“America teaming up with Russia. That doesn't sound very friendly.”
In-between his work with the Sherlock Holmes franchise, Guy Ritchie has decided to adapt The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a TV series that aired in the mid 60’s during the height of the Cold War. In a year where we were already getting the releases of the James Bond and Mission Impossible franchises it was quite a risk and one that didn’t pay off as well as it could have. In order for the film to stand out from these and other similar spy thrillers, Ritchie put the emphasis on the style giving the film a unique and cool 60’s look. Unfortunately the film doesn’t have the substance to go along with the style. There are not many thrills, the villains in this movie are forgettable, and the pacing at times becomes monotonous. The style however is so invigorating and cool that it deserves to be seen for its visual appeal alone. It doesn’t hurt that you have the likes of Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander in the lead roles, all actors who undoubtedly benefit from the stylish fashion of the film. More mature audiences might enjoy the film for its nostalgic and retro value, but most were probably not around that time to be familiar with it. In order to stand out from other spy films it needed a unique approach, and that is what we get from Ritchie here, but at the same time it was also its downfall because the film became all about style leaving it with very little substance.
The story takes place in the 60’s during the Cold War as two secret agents are trying to locate the daughter of a German scientist in hopes of finding her father that has gone missing. CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) gets to her first at her garage shop in West Germany. Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) hasn’t seen her father in decades, but Solo offers his help to get her out of the country and set up a meeting with her uncle so they can find him. He believes that the Nazi’s are holding him captive and forcing him to build an atomic bomb. While they are trying to escape, Solo discovers he is being followed by a mysterious man who we soon discover is a KGB operative. Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) tries to intercept them before they escape and the two turn out to be an equal match. Solo barely escapes with Gaby thanks to the help of his team who are awaiting them. Later on, he is being briefed by his superior, Sanders (Jared Harris) where he is informed that he is going to be teaming up with Illya to go to Rome with Gaby to search for clues of her father’s whereabouts. Neither of the agents are pleased with having to work with one another after having nearly tried to kill each other, but that is where most of the fun comes from for the audience. It is basically the origin story of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Thanks to its unique style the film stands out from other thrillers, but I’d still recommend Rogue Nation over this. The cast here is great and they have an incredible chemistry. The story borderlines on conventions since you have your typical buddy comedy where two opposite characters are forced together and a bromance ensues. The spy elements aren’t very exciting here although there is one great action sequence involving a chase through an island in the final act of the film that looks stunning. The comedy works, but the thrills don’t as much, so even Spy is a better bet in that department. The cast makes this a much more fun experience than it should’ve been. Cavill and Hammer play off each other extremely well. I still think Hammer is a talented actor, but he hasn’t been able to prove himself after that stellar duo performance in The Social Network. Alicia Vikander is always a treat to watch and despite not getting to do much she always delivers her characteristic charm. If you want to see her in a better film than you need to see Ex-Machina. Hugh Grant also delivers quite a surprisingly charming supporting performance and there are a few twists in this film that kept me interested. Other than that this film is a bit forgettable but still an entertaining ride. Ritchie still hasn’t been able to match the success of his earlier works, but he still delivers a unique visual style of his own.