Review: THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series first aired between 1964 and 1968, before I was even born.  Even though the show probably was aired again in syndication, I somehow never watched it.  So, I went into this movie screening knowing only the premise, and after having enjoyed several previous films of the director Guy Ritchie.  With very little familiarity of the original show’s style and tone, I, somehow, went into this movie feeling that Ritchie’s style of filmmaking and his sense of humor would be perfect for this espionage actioner.  Now, I’m not going to go on how Ritchie superbly brought the show back to life on the big screen, but I will say that he has made a fun and highly entertaining movie that should please audiences.  I’m just not sure how purists of series will feel about it.

Set during the Cold War of the 1960s, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), a highly skilled C.I.A. operative, has been assigned to contact Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of an infamous German scientist whose work has led to the creation of a highly dangerous weapon.  While on the job, Solo encounters KGB operative Ilya Kuriyakin (Armie Hammer), a skilled and dangerous agent who has been given the exact same assignment.  After a fiery confrontation, the CIA and KGB agree to work together for the same goal.  Solo, Kuriyakin, and Teller must collaborate to stop an international terrorist organization headed by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) and her husband Alexander (Luca Calvani) who been using Dr. Udo Teller’s work to manufacture nuclear weapons. However, Solo and Kuriyakin will have to overcome their personal differences in order to accomplish their mission.

Writers Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, and David C. Wilson have written what may be the most fun and delightful movie of the summer.  Adapted from the series by creator Sam Rolfe, this film is very much a Guy Ritchie flick that fits in beautifully with some of his previous action comedies like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch.  Ritchie uses his signature, slightly cartoonish action style to great effect here, and the screenplay is chock-full of hilarious and witty banter.  Ritchie never gets too absurd or outlandish with the action, and has a sensibility when it comes to exercising some restraint.  As I watched the action onscreen and listened to the funny dialogue, I found myself often smiling, chuckling heartily, and sometimes even applauding.  Without a doubt, Guy Ritchie knows how to make a great action/comedy and that still applies with The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The basic plot and story doesn’t have anything brilliantly new to offer.  It is a standard story of Cold War espionage, but in the vein of a buddy movie.  Napoleon and Yuri obviously have clashing personalities and come from vastly different backgrounds.  The often cold Yuri has a no-nonsense approach, but this masks an intense and fiery temper that erupts when pushed too far.   Napoleon Solo has a suave and dashing personality, and tends to maintain a super-cool demeanor, even in the most harrowing scenarios.  Ritchie and his co-writers offer exceptional work in developing these characters and actors Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer deliver outstanding performances also.

Cavill, who is now best known as Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel and the upcoming Batman v. Superman, exudes charisma and confidence as Napoleon Solo.  The British actor is so damn smooth in this role, he proves he could easily step into the tailor-made tuxedo of one James Bond.  Solo, who is basically an American Bond clone, can kick ass against the toughest opponents, and still has time to charm the skirts off the ladies.  Ritchie and his writers have given Solo some hilarious lines in the film, and Cavill delivers them superbly. The yin to Solo’s yang is the Russian operative Yuri Kuriyakin, whom Armie Hammer nails solidly.  Hammer finds the right balance between intense restraint and explosive intensity in portraying the often volatile-tempered Russian agent.

The movie also features extraordinary work by the lovely Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Sylvester Groth, and the deliciously droll Hugh Grant.  While the espionage/international intrigue story is nothing new and  takes a backseat to the fun action and hilarious comedy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. should guarantee audiences a great time at the cinema this weekend.  Fans of Ritchie will enjoy his latest flick, but die-hard fans of the series might feel that the director didn’t take the material seriously.  Either way, this first chapter shouldn’t have much trouble finding success, and I look forward to further adventures.

 

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