Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Year: 2015
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant

Plot: Set in the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin team up to stop someone from building a nuclear warhead.

Review: I'm not familiar with the TV series this film is based on, so comparisons are out the window. On the surface, it looks like the James Bond films of the Sean Connery era, but actually it's a lot less serious than that, thanks to Guy Ritchie.

As the story goes, Germany has been separated by the Berlin Wall. The year is 1963 and CIA agent Napoleon Solo is in Germany to extract Gaby Teller, whose father is a known Nazi scientist that disappeared recently. They run into KGB agent Illya Kuryakin, and after a series of fisticuffs and chase sequences, the two organisations decide to make them partners, and go undercover with Gaby to find her father. Their target is a wealthy couple in Rome with Nazi connections.

Since it's Guy Ritchie, you can see the similarities between this and his Sherlock Holmes films, especially the lead duo. The only difference is Holmes and Watson know each other well and are used to one another, whereas Solo and Kuryakin go through a lot of trouble just to get to know one another. Their uneasy partnership is one of the few good things about this movie. The other good stuff are the rather hilarious sequence at the beginning when the two men first meet, a handful of well timed comedic scenes and a short fight towards the end. I also liked the music choices and the authentic looking costumes and sets. Unfortunately, besides that, the film is a rather dull affair.

The problem lies with Ritchie, who also co-wrote the film. He unwisely chose to make this more of a comedy than an action adventure, with too much focus on charming dialogue and lots of style. By doing this, the film suffers from a serious lack of urgency. Now, I do like some bits of comedy in an action adventure flick, but not when it overshadows what the film's real purpose should be. Not only is there too much comedy, some of it just doesn't work. For example, watching Solo take a timeout to eat a sandwich while watching Kuryakin battle some guys on a speedboat chase. Or the way Solo responds after realising he's been drugged. Or the way a certain villain lackey meets his end while the two heroes argue about what to do with him. 

Henry Cavill plays Solo as a former soldier turned thief who exchanges his prison time for a spy job with the CIA, and he brings a good load of charm to his role. Unfortunately Cavill's American accent isn't very convincing. Armie Hammer gets to play a competent hero this time unlike The Lone Ranger and Mirror Mirror as Kuryakin, a KGB agent with a temper problem. His seriousness contrasts Solo's comedic charm well enough, and Hammer and Cavill share a good rapport on screen. Alicia Vikander however is quite dull as Gaby, wearing a one note expression for most of the film. Elizabeth Debicki on the other hand fits the ice queen villain role quite well, but impresses more with her fashion sense than her evil deeds here.

Personally I would have preferred Ritchie to ramp up the film with a bit more action and maybe some drama, but that was obviously not what he was going for. In the wake of spy movies like Kingsman and Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, and even the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. could have been something. Alas it was having so much fun with itself, it forgot to get the audience in on it. (6/10)    

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