SO you’ve already binge watched the Mission Impossible series for the fifth time but you’re still craving more espionage in your life? Then why not go see your U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E is an action comedy spy flick directed and co-written by English filmmaker Guy Ritchie, known for gritty British crime films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the two big budget Sherlock Holmes films. It is based on the based on the eponymous television series which premiered in 1964 and two years before the “Mission: Impossible” television series, though the latter is much better known and ingrained in public culture.
While Mission: Impossible has been spun off into a wildly successful five film franchise starring Tom Cruise, the last the box office smash of Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, this is the first time U.N.C.L.E is getting the big budget Hollywood treatment, and being a somewhat obscure property likely worked against generating interest in the film. And while I have seen old episodes of Mission: Impossible, and the short lived and decidedly less slick 1988 revival, I have never seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E. so I really went into the experience with no preconceived notions.
Bob’s your UNCLE
The movie continues the main premise of the television series: American agent Napoleon Solo and Soviet agent Illya Kuryakin, originally played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum respectively, working together to stop bad guys. Henry Cavill, aka Superman from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, plays Solo and Armie Hammer, who played the title character in the atrocious 2013 film The Lone Ranger, plays Kuryakin.
The story is an odd couple, buddy spy movie as the debonair, undisciplined, libidinous Solo and the straight laced, hot tempered Kuryakin frequently clash, occasionally physically but mostly verbally, and try to one up each other. Cavill channels James Bond heavily as Solo, which is fitting as Bond creator Ian Fleming proposed the character for the TV series. Hammer’s Russian accent is bit thick but he imbues his character with depth, transitioning from being the butt of jokes to wounded warrior to ice-water-for-blood agent with ease.
The film is set before the formation of law enforcement and counter espionage agency U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) and Solo is a former thief recruited by the CIA and Kuryakin is working for the KGB. And unlike the Mission: Impossible franchise, which is set in modern times, U.N.C.L.E is set in Cold War hot 1963 and it draws on the flamboyant style of the period. The groovy outfits of the female lead, Alicia Vikander, pop as much as her character, who is witty, strong and sardonic and has blazing sexual tension with Hammer’s Kuryakin. Her character arc does fall short in the third act and she could have used some stronger moments rather than generic damsel in distress.
Three’s company too
Vikander plays Gaby Teller, estranged daughter of an alleged Nazi scientist who is under the control of a group of Nazi sympathisers. After Solo and Kuryakin almost kill each other attempting to retrieve Teller in East Berlin in a thrilling car chase and shoot out, the agents’ respective bosses agree to have the two work together and use Teller to find her father.
The setting switches to Rome and the plot provides the usual spy tropes: break-ins, shoot outs, betrayals, torture scenes and nifty gadgets. The film leans more to dark comedy than to action and most of the set pieces turn off the sound effects and turn up the quirky soundtrack. There is one torture scene that I found hilarious and also felt bad about laughing over.
While this does bring some laughs and a different experience there are times that you do miss the visceral pop of gunfire and bang of explosions. It is a bit of a disappointment as Ritchie is usually pretty tight with his action scenes. They also use a split screen, comic book inspired effect which looks interesting but is more distracting than anything else.
The film ends with the formation of U.N.C.L.E. and an obvious sequel signpost. And while it is not your usual action heavy spy flick I enjoyed the style and wit of this movie. The characters and their interactions were the highlight and I would not mind seeing them again on screen though I don’t HAVE to see them on screen again.
Rating : The Man From U.N.C.L.E. gets two top secret mangoes out of four.