"The Man from U.N.C.L.E" (2015)- Movie Review

Written and Directed by Guy Ritchie
Co-written by Lionel Wigram (based off the 1960’s t.v. show by Sam Rolfe)
Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander

‘A Time-Pass at Best’

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have charming chemistry that explodes on screen like fireworks, however, they cannot save “The Man from U.N.C.L.E”, a film that makes the fatal decision of choosing style over substance. Pairing up these charismatic actors with a unique director like Guy Ritchie sounds like a winning combination on paper, but it turns out to only be…o.k. Not bad for a popcorn flick, but that’s not saying much in a Summer that has been crowded with exciting spy films so far.

In a Summer that has offered a variety of spy movies ranging from the hysterically hilarious “Spy” to the thrilling & action-packed “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation”, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” is the most forgettable of the bunch. Based off the popular television series that rose to fame in the 1960’s, this is a movie that comes up short when you stack it up against recent offerings in the genre. Neither does it have the consistently funny jokes of “Spy” nor the edge-of-your-seat action of “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation”. What it does offer, on the other hand, is plenty of style: a talented cast of good-looking actors, gorgeous production design and eye-catching sets. Sorely missing, though, is any trace of a story. The result is an action-comedy that feels like a video-game. As long as you turn your brain off, you’re guaranteed to have fun.

If you choose not to, however, you will probably lose your mind over the incomprehensible plot. Wait a minute…is there even a plot? Because, as far as story goes, it’s a challenge to figure out what’s going on in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” for the majority of it’s running time. It’s a movie that jumps from being a buddy-cop comedy, to a complicated espionage thriller to a homage to spy films from the 1960’s. But hey, what could possibly go wrong when you have two talented actors at your service? While it can’t be said that they save the film, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer at least deserve credit for making a ridiculous plot entertaining to watch. Set in the early 1960’s, during the Cold War, the story puts these actors into the shoes of spies from opposite ends of the world. Cavill’s Napoleon Solo is an American spy with a quick-witted sense of humor, while Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin is a Russian spy with a bad temper. These skilled agents are forced to work together against their wishes to save the world from a dangerous criminal organization.

In order to accomplish this mission, they must learn to put aside their differences, win the heart of a love interest and fight off creepy foes. Whether or not they succeed, however, ultimately doesn’t matter because the film itself mostly doesn’t. Due to director Guy Ritchie’s risky decision to choose style over substance, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” is a messy entry in the spy genre that only works as an entertaining time-pass. By paying so much attention to style, Guy Ritchie has created an uneven entertainer that wants you to turn your brain off and enjoy the ride. Like the director’s well-known take on “Sherlock Holmes”, it’s an irresistibly entertaining ride that offers action and comedy at a breakneck rapid pace. The problem, though, is that for a film that’s has been marketed as an action-comedy, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” offers few moments of laugh-out-loud humor or exciting action. These occasional moments of magic sweep you off your feet, but they are far too few to make the film worth a recommendation.

It’s a shame, though, because “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” starts off on a promising note that shows potential. With it’s opening sequence, an adrenaline-pumping car chase that takes place at night, this action-comedy immediately grabs your attention. Shot, acted and edited extremely well, it’s a perfect way to begin the Summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, however, this opening-scene sets the bar so high that the rest of the action set-pieces in the film fail to live up to it. After beginning the film with a bang, director Guy Ritchie struggles to keep the action fresh and energetic for the remaining running-time. Aside from the car chase, the action-sequences are neither memorable nor exciting. What’s missing from them, most of all, is a sense of danger. With the exception of a torture scene that occurs towards the end of the movie, we never feel that any of the ‘heroes’ are in danger. By blundering the action, director Guy Ritchie gives the intimidating job of saving the movie to his leading actors. It’s a job that at first sight seems like it would be impossible to pull off.

Thankfully, however, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are more than up to the challenge of carrying “The Man from U.N.C.L.E”. Two talented actors at the top of their game, their larger-than-life chemistry holds the film together just when it seems like the light-bulb is fusing out. The star who steals the show out of the two, though, is Cavill. Fresh off his “Superman” phase, the British actor brings charisma and ‘coolness’ to the movie that is simply hard to ignore. Mostly known for playing serious-minded characters, here he shows that he can also nail comedy. Hammer, on the other hand, proves that he can act well if given the right role. Even though he isn’t from Russia, he nails the accent of the country which is quite impressive. After appearing in a row of disastrous films such as 2013’s “The Lone Ranger”, he has finally given a performance that is worth taking note of.

The rest of the cast is like a car riding on a bumpy road that has it’s ups and downs. Elizabeth Debicki is appropriately menacing and over-the-top as the film’s villain, while Alicia Vikander is irresistibly charming despite playing the stereotypical role of the love interest. Alas, not everyone gets the opportunity to shine, though. Certainly not Hugh Grant, who is wasted in a minor role that makes it seem as if he is only there for the paycheck.

That being said, where “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” does succeed is in capturing the style of the 1960’s. Although director Guy Ritchie doesn’t know how to use his actors all that well, at least he knows a thing or two about the time-period in question. From the elaborate costumes to the spot-on make-up/do-overs, a lot of attention is paid to accurately capturing the time-period and in the end it pays off. Another redeeming quality to be found in the film is an upbeat soundtrack, which brings a much-needed spark and energy to the otherwise bland action-comedy.

If there was more to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” than these few redeeming factors, it could have been  more than just a time-pass at the theatre. In a nutshell, though, that’s exactly what it is: a movie that has been made for the sole purpose of entertainment. For fans of the original t.v. series from the 1960’s, it will be a dream come true. For those who are unfamiliar with the series, on the other hand, it’s a movie that will be forgotten as soon as it’s seen.

Whether you’re in the former group or the latter, it may be best to lower your expectations before watching this movie or else you’ll be as disappointed as me.

2.5/5 stars

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