Fancy a trip into the TV series of yesteryear? Well, we have the perfect thing for you! … No not Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. I speak of course of The Man from U.N.C.L.E! Full disclosure, I had never watched the original series although upon enquiry few of my immediate friends had. This review then will not take account of the TV series, good as I am sure it was. The premise of this spy movie is a traditional one. Two guys with different styles, backgrounds and outlooks must work together to save the day. Basically buddy cop but with more Bond. Napoleon Solo is an ex-con who now works under duress for the CIA and Illya Kuryakin is a KGB agent with a troubled past and some serious patience issues. Add to the mix a gorgeous femme fatale, a nuclear bomb and East-West political conflict, you should have the recipe for a great spy film. Well … they sort of pulled it off?
I have a habit of giving you the most important bit of the review first so here you go: If it’s a choice this weekend of seeing The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Fant4stic, America Ultra or Sinister 2. Pick this. It is by no means a phenomenon, or even a great movie, but it’s by far the best the dwindling light of summer movie season has to offer. Now for the full movie breakdown!
Plot and Pacing
The thing to understand is that the movie throws you in headlong and sets up its characters later. Even a few scenes with Solo before the opening action sequence would have done wonders for the overall feel of the film. The movie also goes much like you would expect and if you’re looking for plot twists there are none to be found here. All this adds up to some moments that border on dull and a wish that the movie would speed itself up. After all you know what’s going to happen.
Guy Richie’s style is also felt throughout and whilst for the most part it’s a good thing it hits a big bump. The business of playing back a scene can work well, however, in a spy movie not so much. The scene would be replayed seemingly whilst it was still going on(?) and it became hard to keep track of the narrative. This led to you still thinking about what had just happened and piecing that together while the movie kept rolling.
What reels The Man from U.N.C.L.E back safely over the line is its 1960s backdrop. The gorgeous set pieces, beautiful dresses and Cold War context give the film its foothold. When the story fades, the visual experience on-screen is enough to keep most viewers interested. The soundtrack was also enjoyable and worked very well in some scenes, however not so well in others. It’s kind of a running theme with the movie in general that it struggles with uneven execution. Everything from the music to the plot stumbles regularly here and there.
Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer star as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, and it’s nothing special. Not to say that either gave an out right bad performance but the script just fell somewhat flat on delivery. Neither injected the lines with any life and without this element their relationship as a whole dulled. Monotone delivery isn’t much of a problem if you are playing the Russian but it was Henry Cavill’s character who really suffered. Napoleon Solo was, in this film, entirely forgettable. A shame for your main protagonist. You have to have charisma if you want to play yet another suave, suit-wearing, womanising super-spy. The leading ladies, Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki, were as unremarkable as their male counterparts. Both benefited however from fabulous attire and the generally better scenes.
Odds and Ends
There are lots of little things that bothered me about this movie too. The spoken German from the lead actors was so bad I found myself reading the subtitles to understand them, more often than not. More on that subject in fact, the constant subtitling made it hard some times to concentrate on what was actually going on on screen, and to add insult to injury the subtitles were in yellow font that was difficult to make out from the middle of a movie theatre.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E is a perfectly entertaining movie that, whilst suffering from the odd bland performance, carries itself with serious style. The plot proves hard to follow and the movie is not without flaw, but the film shows much promise. With a more energetic delivery or a different director it might have been great. It would be a shame if nothing became of the potential franchise that lies here. A 1960s period setting is a refreshing change for a genre that finds itself saturated too often with reboots of the ‘gritty and dark’ variety.