Film Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E (M, USA, 2015)

You’d not be wrong in thinking that 2015 could be the year of the spy movie, with Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation having all been released already and Spectre due later in the year. We also have another contender in the genre, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. With a ridiculously attractive cast, stunning Italian locations, and some typical Guy Ritchie style and direction we check out whether this TV show remake holds up as a big screen adaptation.

Unusually this film is neither remake, reboot nor parody but more director and writer Ritchie and co writer Lionel Wigram’s take on an origin story of how these two vastly different agents come to work together for U.N.C.L.E (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo, the maverick, mouthy CIA agent who’s a bit of a womaniser and rarely plays by the book. Armie Hammer is Ilya Kuryakin the Ukranian KGB agent who’s a stoic, by the book, boiling kettle barely managing to contain his temper. They’re both out to catch Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) a German mechanic whose estranged father knows the secrets of how to construct an atomic bomb. But this wouldn’t be a spy movie without a sneaky genius wealthy heiress out for world domination played by Aussie/Frenchwoman Elizabeth Debicki.

The film is visually sumptuous and stylish and has that 1960’s pizzazz, flair and groove. Those are some genuine vintage costumes we see and everybody looks gorgeous and fabulous all the time. To add to this mood there’s some great music interjecting the action on occasion but it never feels annoying it just seems to be more like a friendly reminder that this film is all hip and mod.

It does have some great quick quips, almost all of which are snarky retorts by our two male leads from the “Cowboy” to the “Red Peril” as they begrudgingly work together but try to one-up-man each other the whole way through. With plenty of close ups of those jawlines and broody eyes to please the ladies, though surprisingly only the one shirtless scene for Cavill that I can recall? Another surprise is that all four of our main leads are portraying nationalities different to their native own. Which in some ways actually adds to the appeal, we finally get to see Cavill play a lighter more fun role, and Hammer gets to utilise his size for some great visual gags about Kuryakin’s strength. And I hate to say it but Ritchie and Wigram appear to be playing on a homoerotic subtext that worked so well in their earlier efforts in Sherlock Holmes in this film, albeit not as heavily.

The film does feel like the story lacks a little oomph. This is probably because the whole nuclear warhead plot and Cold War East VS West just feels a little tired and doesn’t quite capitalise on the tension and parallel it with the strain between our two male leads. Ritchie’s style is all over this though, with the split screen action and the overly large font subtitles but the most frustrating is the twisty plot reveals, where he purposefully skips over information only for it to be shown a few scenes later in full. The film closes with an almost blatant set up for a sequel, it would be surprising to see if it manages to achieve enough box office success to warrant one.

Yet for all of its good parts the sum total just doesn’t seem to rise up to something great. It’s not quite as cool and sophisticated as Bond, nor was it as sharp, surprising and clever as Kingsman. What this film does have is it that there are plenty of good situational moments or dialogue that are genuinely laugh out loud funny. And for what it lacks in a tense gripping story it makes up for with some interesting characters who are comical and enjoyable onscreen together.

Running Time: 116 minutes

The Man From U.N.C.L.E is out in Australian cinemas 13 August 2015 through Roadshow Films


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