Action, Alicia Vikander, Armie Hammer, Atom bomb, CIA, Cold War, Drama, Elizabeth Debicki, Guy Ritchie, Henry Cavill, Hugh Grant, Ilya Kuryakin, KGB, Napoleon Solo, Review, Spies, The Sixties, Thriller, U.N.C.L.E.
D: Guy Ritchie / 116m
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Christian Berkel, Misha Kuznetsov
Following his rescue of a scientist’s daughter, Gaby Teller (Vikander) from East Berlin, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) is told by his boss (Harris) that he has a new partner: the KGB agent who tried to stop him, Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer). Gaby’s father, Udo (Berkel), is building an atom bomb that’s intended for a hidden Nazi group. Her Uncle Rudi (Groth) is suspected of knowing where he is. Solo and Kuryakin must take Gaby to Rome where evidence points to the involvement of the Alexanders (Calvani, Debicki). While Solo poses as an antiquities dealer, Kuryakin poses as Gaby’s fiancé. Solo and Kuryakin attend a party given by Victoria Alexander where they discover evidence that the atom bomb (and Udo) must be nearby. That night they both break in to the Alexanders’ factory where they find further evidence of Udo’s work.
Solo meets with Victoria but she drugs his drink. When he wakes he finds himself strapped to a chair and about to be tortured by Uncle Rudi who turns out to be an evil Nazi scientist. With Kuryakin’s aid he escapes, while Gaby is taken to an island where her father is putting the finishing touches to the bomb. It’s at this point that Solo and Kuryakin are introduced to Commander Waverly (Grant), a member of British intelligence. He fills them in on some information that’s been held back from them, and reveals a plan to infiltrate the island, seize the atom bomb, and rescue Gaby and her father. But the Alexanders have an ace up their sleeve…
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (on the big screen at least) has been a long time coming. But up until the recent involvement of Ritchie and his producing partner Lionel Wigram, every attempt to make a movie version of the classic 60’s TV show has stalled, often before it’s even cleared the gate. Coming off two very successful Sherlock Holmes movies, Ritchie has clearly been given as much leeway as he needs in order to bring this movie to audiences, and while he uses many of the stylistic shooting techniques he used on the Holmes movies, what he’s failed to do is come up with a story that is either exciting or engrossing. It’s a shame as the potential is there for another successful franchise, but aside from a splendidly retro feel for the era, the movie lacks the kind of impact that would lift it out of the bin marked “ordinary”.
Things aren’t helped by the casting of Cavill and Hammer, two averagely effective actors who lack the subtlety required to make Solo and Kuryakin anything more than grudging partners. Sure it’s an origin story so the animosity is understandable, but they’re also highly skilled professionals, the best at what they do; so why make Solo a preening plank, or Kuryakin a headstrong liability? It’s a curious decision, to make your two leading men so unrelatable, but Ritchie’s gone with it completely, and the movie suffers appropriately. Thankfully, the same can’t be said of Vikander and Debicki, who save the movie from being too much of a debacle, and the involvement of Grant, who seems to be having the most fun he’s had in years. If there is to be a sequel – and at the moment the movie’s performance at the box office seems to indicate there won’t be – then a serious rethink is in order.
Rating: 5/10 – not as bad as it could have been, but also not as good as it should have been, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. lacks energy and limps uneasily from scene to scene in search of a consistently entertaining tone that it doesn’t find; a pleasant enough diversion if you’re in the mood, but definitely not a movie to expect too much from.