In The Man from U.N.C.L.E., director Guy Ritche seeks to blend Mad Men style nostalgia for Cold War period pieces with the winking style of current genre films. The result is a stylish, fun, but ultimately unremarkable spy movie that is enjoyable to watch, but probably not worth your ticket money.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. opens on East Berlin, as American CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) works to keep sassy mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) away from KBG operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). After a brutal, fast-paced fight, Solo and Kuryakin are told that they are expected to team up, taking Gaby to Rome to rescue her long lost father, who is being held hostage, forced to develop nuclear weapons for a powerful crime ring. Their opposition in this mission includes successful business titans Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) and Alexander (Luca Calvani), secret heads of the criminal organization. While in Rome, Solo and Kuryakin butt heads repeatedly, while Gaby is forced to play referee and pose as Kuryakin’s fiancee. As the mission becomes more complicated, the team’s loyalties and abilities are called into question, over and above the Cold War hostilities they started with.
Drawing inspiration from the 1960s television series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is highly stylized and playful. The costumes, banter, and cinematography all have the sleek, mod look of a mid-century spy movie. While the style of the film is perhaps the most enjoyable element, it also works somewhat to the detriment of the plot. The movie is so stylish that the production managed to smooth out all of the suspense. Although I was entertained by the The Man from U.N.C.L.E., because I never really felt any intensity or risk, the movie is pretty but forgettable. Even when the plot threw me a curve-ball that I did not see coming, it was done fairly placidly, as the moment landing was sacrificed to overly designed scene changes.
Even though I found the film lacking in suspense, it did not want for chemistry. The ensemble cast, including Hugh Grant as British Naval Intelligence Agent Waverly, along with Cavill, Vikander, and Hammer have almost enough charm to compensate for the hum-drum plot. Vikander has the sort of captivating presence that is reminiscent of old Hollywood stars and she is both snarky and weirdly endearing as Gaby, a character who is fairly one note as written. Armie Hammer, as usual, brings a lot of humor along with his classically handsome looks. He managed to play his character’s fits of rage in a manner that did not come off as cartoonish as it could have in less capable hands. Cavill is the least charming of the three, although I wonder if that is not the result of not having Vikander as a scene partner and love interest. Nevertheless, he plays his character with the suave detachment perfect for the era and the role.
Although I loved so much about how The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was made and the way the characters were portrayed, so much about it was too-on-the-nose. Even when it gives the audience the 1960s spy story with a wink, it winks exactly when you would expect it to, making this film beautiful, but a little boring. For the craft that went into the style, but total lack of suspense, I rate The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 3/5 stars.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was written by Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie, who directed. It runs 116 minutes and is rated PG-13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity.