Starring: Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), Armie Hammer (The Social Network), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Elizabeth Debecki (The Great Gatsby), Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Hugh Grant (Cloud Atlas)
Director: Guy Ritchie (Snatch)
Writers: Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram (Sherlock Holmes)
Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes
Release Date: 14 August (US, UK)
2015 truly is the year of the spy movie. With Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation already released and Spectre still to come, there’s certainly no better time to be fan of international espionage. It’s a pity then that The Man from U.N.C.L.E., based on the classic 1960s television series, has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle. And it really shouldn’t be one to overlook because, whilst not quite as sharp as some of its brethren this year, it’s a more than satisfactory time at the movies.
It’s a Cold War era spy thriller, so the plot is almost self-explanatory: tension between Russia and US, threat of nuclear destruction, third party trying to spark conflict, yaddayaddayadda. It’s a formula that’s been old since even before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t stray too far from it. Other than a decent third act twist, the story is pretty formulaic and, given common knowledge of world history, the likelihood of total annihilation occurring is unlikely from the offset. However, what the film lacks in substance it more than makes up for in style and execution. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is breezily paced and well structured, creating for a light and fun experience that keeps good time and never becomes dull. There is a great balance of action and humour, and when the two are combined it creates for some of the film’s best moments. The third act feels a bit abrupt and the final moments setting up a potential franchise are a little cheesy, but by this point you will have either gotten caught up in the movie’s swing or you won’t have.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. also benefits from a strong leading duo in Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as CIA agent Napoleon Solo and the KGB’s Ilya Kuryakin respectively. Whether working together or against each other, these two are a magnetic presence and a great comic duo. Cavill’s suaveness is on in full force here and his bravado always brings a smile, creating a character that’s still cool even when engaging in less commendable situations; he really would have made a great James Bond. On the other side, Hammer pulls off the Russian accent surprisingly well and mines a lot of great deadpan material out of Kuryakin’s stiff and bitter persona. The two play off each other in the expected bickering manner, but never fails to amuse and the bond that forms between them feels genuine by the end. Also fantastic is the ever impressive Alicia Vikander, who unfortunately doesn’t get in on the action as much but serves wonderfully as a third foil between the ultra-egos of Solo and Kuryakin. Hugh Grant also shines in his small role as Waverly, but he gets nowhere near enough screen time despite his character being a major part of the show. The main flaw in the cast is the film’s villain as played by Elizabeth Debecki. She does a fine enough job with the material and pulls off the femme fatale role almost too well, but there’s not much on the page beyond that, and other than killing one minor character she doesn’t do much but stare and look pretty the rest of the time.
Guy Ritchie has always been a style over substance director, but his penchant is very well suited to a picture like this. The film very effectively imitates the style of 1960s films using old school techniques like whip pans, crash zooms and titled angles, as well as very effective and creative use of split screen. The action scenes are perhaps cut a little too quickly, but they’re all very well staged and memorable; an early car-to-foot chase is a major highlight. Aside from the all-around excellent cinematography, the period detail is also well captured in the film’s design with great sets and fabulous costumes, and the film’s soundtrack also nails the era with a wonderful selection of vintage tunes and a catchy score from Daniel Pemberton.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is not a movie you need to rush out and see, but if you’re even slightly interested in it or you’ve seen everything else on at the cinema right now, I’d definitely recommend giving it a go. It’s not a film that’ll set the world on fire nor does it stand out as much compared to other spy movies this year, but it has its own identity and packs in plenty of thrills and laughs. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer’s chemistry is worth it alone, but the added 60s flair just sweetens the deal. I’m not certain what the film’s sequel prospects are, but colour me interested should Solo and Kuryakin team up once again.
FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10