Stars: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Christian Berkel, Misha Kuznetsov | Written by Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram | Directed by Guy Ritchie
Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. centers on CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Forced to put aside longstanding hostilities, the two team up on a joint mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization, which is bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. The duo’s only lead is the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is the key to infiltrating the criminal organization, and they must race against time to find him and prevent a worldwide catastrophe.
We’ve had superhero origin story after superhero origin story, so why not reboot The Man from U.N.C.L.E. with it’s own origin story? For that’s what Guy Ritchie film is. It’s certainly – not until the closing moments – anything resembling the titular series from which this film gets its name… Instead it’s more a case of “Before the Men were from U.N.C.L.E.” So why not strip that name from the movie and let it stand on its own? Oh, hold on I forgot Hollywood’s obsession with perceived “name value” and the idea that the pre-existing fanbase, and to a lesser extent the general public, will go see a movie just because of the connection to an old property. That shouldn’t be how cinema works.
To be fair, as a cold-war spy thriller, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. works and it works very well. You certainly can’t say Guy Ritchie doesn’t know how to stage a great thriller: the pacing keeps the story moving even in the quieter moments, the action is VERY James Bond-ish – as any 60s-set spy thriller should be, and both leads are convincing in their respective roles (much more so than in other films in which they’ve appeared *cough*). It’s just that this IS NOT The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the slightest!
Gone is the playful banter between the our two heroes, gone is the suave sophistication of both Solo and Kuryakin, and gone are the more spoof elements that made the TV such fun. So what’s left? Well… A stilted, paint-by-numbers spy film that hits all the cliches and tropes of this particulat genre without fail. There’s not even a sense of Guy Ritchie’s work behind the camera – this could have been filmed by any director for hire and no-one would be able to tell the difference.
Ultimately, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is not a bad film; it’s just an average one. Though – if they follow through on the films epilogue and on the promises set-up in it – I’d be interested in seeing a sequel… Much moreso than seeing yet another Daniel Craig iteration of James Bond!
Judge for yourself when The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 7th.