Guy Ritchie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a breath of fresh air at the summer box office. It's an ultra-stylish throwback to the spy films of the sixties. Sleek secret agents and their sexy foils against nuclear armageddon. We've seen this set-up a million times before, but Ritchie succeeds in taking established convention and infusing it with a jolt of energy. My familiarity with the classic television show is limited, so I won't pretend to know how close this adaptation sticks to the original. It has a je ne sais quoi, a sophisticated charm; that just grabs you. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a distinctively Guy Ritchie film. If you liked his previous work: Snatch, RocknRolla, and Sherlock Holmes; you're going to love this.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. opens in a divided Berlin at the height of The Cold War. CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) has infiltrated East Germany to find the daughter (Alicia Vikander) of a missing scientist. He locates her, but has a spectacular run in with Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a hulking KGB agent. Solo escapes with the girl, but is stupefied to find Ilya awaiting him in West Germany. The CIA and KGB have decided to join forces. A mysterious enemy draws them to Italy, with the potential threat of nuclear terrorism. As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, Solo and Ilya must get over their extreme differences. And work together as a team to complete the dire mission.
Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have fantastic chemistry. Both characters are inherently likeable in their own way. Cavill's Solo is cut from the Bond mold. He's a suave ladies' man with a penchant for theatrics. Hammer's Ilya has serious anger issues and is a beast physically, but has an underlying sweetness that makes you root for him. His scenes with Alicia Vikander are some of the best in the film. The pair begrudgingly gain respect for each other as the plot progresses. This smooth thaw is handled cleverly through slick action scenes and comic set-ups. A tip of the hat for casting these two actors. Cavill is an emerging superstar, but Hammer has taken his lumps for some poor choices. Insert The Lone Ranger here. I'm glad he's getting a chance to show that he has range and can be an effective lead actor.
The costumes, cinematography, and score are spot on in establishing the mood of this film. Ritchie sucks you into a sumptuous world of high society, old money glamour. No one, and nowhere, looks anything less than perfect in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The actors are impeccably dressed to the nines while engaging in their banter. It's an entirely Europhilic approach. But this is the sixties era spy genre emulated; gorgeous women, heroic men, luxury vehicles, gadgets, violence, and of course, sex.
The comedic aspect of this film is probably the most important to its overall entertainment value. It's not outright slapstick, but the physical humor and sight gags are clever. There are several scenes where characters are getting attacked or interrogated. But at the same time, other characters are doing things completely unexpected in the same environment. It adds an element of silliness that keeps the story from being too dark.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has a couple of flaws. The vanilla third act being the worst. This could have been a much better film if the screenwriters had worked on a more intricate ending. It also suffers from a legion of cookie cutter bad guys that are swatted like flies by the protagonists. Bond villains are memorable. Elizabeth Debicki isn't nearly an arch-villain, but she sure looks great being bad.
It would have been nice to have more diversity, but I suppose you can't use that reasoning solely to discredit the film. I've heard a few grumbles from critics on the shallowness. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is lighthearted entertainment. It's not dark, gloomy, or serious. It's an escapist adventure that will leave you feeling upbeat, maybe just a little cooler than before.