This is the second movie in two weeks to be based off old Spy TV shows. Hopefully by now, you’ve already seen Mission Impossible Rogue Nation (because it was wonderful), and now you’re looking forward to the Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The original Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show Starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, and Leo G. Carroll as Alexander Waverly.
It debuted in 1964. It featured the two top agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.), a clunkier acronym than S.H.I.E.L.D., fighting against the agents of THRUSH. It was part of a rash of spy shows in the 60s, including Mission Impossible, I Spy, the Avengers, the Saint…I’m sure I’m missing one or two.
The show was fun with just a touch of camp, and Solo and Kuryakin tended to charm their way in and out of situations. That is very much used in this updated version. The story starts in East Berlin in the 60s when the cold war is picking up steam, and it’s shot to look like a 60s TV show at first.
We encounter Napolean Solo as he is looking for the stepdaughter of a mechanic, because he’s really after her real father, an ex-Nazi scientist who is working (against his will) with some Italian Nazis to construct nuclear weapons. He extradites her from East Germany, but not without barely escaping a huge Russian agent who is also tailing the girl, Gaby. Once he gets her out, he learns that his handler and the Russian agent’s handler have made a deal that the two will work together. You can imagine how well they take that information, having just tried to kill one another.
Their assignment is to take Gaby to see her uncle, who is working for the same Italians in the hopes of tracking down her father and stopping the Italian evil power couple from using their newly made weapons. Along the way, we learn more about the two agents; Solo is an ex-art thief CIA agent who never loses his cool and can charm his way out of almost anything, Kuryakin is a KGB agent who is also the son of a disgraced agent and is struggling to keep his psychotic rage episodes in check. We also learn more about Gaby, who knows everything about cars and fixing engines, but is not really that interested in her father. As she warms up to Kuryakin – well, as they warm up to each other, Solo romances everyone he can find and they eventually end up at the palatial estate of Alexander and Victoria to quickly learn that Victoria is really the mastermind behind the entire plot. The two agents have to get over their differences and learn to work together to achieve their goal. Once they do (spoiler alert – they succeed), they learn they have just both been hired to a new agency, U.N.C.L.E., and they are off on their next assignment.
It’s a fairly simple and straightforward plot, but what makes it so much fun is the very stylized look of the film. Guy Ritchie is a really great director – I love Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) as well as Snatch (2000), but most people know him from the in-between-Iron-Man Sherlock Holmes movies. Remember, if you like Elementary, or the Cumberbatch Sherlock - you have Guy Ritchie and RDJ to thank for bringing the character back to the forefront of cool.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. benefits from a lot of 60s mod style and wealth in the characters – the wardrobe is fantastic, and the splitscreens are fun. There is some action, but really the bits between the action are done even better as we see Solo and Kuryakin slowly growing to trust one another. I have to admit, the cast in this is fantastic (I was doubtful) and really pulls off this very specific look and feel.
- Henry Cavill (6’1”) takes some time off from the terrible version of Superman to play Napolean Solo. He is better in this than in anything else I have seen him in since the Tudors. He is all slick elegance and early James Bond-style confidence. He also was clearly prepping for superman as he is really broad under all his fantastic suits. He’s so unbelievably charming that when he starts pickpocketing Victoria and showing her how he did it, she’s more charmed than angry.
- With this movie, it seems that Hollywood may finally know what to do with the 6’5” Armie Hammer. He broke out in the Social Network – playing the Winklevoss twins (mainly because he looks like them and had a similar upbringing…he comes from money – a LOT of money). He was decently cast as the Lone Ranger, but everything else about that movie was so terrible, it gave him no chance. He’s played ‘the handsome tall guy’ here and there, but his take on Illya Kuryakin is actually pretty good. The accent is a little suspect, but once my parents pointed out that it sounded a little cheesy – exactly the way the accents sounded on the old show, that made more sense to me. He does a really good job here, not just in the action – which we know he can do – but in the quiet more subtle scenes as he grows to trust Solo and warms up to Gaby. Once thing I did not like was the ‘psychotic rage’ nonsense. He would go into these fits where he was barely controlling his rage, but that never really paid off. I would have liked to seen him use that rage at the end, but instead, it just sort of trails off. Either include it to use it – or leave it out.
- Alicia Vikander, who was absolutely amazing in Ex Machina earlier this year (see that now if you haven’t already) plays Gaby, and does a really good job of first – being completely capable in her own right and never really a damsel in distress, which I was worried about, since this was set in the 60s. Women didn’t usually fare so well onscreen in that era (check out some early Bond women if you doubt me). She’s sharp, dryly funny, and self-assured.
- However, in terms of women who steal this movie, Elizabeth Debicki (who I had not seen in anything prior to this), is fantastic as Victoria. She’s a completely evil genius villain who really lives up to that billing. She is cold, cruel, very calculating, and seems to truly enjoy being bad. She’s going to stop at nothing to get her bomb and go after her enemies, while completely and totally dressed to the nines.
- Luca Calvani plays Alexander, her husband, and honestly, he’s almost an afterthought. He got very little development (“he’s a playboy”), to the point that when Kuryakin has his big fight with him near the end, you have to try to remember who this guy is and why he’s significant.
- Sylvester Groth plays Gaby’s Uncle Rudi, who is creepy and weird, and not what he appears to be.
- Jared Harris plays Sanders, Solo’s American CIA handler (yes, the Irish son of Richard Harris plays the American handler, but just add that to the list of random nationalities in this flick).
- Misha Kuznetsov plays Oleg, Kuryakin’s KBG Russian handler. Be on the lookout for a quick David Beckham cameo as the projectionist who flips a picture.
- Hugh Grant shows up to play Waverly, charm the pants off everybody, steal some scenes, and set up some franchise possibilities.
Overall – it was really fun, very stylish, very slick, and really entertaining. I wish they had done a bit better with the marketing, because judging by my parent’s reaction, those who used to watch the show will really love the movie. Those who are too young to remember the show will like it, but may not get some of the style choices. Check it out – I think you’ll enjoy it.
8 out of 10; Gained points for the wardrobe, some of those outfits are just too awesome, and I’ll need some earrings like what Gaby was wearing throughout the movie. Lost points for the accent craziness – Cavill, a Brit, is playing the American – the American is playing the Russian, then another Brit is playing German, an Irishman is playing an American, and an Aussie seems to be playing British/Italian? It doesn’t really matter – it all basically works. Gained points for being another awesome Guy Ritchie movie, and making me really excited for his King Arthur movie next year- starring Charlie Hunnam (Australian) as the famous British knight.
Bonus Video 1: Just for fun, here’s both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy pre-Star Trek on a Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode.
Bonus Video 2: RocknRolla – another crazy Guy Ritchie movie where Toby Kebbel gets to be insane.
Bonus Video 3: The first time the world saw Jason Statham was thanks to Guy Ritchie – “Too late Too late will be the cry – when the man with the bargains has passed you by!”
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews