Director Guy Richie (the guy who probably directed your favorite action-ish movie with British actors) tries to revive the 1960’s spy property in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
(Warning: spoilers ahead)
Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) was a part of the US armed forces during WWII. After the war ended, he stayed in Europe and made a career for himself by stealing. He was eventually caught, but the CIA felt that they could use his services as an agent. So they, released him from prison on the condition that he serve out his sentence as an operative for them. Instead of just serving his time, the debonair womanizer became the CIA’s most effective agent. On the other side of the world, the KGB was raising up their own super-spy: Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Like Solo, Illya is regarded as being the best in his organization. However, Illya is much more strict and severe than Solo with anger issues, bordering on a personality disorder.
When the movie begins it’s the 1960s. The war is long over and the Berlin Wall has been constructed. Solo is tasked with finding Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) and bringing her across the Wall so that she can help the US find her biological father. Gaby’s father was a scientist forced to work on creating a nuclear bomb by the Nazis. He needs to be found before he creates a nuclear bomb for the enemies of the state. During his mission, he encounters resistance from Illya. Despite Illya’s borderline superhuman abilities, Solo is able to get Gabby out of Germany. After the mission, Solo’s handler informs him that the CIA and the KGB feel that stopping the completion of this bomb is important enough to force them to work together. After a little brawl, and trying to push each others buttons, the pair reluctantly get to work on trying to find the scientist.
They take a two pronged approach. Illya poses as Gaby’s fiance and goes to meet her uncle, whom they believe may know her father’s whereabouts. Solo’s job is to get close to Victoria, the woman in charge of the organization trying to produce and sell the nuclear bomb. As you would expect, there’s some problems with the team. Not only do Illya and Solo bump heads over their different styles, but Gaby has some issues with Illya’s ways. The trio manages to overcome their differences for the sake of the mission and things actually start going well. That is, until Gaby has a private meeting with Victoria’s husband and tells him everything about Solo and Illya in exchange for being taken to see her father.
Because of Gaby’s betrayal, Solo is captured and left in the hands of a German madman who intends to torture him to death. Illya is chased, but manages to get away and saves Solo. The two are picked up by a man named Waverly (Hugh Grant) that had previously met Solo at a party. Waverly is from British intelligence (MI-6, I believe) and explains that they had recruited Gaby years ago in order to find her father. Her betrayal was a calculated move to get close to her father and now that they knew where he was, they needed Solo and Illya to extract her. Victoria figures out that Gaby has alternate plans, so she takes her hostage and kills her father. That leaves Illya and Solo trying to capture a nuclear bomb and save Gaby. Of course, they manage to do it, but not without some hardships along the way. Once the mission ends, Waverly informs the trio that their respective countries have agreed to continue to have them work together under a new codename: U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement).
Random Thoughts / Reactions
- The original version of U.N.C.L.E. was supposed to focus on just Solo, but TV viewers were so interested in Illya that he was added after the pilot. Still, those two and Waverly were the stalwart members of the team. From what I can tell, Gaby seems to be an addition to the team in this movie; a very welcome one. Hopefully, if there is a sequel, she will remain part of the core group.
- Victoria looks like an evil Paris Hilton.
- This movie has some really stylish costumes and cars. They clearly took the style very seriously. Although, I’m not sure why there’s a scene where Illya and Solo are arguing about women’s clothing.
- Since watching this movie I’ve heard/seen a lot of reference to some homosexual undertones in Illya and Solo’s relationship…I just didn’t get that at all during the movie.
- A big question I have about this movie is whether or not it would’ve been better if the audience knew she was a spy earlier on. That way scenes like her out driving Illya and not being freaked out by the gunfight or her being able to overpower him would’ve made more sense.
- In this movie, Henry Cavill plays a thief turned federal agent. That back story also describes Neal Caffrey from USA’s TV show, White Collar. Obviously Cavill is also known for playing Superman in the Zack Snyder Superman films. Matt Bomer, who plays Neal Caffrey, also voiced Superman in a DC animated movie. Just a little bit of trivia I suppose.
- During the credits of the movie, the dossiers of Waverly, Gaby, Illya and Solo are all shown. This gives you a little bit of information on them.
This movie left me with a strange feeling. One one hand, I definitely enjoyed it and felt like it was a good movie. On the other hand, I felt a little disappointed by the movie even though I had a hard time figuring out why. The movie is consistently entertaining, and has some laughs and some good action scenes. It just doesn’t leave you with a lot of big showstopper moments that I felt were going to really stick with me after the movie. Even so, I did leave with the distinct feeling that I want to see a sequel to this movie. Probably, because I’m hoping to get the big moment(s) that I felt like this movie didn’t quite get. It’s kind of a weird feeling to know that I enjoyed the movie but still, just felt like there was room for more.
The chemistry between Cavill, Hammer and Vikander really keeps this movie going. They’ve got an interesting style of dialogue and humor where it seems like they were going to try to be funny but without really committing to being comedic. Instead, they’re really focused on being suave, stylish or whatever the scene calls for and they let the combinations of characters generate the comedy. My favorite of the trio was Vikander. She was able to play well against both of the male leads but she really seemed to jump off of the screen as a character that was more original and more lively. I did enjoy Cavill’s performance even though it seemed like he was almost playing a caricature of an American spy with his anchorman voice and a style that made him look like White Collar’s Neal Caffrey on steroids (or if he were being played by Superman).
The whole movie is tied together and flavored by Guy Ritchie’s familiar style, which really helps polish things and make them visually interesting. For example, there’s a car chase that happens at the beginning of the movie that is fun, and the way I first thought to describe it was, “It’s like if Guy Ritchie shot a car chase scene”. On top of that is the very carefully crafted look of the clothes, cars and sets. These could almost go unnoticed because of how seamless the world they create is, but the dialogue and actions of the actors actually helps draw your eyes to it. Whether it’s Illya and Solo arguing about Gaby’s outfits in the middle of a salon or Gaby standing in the middle of a Roman fountain. Again, the look isn’t necessarily spectacular, but distinctive. Seeing that Ritchie also wrote the movie, and getting the sense of fun around the from the movie suggests to me that this was a project that he enjoyed doing.
Having not been alive in the 1960’s, I wasn’t able to watch the original airing of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. However, when the movie was announced, I did a little bit reading up on it. The history of the TV show was that it started as a kind of spy show in the same vein as James Bond. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, even helped create the show. However, with camp shows like Batman becoming more popular, U.N.C.L.E. went in the same direction. Unfortunately, that camp didn’t work for the show and lead to its cancellation. With that history in mind, it’s ironic that this feels like a movie that has a hard time skating the line between being a gritty spy-thriller and a funny, spy-action flick. It’s definitely not a spoof like Austin Powers or Johnny English but it’s also not completely a full blown spy movie like any of the Bond films or the Bourne movies and it’s not an over-the-top action fest like Mission Impossible. Maybe you could call it a more serious version of the modern Get Smart movie starring Steve Carell. Probably it’s closest relative is 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. However, where that movie excels in being momentarily bombastic and consistently cheeky, this movie tries to rely on a dry humor and a slick sense of style. Fortunately, this movie stands enough on its own that it can exist alongside the rest of the movies in this broad genre without feeling like it has to be judged against them. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. stands perfectly well on its own.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
- Distinctive / Unique look and feel for a spy genre movie
- strong cast chemistry
- Great period fashion adds to the looks and sounds of the movie
- Some of the comedy is understated or falls flat
- Some of the plot reveals feel a little bit rushed or disorganized