a critiQal film review The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: At the height of the Cold War, a mysterious criminal organization plans to use nuclear weapons and technology to upset the fragile balance of power between the United States and Soviet Union. CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) are forced to put aside their hostilities and work together to stop the evildoers in their tracks. The duo's only lead is the daughter of a missing German scientist, whom they must find soon to prevent a global catastrophe.

Reviewed
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With everyone flocking to see Henry Cavill (and Ben Affleck) in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), we figured it was a good time to take a look back at a recent film of Cavill’s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Would his performance in this film be a good judge of what to look forward to in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)? Or should we have just watched Man of Steel (2013) instead?

Henry Cavill, playing American agent Napoleon Solo, seems a perfect choice for the role in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. He’s suave and debonair, playing the role with a bit of aloofness that seems a perfect fit for his character. While he may have originally tried out for the role of Ilya, the Russian agent, director Guy Ritchie made the right choice in picking up to play Solo. He is entertaining in each sequence, playing the spy with a sense of humor that is spot-on. Watching him enjoy a surprise snack, for example, is particularly hilarious, as it is set to a backdrop of his partner recklessly careening around in a speedboat in a desperate attempt to flee from armed guards.

Armie Hammer, who seems to have gotten a lot of flack for portraying the title role in The Lone Ranger (2013), also shines in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. While Cavill definitely leads on this one, Armie does a good job of playing the Russian agent/tough guy Ilya, playing the straight man to Cavill’s wise-cracker. He’s not quite as brilliant as Cavill, but he does play his character well, contributing nicely to the film.

Alicia Vikander takes on the role of Gabby, and while she is not nearly as memorable as either of her co-stars, she does a decent job with the role anyway, contributing her share to help flesh out an awkward, yet oddly endearing, moment of camaraderie between herself and Hammer’s Ilya. Of course, she also does a good job as the (expected) damsel in distress – with a twist.

Elizabeth Debicki, portraying the villainous Victoria, does a decent job with her role, playing up an “ice queen” vibe with aplomb. She isn’t quite the threat, herself, that the film needs, but while she may not be quite as evil incarnate as desired, her actions help her villainous threat linger even when she’s off-screen.

Some of the minor characters in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. also manage to make a notable impression, especially Hugh Grant appearing as Waverly. He’s a fun addition to the film, and a surprising breath of fresh air (unlike most of his rather ho-hum top-billing roles in previous films). Jared Harris also has a brief turn as a CIA handler, and does a decent job of it – even though his role requires him to spend most of his screen time filling the viewer in on the plot details.

Having never seen the TV series the film is based on, it’s hard to judge how different the film is. However, Guy Ritchie, known for his quirky yet smart films (Sherlock Holmes (2009), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999)), brings this story to the big screen the right way. He manages to weave a web of intrigue and action, dosed with just the right amounts of witticism, and delivers the package in style, yet manages to keep the nostalgia of the 60’s alive and well. It makes for a movie update, that, unlike so many these days, retains a bit of nostalgia for the TV series. Unlike other TV-to-film updates like Mission: Impossible (1996) and the like, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is both enjoyable AND will make the viewer want to see more of the original show as well.

Smart and funny, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is highly entertaining. With Guy Ritchie behind the camera bringing the same smart directing seen in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Snatch, the film already shines. Then, Henry Cavill embodies Napoleon Solo with such ease it’s like he was made for the role (unlike his overshadowed portrayal of Superman, which both Christopher Reeve and Tom Welling did better), and Armie Hammer performs up to snuff, and the film really kicks it up a notch. Toss in decent performances by everyone in the cast – including, surprisingly, Hugh Grant – and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a spy film that’s tough to beat – even in a year chock full of spy flicks, from James Bond’s latest outing (Spectre (2015)) to Ethan Hunt’s latest over-the-top mission (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)).

Check out The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when you get a chance. You’ll be surprised at how good it is. And, like us, you may find yourselves looking to find the TV series on demand somewhere.

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