The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a 2015 spy film directed by Guy Ritche with a screenplay by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram. The film is based upon the television series of the same name, which premiered in 1964. The film stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debecki, Jared Harris, and Hugh Grant. The film concerns C.I.A. operative Napoleon Solo being forced to team up with K.G.B. operative Illya Kuryakin to thwart a terrorist organization called T.H.R.U.S.H. from acquiring and using a nuclear weapon.
Guy Ritchie is an immensely talented director known for hyperstylized crime comedy films such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. After 2008’s RocknRolla failed to reach the heights of his previous work, Ritchie decided to try his hand at a Hollywood blockbuster with 2009’s Sherlock Holmes, with the director’s signature kinetic energy and style creating an interesting, fun, and unique take on the famed detective. Detractors occasionally dismiss the adaptation for being too Hollywood and too action focused, and as a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, I will say that Holmes is nary a man of action, never having sprinted away from an explosion or anything. However, the film was still extremely entertaining and very enjoyable, regardless. With one well set-up and clever scene, Ritche was able to show off Holmes’ intellect and skill while also showing off his penchant for stylized action and keeping the audience interested and invested. It’s a pretty great and underrated scene.
With news that Ritchie was helming an adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I was particularly excited. Unfortunately, the project was stuck in development hell for several years, before finally being released in August 2015. Though I would like to see Ritchie return to his roots and direct an old-school crime flick again, seeing as he now has a couple of decades of film experience under his belt, I am, so far, rather enjoying Ritchie’s Hollywood endeavors.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a movie of impeccable style and flair that is evident from the very opening of the film. Guy Ritche seems to have doubled down on this one. This film is stylized and immensely stylish. The environment created by the film grabs your attention immediately. The film is slick and cool throughout.
The characters in this film are more adequately and interestingly fleshed out than I originally expected. Unlike some summer films, the action in this film is not the most impressive part of this movie. The most impressive part is how Ritchie and Wigram handle these characters. Neither the dapper Solo nor the tough Kuryakin are inept, and are both actually quite capable and impressive, and this dynamic is set up very well. Take a look at both of their character introductions.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is definitely a comedy film, and the majority of that comedy comes from the fact that two diametrically opposed agents are forced to work together; the majority of hilarity ensues from that. The comedy in this film, like everything else, is extremely smart and well-done. There is no pointless “Solo/Kuryakin did something dumb” slapstick that I was afraid I would find in a film like this. This is a genuinely funny film.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a stylish work of brilliance that you shouldn’t overlook. Everything in this film, from its cinematography, to its action sequences, to its score, to its script is extremely smooth and well-done. For proof of this, you need look no further than the brilliant Boat Chase/Sandwich Snack scene. This well-shot and very funny scene perfectly and clearly illustrates the differences between the two agents and why that’s the reason they would make a great team.
Though Henry Cavill’s performance as Superman has been extremely lackluster so far, his performance here is very good. Robert Vaughn, who played Solo in the original TV series, had a very distinct pattern of speech that I would think would be very difficult to imitate. Cavill, though, nails it perfectly, and pulls off the suave, smooth, and professional character of Napoleon Solo without a hitch. Might I mention he can also rock a suit like nobody’s business?
Armie Hammer is a very talented actor who impressed me with his role in The Social Network, but after starring in 2012’s The Lone Ranger, which, as far as I know, still holds the dishonorable record for being Disney’s biggest flop ever critically, financially, and in terms of reception by the general audience, this guy can’t catch a break. He plays the extremely tough and somewhat emotionally unstable Kuryakin very well. I never noticed a point where he broke his accent, either.
The beautiful and talented Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debecki, who play the film’s female protagonist and the film’s main antagonist, respectively, are great. Alicia Vikander’s character is a very tough and independent woman who can hold her own against anything that comes her way. Vikander plays it perfectly, and I’m very glad to see she is appearing in more roles, starring in the sleeper hit Ex Machina later in 2015. She also more recently starred alongside Matt Damon in the disappointing Jason Bourne, although she was quite good in that. The same amount of praise goes to Elizabeth Debecki, who plays the sexy, cold, calculating, smart, and threatening villain with ease. Hugh Grant does an excellent job in his role as Alexander Waverly, the head of the future U.N.C.L.E. organization. He has a relatively small amount of screen time, maybe 15 minutes total, but he takes those few minutes and really runs with them. He seems as though he quite enjoyed the role.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a great film. It is a would-be summer blockbuster that truly stands out, which is rare these days. Sadly, due to what I think was a combination of low audience expectations (Heck, I’ll admit I saw this movie in the cheap seats not expecting it to be as good as it was the first time I saw it), lack of marketing, and being released the same summer as Mad Max, Jurassic World, and other blockbusters of the time (which gave audiences movie fatigue), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. did not get the box office numbers it deserved, despite praise from audiences and critics alike. In the end, the film did manage to just barely recoup its budget, which means a sequel could happen, but it is unfortunately highly unlikely, which is frustrating. I can barely remember anything of interest from Jurassic World, and that made a downright ludicrous amount of money. At least Guy Ritchie’s take on King Arthur will probably be good. Meh!