By James Hancock August 13th, 2015
As much fun as I had seeing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. this evening, my enjoyment was bittersweet with the realization that my summer movie season has now officially ended. Technically there are a few more summer films coming our way over the next few weeks but this was the last movie that I was actually looking forward to seeing. On the whole, this was a very fun flick to close out the season with and in my opinion director Guy Ritchie has delivered his most entertaining movie in years. I have never seen the original television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. which ran from 1964-68 but all the context one really needs to know is summed up in the film’s opening credits namely that this story is a 1960s era cold war spy film where lots of bad men (or in this case a very sexy lady) are trying to get their hands on the bomb. Faced with the threat of imminent global annihilation, the CIA and KGB set aside their differences and assign their best agents, Solo played by Henry Cavill and Illya played by Armie Hammer, to save the day. What follows is a very solid buddy film with the added bonus of the very sly, diminutive sex kitten Alicia Vikander playing Gaby who rounds out the group nicely as the three companions try to avert a global disaster.
If you’re tired of every action flick these days dealing with some conspiracy involving the internet, government surveillance, mobile devices, etc. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. will feel refreshingly analog where automobiles, sidearms and the occasional surveillance bug are about as high tech as the movie gets. Despite the retro tone, Ritchie films the action with his customary very modern flare much as he did with Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). If Guy Ritchie movies are not your thing, this is not the movie that is going to change your mind. Personally I think he peaked with Snatch back in 2000 which is a vastly superior movie to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. But if you enjoyed Ritchie’s last few movies, you’ll find yourself on familiar ground. His last three movies are virtually identical when described in broad strokes: a modern take on a period fraught with danger where two bickering allies team up with a beautiful woman to kill the bad guys. Perhaps that is unfair and an oversimplification of his work, but I would think at this point Ritchie would be getting tired of this familiar scenario that he has been filming repeatedly for the last 5 or 6 years. With his next film dealing with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, I can only assume that the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere will be at the core of the story as once again Ritchie gives us a modern take on a period fraught with danger where two bickering allies team up with a beautiful woman to kill the bad guys.
I do want to give an appropriate shout out to the three leads in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. For the first time I get the appeal of Henry Cavill who delivers a very convincing performance as a borderline sleazy master thief forced into working with the CIA to avoid a jail sentence. Armie Hammer might not completely nail his Russian accent, but nearly every scene that generated a laugh with the audience was the result of his barely controlled temper as he resists the urge to kill every other character on the screen. The real surprise was Alicia Vikander who you will recognize from Ex Machina. Usually spy films don’t give the female characters a chance to shine, but Alicia routinely steals the thunder from her male co-stars. Speaking of women stealing the show, the villain of the film, Elizabeth Debicki, somehow manages to turn the most generic predictable role imaginable into a fascinating villain that could easily hold her own in any Bond film. As far as British spy films are concerned, I should say that I prefer this year’s earlier release Kingsman: The Secret Service directed by Guy Ritchie’s former producer Matthew Vaughn. But we still have Sam Mendes’ second outing as a director of James Bond to look forward to so I’ll reserve judgment on which of the three is the strongest until November. At any rate, 2015 is shaping up to be a great year for fans of British spy movies. As far as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is concerned, I’m not sure how much more there is to absorb from this movie and I don’t think I will be returning for seconds, but if the movie were to perform well enough to warrant a sequel, I would happily stand in line on opening day for the next chapter in this very enjoyable saga.
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