Synopsis: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel”) stars as Napoleon Solo opposite Armie Hammer (“The Social Network”) as Illya Kuryakin in director Guy Ritchie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” a fresh take on the hugely popular 1960s television series. 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 Solo and KGB agent Kuryakin. 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. (c) Warner Bros
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After a four year absence from making a movie, Guy Ritchie is back at it again, this time directing and co-writing the spy action adventure The Man from U.N.C.L.E. If you think you heard of that title before, well you have. The movie is loosely based on the 1960’s television series that bears the same name. The movie version feels like a television show by the ways of pacing and presentation.
CIA agent Napoleon Solo (sounds like an intergalactic warrior name) is played by Brit aka Superman Henry Cavill. At the start of the movie Solo is dodging a KGB operative that’s hot on his trail. He enlists the help of expert mechanic Gaby, played by Alicia Vikander, to literally drive him away from the operative that’s attempting to kill him. An immediate high octane cat and mouse chase scene establishes the tone of the film. It’s basically telling you to get ready for a lot of silly and exciting interplay. The tables are turned shortly thereafter, when Solo discovers that the man that was hot on his trail is set to become his ally and partner in a mission. Armie Hammer, coming off the stench that was The Lone Ranger, plays the Russian KGB operative Illya. Their mission is to stop a nuclear weapon from the hands of a wealthy criminal organization. The catch is that in order to get close to the criminals they need to work with Gaby who’s father is believed to be behind building the nuclear weapon for the organization of baddies.
The interaction between the threesome of Solo, Illya, and Gaby is what breathes life and comedy into the movie. They all have a hard time working together and have a unique love-hate relationship amongst each other, especially Gaby who is forced to go undercover and pretend she’s engaged to Illya. Solo appears to be the brains of the operation. Illya is the muscle. Gaby is the peacemaker and glue that holds it all together. The slapstick-esque banter between Illya and Solo is continuous throughout the movie. Illya clearly plays the straight man in the act, while Solo is the deadpan funny man in the movie, with a slightly annoyingly snobbish pause speak (he pauses between each word he utters, it’s frustratingly amusing).
This movie isn’t short for action. It has it’s fair share of explosions and shootouts. There is a particular scene on a lake in Italy where Solo and Illya are attempting to make an escape after breaking into a safe where their relationship is put to the test. Illya and Solo are on a motorboat and being chased by another boat full of guards shooting at them. Solo manages to escape the boat, while an unbeknownst Illya is attempting to guide it to an exit. Solo finds his way to an empty car on the side of the lake and proceeds to have a fine dinner and wine an unassumingly watches Illya ride in circles trying to survive the shootouts. This is the sort of deadpan comedy is portrayed in the film on many occasions, all while further illustrating the relationship between the leading men.
Cavill is uniquely charming and hugely entertaining to watch in this film. As the movie started I couldn’t stop thinking of Cavill as Superman. It’s his only defining role to date. So trying to get the image of Superman being trapped in 1960’s was a tough sell to me. I left the movie not even thinking about Cavill being Superman, I was only thinking about how he has to be the next James Bond. His tidy deadpan comedic portrayal of Solo was ideal. His accent was reminiscent of old Hollywood leading men such as Clark Gable and Cary Grant. He sounded so classic American, that the British in him was coming through. Now that’s being so good at doing something, that it almost hinders it.
From the looks of it Armie Hammer just doesn’t fit a role of a Russian KGB operative. A goofy Russian accent that actually felt so silly that it made him believable. His facial expressions were priceless and sold his character completely. His physical presence also aided this character portrayal. He seemed so weirdly cast in that role, that it totally worked. Alicia Vikander is a young star that’s rising fast. She might be the new go-to girl in Hollywood, sort of what Noomi Rapace was supposed to become. She just fits so seamlessly with those two. Hugh Grant makes an appearance playing Waverly, their English intelligence mission boss.
Guy Ritchie went a bit against his formula of wise cracking English crime comedies, and plucked a bit from his previous movies and added an American 1960’s television feel to it. Once you witness the presentation you will know what I’m saying. The fast paced, elegant, aristocratic, self-important, classic posh presentation brings the 1960’s alive. Even though I wasn’t personally around for it, I got the sense that’s what the 60’s felt like. Ritchie just does a great job of not overwhelming you with action, using it in opportune times.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E is a fun,entertaining, somewhat goofy, yet pleasing spy film. It is sandwiched between the recent release of a critically acclaimed Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation and the upcoming fall release of the new Bond movie Spectre. U.N.C.L.E feels a lot more like a Sean Connery James Bond movie, the stylistic approach is fairly similar, with added comedic relief. Many younger moviegoers won’t have a clue what to expect from this movie, but they should come out of it entertained. If not for the plot, the banter and relationship between Cavill and Hammer. This is just the beginning of this franchise. Lets hope Guy Ritchie can replicate a similar formula again.
Additional Thoughts: I had a lot of fun watching this movie. Cavill and Hammer initially seemed so out of place in their roles, but that’s what made it work. You would think the role reversal of having the actual American play the American and the Brit play a Russian work more smoothy, I doubt that would have been a better option. These were two guys similar in age cast in unique roles. Cavill proved to me that there is a lot more there than just a guy that looks and plays a good Superman. I’d like to see him do some comedy, it’s also a role that could dispel any sort of typecasting, though there is no better option to take over the reigns of Bond from Daniel Craig than Cavill. He came in second to Craig, hopefully he comes in first the next time.
A fun old-school spy movie