The classic 60s spy show that starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum returns, only now with Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) playing the suave CIA Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) taking on the role of Illya Kuryakin, the austere KGB spy. Director Guy Ritchie attempts to resurrect a 5-year old show most younglings have probably never even heard of with The Man from U.N.C.L.E, no doubt aiming for another successful franchise as with his Sherlock Holmes films.
Unfortunately, this effort fails to elicit Mr. Holmes’ thrills, resulting in a sluggishly paced action spy thriller that is, to be honest, not a bad movie, but a disappointing one nonetheless.
Things start off promising enough with an attention-grabbing chase sequent that finds Solo in East Germany searching for Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina and Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl), a beautiful mechanic whose father was a Nazi scientist – and also the film’s most alluring and energetic component. Gaby hasn’t heard from her father in quite some time but events have transpired that make finding him a must; he has knowledge of volatile weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear kind that spell certain doom for the world’s superpowers if they fall into the wrong hands.
Behind all this is an international criminal organization led by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), and it’s this threat that leads to some very interesting bedfellows. As it happens, Solo is being tracked, by none other than Russian Agent Illya, as they share the same interest in Mr. Teller and his whereabouts. Illya is also searching after information regarding this weapon for the benefit of his nation in the arms race, so it’s important that Gaby does not leave with Solo. It’s fun to watch the familiar pieces come together, and should have stayed fun, given how these initial chase sequences play out, with the seemingly superhuman Illya always looming close behind.
Sadly, it would appear the film also gets stuck here, quickly losing all its energy and considerable promise moving forward.
As it turns out the criminal organization behind all the nuclear hoopla is pretty serious business that threatens not just the USA and USSR but the world collectively. Stopping them will require a desperate measure; a joint operation between the CIA and KGB, codenamed U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement), a team-up between rival nations during the Cold War, to track down the organization behind all this nastiness and prevent possible catastrophe – much to Agent Solo’s chagrin.
This may all sound exciting – and it should be exciting – but the film’s plot is largely forgettable and unimpressive. The action scenes should be the key points of interest but when they arrive they are, at beast, both lackluster and uninvolving.
In truth, he film is more a requiem for director Guy Ritchie’s filmography less than the death of a possible franchise revival of a show from a bygone era. Ritchie’s explosive start with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000) seem like an eternity ago. His days of bridging stylized action and fantastic dialogue appear to be exhausted, given way to the Hollywood system – minus the form and energetic style that once made him fun to watch.
What makes The Man From U.N.C.L.E. such a missed opportunity is the lack of chemistry between its leads, making the whole affair feel bogged down with their lack of fun, energy, or any real personality. Ritchie seems to be more interested in the locales and meticulous outfits than creating any real bonds between his characters. There are rare moments that seem to work between Cavill and Hammer, but these are fleeting and feel contrived. As mentioned above, Alicia Vikander is the only real charmer here, giving it all she can. And lest we forget, the always affable Hugh Grant plays Waverly, head of U.N.C.L.E., with is trademark humor and style.
One could make the assumption that Guy Ritchie and the swinging 60s makes perfect sense and a match made in heaven, but for whatever reason is a meager effort; the film doesn’t work. One needs only look to the recent spy thriller – and fellow 60s television counterpart – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation to see how these things are done.