happened. It’s like in a heist movie at the end when they kind of reveal what actually happened or what the team did to get it to work but here it just feels strange and kind of insulting, as if the audience is too stupid to figure out what is going and needs constant flashbacks to explain things.
The back and forth between Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer is fantastic, with Cavill in particular just seeming to be having a blast as the cocky Napoleon Solo, who almost always shows up with a snarky comment or observation and frequently pushes Kuryakin to the edge of losing it. The opening action sequence where the two face off in a car chase is great and does an excellent job of highlighting their individual styles; Solo has everything planned with pinpoint accuracy while Kuryakin uses brute force. Alicia Vikander continues her rise to superstardom following up Ex Machina with a fun turn here as the tough German tomboy Gabby, who’s more at home working on an engine than attending a high society gala. One of the biggest surprises was a hilarious and fun appearance from Hugh Grant, who basically becomes the trio’s M as MI6 higher up Waverly.
Besides the excellent opening chase sequence, The Man from UNCLE is a little light on action compared to other recent spy movies. It feels more like the early Connery Bond movies like Dr. No, where it was more about espionage and investigating. There’s a lot of the trio undercover at various places in Rome as they try to work their way into the good graces of the evil Vinciguerras, who are the ones trying to develop the nuclear weapons. The climax features a muddy chase off road that is pretty cool since it’s something you don’t normally see in a spy movie and there’s also a boat chase that becomes more of a gag than an actual action sequence.
The Man from UNCLE is a fun but light spy movie that basically skates by on the charm of it’s main trio and the full immersion into the coolness of it’s time period. The plot and action are not going to revolutionize the spy genre but if you’ve already seen Rogue Nation and are looking for some more espionage at the theaters, it might be worth checking out.