The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Review by Paul Preston
The Movie Guys
Henry Cavill is trying to do what no other modern-era actors who’ve portrayed Superman have done – launch another franchise. Despite appearing in good films like “Somewhere in Time” and “Scott Pilgrim”, Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh never really saw their talents stray far from the iconic DC superhero. Cavill’s trying his luck with a film based on the 1960s T.V. show, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”. But prospects are probably pretty grim that this will continue beyond his origin story.
Cavill plays Napoleon Solo (great name), a former thief now working for the CIA. He is teamed with Illya Kuryakin, a Russian spy, played by Armie Hammer. They are teamed up to protect a young East German mechanic whose father has built a nuclear warhead, and to keep the warhead from falling into villainous hands. The Cold War antics that could result from this plot are murky under Guy Ritchie’s direction, which feels more like a spy movie checklist of things someone thought one of these movies should have than organic thrills.
This film proves that it wasn’t Ritchie’s guiding hand that drummed up the chemistry between Holmes and Watson in his other, more successful franchise, “Sherlock Holmes”, but actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, as Cavill and Hammer don’t muster up a similar fire. Cavill plays Solo so glib that he almost goes through the whole movie never really connecting with other characters. And poor Hammer has a history of not having the best chemistry, never creating the magic required to launch “The Lone Ranger” with Johnny Depp. However, he had fantastic chemistry with himself in “The Social Network”, so maybe that’s a team-up worth re-visiting.
Hugh Grant is a welcome sight on the big screen again (doesn’t happen enough), but his character is really there just to move the plot along. Alicia Vikander is an adorable troublemaker as the young mechanic. Between a big summer movie like this and her turn in “Ex Machina”, her career could go any direction, and any would be welcome.
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is soaked in style, as the ‘60s look marvelously Technicolor, the outfits are Mad Men meets Fembots and there’s a distinct and welcome lack of gadgets. Some humorous and some dangerous moments are filmed with a unique style (there’s a scene where Cavill escapes a chase scene early only to sit around and watch Hammer continue it while eating a sandwich that’s particularly entertaining), and there are some twists and turns worthy of a spy film.
But I worry about Ritchie’s signature as a director. Coming on the scene with films like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”, he lately seems like a director-for-hire, a helmer they’d call when they have a franchise and just “need a guy”, instead of needing GUY. This could be happening again as Ritchie is on board the new “King Arthur” film. This partnering with franchises often reduces a director’s signature (see Shyamalan and “The Last Airbender”). You’d have to be Paul Greengrass to have both the high-profile film AND the indie cred.
Perhaps the timing of this film is perfect. We’re out of the summer rush and into the hottest months of the year. Maybe you just want air conditioning and you don’t want the plot thickness of the much more involved (and satisfying) “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”. And you just wanna go “Wow, Henry Cavill’s eyes are bluer than blue” and “Isn’t Alicia Vikander’s dress cute?”. If that’s the case, enjoy…’cause it’s August, and this film defines most movies that come out in August – not horrible, but you can see why it didn’t come out on July 4th.
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Release Date: August 14, 2015
Run Time: 116 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers Picture