A Higher Class of Hero
Guy Ritchie brings his unique brand of film making to the big screen for the first time since Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in 2011 with a film adaptation of the 1960 TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Rising stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer play the leads Napoleon Solo & Illya Kuryakin, secret agents on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall after World War II, Solo works against his will for the CIA, with Illya working for the KGB. The two are partnered together by their respective governments to find a missing former Nazi scientist who has the knowledge to build nuclear warheads. Not only do the warheads pose a threat to the world, but the race is also on for America and Russia to secure the intelligence for themselves.
I went into the film with an open mind and a fondness for Ritchie’s films and also without the weight of having watched the original TV show. Coming out at the other end I feel Guy Ritchie has succeeded in carving out a space for Solo & Kuryakin in the modern film world.
Some of Guy Ritchie’s auteur trademarks are on full display with some fast talking and witty exchanges between many of the characters, not just the two leads. However it is the scenes between Solo & Kuryakin that are most entertaining, thanks to both the script and acting from Cavill & Hammer. Henry Cavill oozes all kinds of suave from his talking, his movement and obviously his dress sense and Hammer embodies the stoic stature of his KGB agent. For a first time out between these two actors they have a decent amount of chemistry and any future instalment will only benefit from this growing partnership.
The support from Alicia Vikander is good but completely overshadowed by the villainous Victoria Vinciguerra played by Elizabeth Debicki. Vikander has stormed the film scene recently with great turns in Ex Machina & Testament of Youth but Debicki will be putting herself on the map with Macbeth and Everest later this year. The cast are incredibly young (Cavill is the only one 30+ amongst the leads) when compared to other big film team ups, but they impressively hold their own in heading a big summer movie.
Though Cavill’s turn as Solo is one of my favourite elements of the film, the score and setting are even better. The fun score and song choice fit the film perfectly with the 60s setting, clothing and music all coming together nicely in bringing this period of time to life and giving it a different vibe to others in the same genre.
However despite colourful music and sharp acting the overall pace of the film brings it down a touch. There a very few troughs, but similarly there are also few peaks as the story rolls on at the same pace it starts without ever kicking it up a gear until some sporadic moments in the final act. Even then however there is a huge missed opportunity in ramping up the action to make the film stand out. Without spoiling anything, the final act has the agents storming a small island where they believe to find a warhead. Assisting in this attack is essentially a small army, which gives you the perfect opportunity for a bit of spectacle before the end. Unfortunately the sequence is strangely cut together in a fast moving montage that skips the entire attack, and returns to Solo & Kuryakin trying to take down the villain. An odd choice for an spy/action film, and ultimately one that could have elevated the climax of the film substantially.
Though it’s not the fault of this film, I am and sure many others are, getting bored of the homicidal nuclear bomb threat present in many spy films. Their are so many other interesting, dangerous motives and attack plans that can involve things other than a nuclear bomb. Though The Man From U.N.C.L.E doesn’t deviate from this line, it is based during the height of nuclear warfare so has a more plausible reason to use it than others, but even in the 60s there would have been other options to use.
Overall in a year full of film espionage The Man From U.N.C.L.E would have to do something special to stand alongside the shoulders of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation & the impending new bond film Spectre. Happily, despite it’s one track pace it does so as it entertains without excelling. A good watch with many enjoyable elements, and an admirable start to a potential franchise. Well recommended.